It wasn’t that long ago that I was really struggling to make it in the NBA.
Early in my career, I would only get spot minutes on different teams. Being in that situation, scared of making a mistake that would cost me my job, I would always play tight and nervous. I didn’t feel like I had the ability to be myself on the floor.
But when I came to Atlanta, things started changing for me. It didn’t take me long to find a role with the Hawks. Once I made it into the starting lineup, it didn’t take long — only a couple of games — to begin playing the aggressive style of basketball I’m known for now. I felt myself improve game by game, and by the time this past season rolled around, I was ready to unleash the Junkyard Dog.
As you might have already heard, last week I agreed to become a member of the Toronto Raptors. It was a difficult decision, but when I considered all the factors, it was the right move for me and my family. I’m really excited about my future in Toronto, but it only feels right to say a proper goodbye to the city of Atlanta, which will always feel like a home to me.
The Hawks organization — from the coaches, to the front office, to the fans, to my brothers in the locker room — gave me so much confidence in my abilities as a player, and it changed my life.
Lots of guys have long careers in this league and never get to play on a team as successful as we were last year. Winning 60 games in a season is an honor that’s not lost on me, and I’ll carry memories from this past year with me forever.
The biggest reason why I was able to play my best basketball in Atlanta is because of the organization’s player development. All of the coaches worked hard to make every guy on this roster better, and they deserve a lot of credit for our team’s improvement this year.
Kenny Atkinson pushed me to take my game to another level. Darvin Ham shared the tricks he picked up during his long NBA career to help me develop my skills around the basket. And then there was Quin Snyder, who was the first coach who took me under his wing while he was an assistant here.
The big difference between regular NBA players and superstars isn’t just talent, but the way they train. Quin and I just kind of clicked right away when I came to the Hawks, and he began working with me to develop skills that I hadn’t really touched before. His belief in me built up my confidence so much.
One thing he taught me during practice was this move where I dribbled between my legs into a spin move and then a step back jumper. It’s the type of shot you mostly see in video games. He told me that I could try the move during a real game, but if he got in trouble for it I’d have to wait until next year to try it again.
After working on it for a while, I felt like it was game-ready, so I gave it a try … and I missed. So next thing I hear is Coach Bud on his feet hollering at Quin, “What the hell are you guys working on during practice?” Quin just sort of shrugged, and told me after the game that the move looked good … I just needed to hit the shot.
Towards the end of the season, it felt right to try the move again and this time I made the shot. Then I heard Coach Bud yell, “Good job, Quin! That’s how you develop a player!” Coach Bud always had a way of coming around if you made a play.
I appreciated Quin because he encouraged me to take risks, and that really meant a lot because no other NBA coach had given me that opportunity.
I’m really going to miss the locker room. It’s a great group in there, and I know they’ll find success for a long time.
I hung out with Paul Millsap a lot while I was here, so I felt fortunate to be able to go through this process with him. This was the first time I’d ever been a priority during free agency, so I appreciated having him around to get advice. Paul’s a great teammate and I’m going to miss playing with him.
I’m also going to miss getting to watch Kyle Korver shoot the ball.
There was this one shooting drill we had in practice, and Kyle would just dominate everybody. It took me a while to even build up the courage to challenge him. I practiced for a couple of weeks and was hitting most of my shots, so I called Kyle over and said I was ready to take the throne. I told him I’m the Black Kyle Korver.
We each took turns putting up five threes, and when I made four out of five, he’d make five out of five. If I hit three out of five, he’d make four out of five. No matter how many times we played, Kyle always found a way to beat me by one if I missed a shot.
He told me to try again next year when I was ready. Well, I’m telling him now that Black Kyle Korver will get his revenge. It’s on.
Finally, to the fans, thank you especially.
I will always be thankful for the way this city treated me on and off the court. This was the first time in my career where I really felt like a household name. I can’t describe how much it meant to me every time a fan would approach me in public just to say that they loved the way I played the game. You guys always made me feel like a superstar, so I hustled as hard as I could to play like one. When I looked into the crowd and saw those No. 5 jerseys and Junkyard Dog t-shirts, it meant everything to me. Without you guys, I really don’t believe I’d be the player I am today.
When I was injured during the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals, I was really scared. I thought that the worst had happened. But what could have been one of the worst moments of my life became one of the most memorable. That standing ovation that the fans in Atlanta gave me as I got up off the court gave me goosebumps and it’s something that I’ll always remember.
God bless all of you. I’m really proud of what we accomplished together.
P.S. Toronto, I know you guys loved Jerome Williams back in the day. Well, get ready for JYD 2.0 to come to your city! I’m ready!