Brooklyn’s Got Wings


by Ryne Nelson / @slaman10

Deron Williams’ original home court wasn’t so nice.

“The court I grew up playing on was like 12×15 feet,” Williams explains. “It had 11-foot goals because people kept tearing it down. They raised it up to where no one could dunk on it. So it wasn’t the greatest.”

A Final Four run, three All-Star games and a couple Gold medals later, DWill’s now playing at the nation’s newest hardwood shrine. But he hasn’t forgotten those days dodging potholes—and he’s aiming to renovate local courts for the Brooklyn community through a new program called Brooklyn’s Got Wings.

Along with Red Bull and the Nets, Williams will refurbish eight basketball courts located within a 2-3 mile radius of Barclays Center. It’s about giving wings to the Brooklyn community.

“We know that Brooklyn needs some picking up,” DWill says. “There’s a lot of courts, a lot of places that kids should be playing good basketball where it’s not the courts they should be playing on. So we want to find a way to go in and start to find a way to refurbish those courts.”

Every dime the Nets’ PG drops triggers a $150 contribution to the program. And while his numbers have been down this season—his 7.7 apg is his lowest since his rookie season in Utah—the 28-year-old floor general has generated $43,800 so far for the cause, with a goal of contributing six figures both this season and next.

For Deron Williams, the value of an assist just went up, and it’s extra motivation to prove he’s still one of the League’s elite players.

DWill took time to speak to SLAMonline recently about everything from rebuilding courts in the county of Kings to his 2005 Final Four run; All-Star in Houston to Texas hip-hop.

SLAM: You’re refurbishing eight local courts over the course of two years. Could you tell me how the idea came about?

Deron Williams: The idea came from myself, Red Bull and the Nets. We wanted to do a special project coming into Brooklyn. That’s our new home, and they’ve done a great job of supporting us and have been really excited about this move.

We know that Brooklyn needs some picking up. There’s a lot of courts, a lot of places that kids should be playing good basketball where it’s not the courts they should be playing on. So we want to find a way to go in and start to find a way to refurbish those courts.

So they got on board and are willing to contribute $150 for every assist I get, and we’ve already generated over $41,000 for Brooklyn’s Got Wings. We’re hoping to get to a full $100,000 before the season’s over.

SLAM: It’s got to feel good to you personally to be able to affect the community in this way.

DW: It’s not about me. It’s about the people of Brooklyn. The kids that are going to get to play on these great courts. I had a chance to do a photo shoot at one of the courts and walk around with the Parks & Recreation guys.

They had already refurbished the park. But the basketball court was in bad shape. It needed new goals. There were holes and cracks in the court. It’s a dangerous environment for kids to be playing on.

So for us to be able to go in there and refurbish courts and make it playable so kids can go and play basketball, I think it means a lot to them.

SLAM: Do you plan on helping select courts?

DW: They’re already targeted. The first two courts are going to be announced during the All-Star break. The Parks & Recreation guys know the courts that need the most help.

SLAM: What type of court did you grow up playing on?

DW: The court I grew up playing on was like 12×15 feet. It had 11-foot goals because people kept tearing it down. So they raised it up to where no one could dunk on it. So it wasn’t the greatest. I would have dreamed to be playing on courts like this after they’re finished.

SLAM: As you said, $150 per assist goes to refurbishing the courts. Does that give you any extra incentive to play well for the next year and a half?

DW: Yeah man. Yeah. I’m actually averaging a career-low in assists since my rookie year, so I gotta pick it up for the courts.

SLAM: Do you have anything else in mind for Brooklyn beyond this?

DW: We did some stuff with Hurricane Sandy. We did a dinner over Christmas. We did stuff with the food bank with a Thanksgiving event. And I’m going to continue to do stuff through my foundation to help give back, as well as the Nets and NBA Cares. They always do a great job of that.

SLAM: I had the privilege of going to the University of Illinois while you were still playing there, and I got to watch you through Orange Krush and see a couple of your practices…

DW: Oh really? [laughs]

SLAM: And I gotta ask you: Do you ever go back and relive that Final Four run?

DW: Nah man. I try not to think about it too much because it’s just upsetting being that close to a National Championship and not being able to get it. But I had great times at U of I—more good times than bad. So it was great.

SLAM: Dee Brown’s playing in Turkey. Luther Head’s in the D-League. James Augustine is playing in Russia. Do you keep in-touch with any of those guys still?

DW: Yeah, I talk to those guys as much as possible. I got to see Dee this summer. I haven’t seen James in a while. But we stay in-touch.

SLAM: Have you spoke with coach Bruce Weber since he moved to K-State?

DW: Oh yeah, I just texted back and forth with Coach Weber a couple days ago. We definitely stay in-touch.

SLAM: How would you grade the Nets’ play this season?

DW: Well, it’s been a season of ups and downs for us. We started off really hot in November, and in December, we were struggling a lot. We’ve bounced back and are having a great month of January, winning eight straight. We’ve been up and down man, but I think we’re moving in the right direction and trying to get confident playing as a group, as a whole, and have fun playing with each other.

SLAM: Just a couple weeks back, you said you were real frustrated with your play—the most frustrated you’ve ever been in your career. How have you been able to turn it around in January?

DW: I’m just trying to focus, get my body right, doing a lot more treatment. I’ve had some nagging injuries that I’ve been dealing with. I haven’t had a little break in a while.

So that’s pretty much the main thing—trying to get healthy as possible and going out there and playing with more confidence.

SLAM: Do you think the team is starting to gel at this point in the year?

DW: We’re moving that way. I think we’re still getting better. We’re still working on [learning how to play with one another]. It’ll still take time. We’ve been together only three months now. It takes time to build chemistry and get completely confident in what we’re trying to do. But we’ve definitely gotten better in the last month. There’s no doubt about that.

SLAM: You said recently that you’re not playing at an All-Star level this season. Was it tough for you to admit that?

DW: Not really. If the All-Star game was today, would I be in it? Probably not. But if we play a strong month and first week of February, you never know.

SLAM: Talk about what the move to Brooklyn has done for the team.

DW: The move to Brooklyn was nothing but great. The fans have been great. The stadium is hands down the best in the NBA. There’s just a new buzz about the team that’s different than it was the last two years for me. It’s a lot more exciting and a lot more talk about what we’re trying to do. So it’s been really fun this year.

SLAM: Has the newness worn off?

DW: Yeah, I think it has—it’s our home and we play there almost every night. As far as the players are concerned, we’re just trying to get better as a team and win as many games as possible. As far as the fans, it’s exciting. Every day, you’re going to get fans, who it’s their first time in the arena, who are loving it.

SLAM: What needs to happen for the Nets to make a play for the top of the conference?

DW: We just have to keep getting better. Committing ourselves defensively. I think that’s the main thing. If we’re playing good defensively, we can stop people and have a chance to win because we have enough offense to win.

SLAM: What are some tracks that you’re playing pretty heavy right now?

DW: Oh man, I listen to a lot of stuff right now. I love “Diced Pineapples” by Rick Ross. I like “Swimming Pools” by Kendrick Lamar. I like that “All Gold Everything” from Trinidad James. 2 Chainz, “Money Machine.” Meek Mill, “Believe It.”

SLAM: How about anybody from Texas?

DW: Man, I don’t really listen to anything recent that’s been out. I listen to all my old Screwed stuff. I listen to everything Screwed up. All the old Chamillionaire, Paul Wall. I listen to Scarface. Of course, Bun B, he’s my favorite.