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Former Pro Basketball Player Brandon D. Williams ’13 Brings J.D. Skills to League Office Position

To become a National Basketball Association (NBA) player was for Brandon D. Williams a childhood dream that he pursued through seven countries, the minor leagues, and three NBA teams. “And though I never dared wish for it,” he said, “basketball manna blanketed me one season, as I enjoyed a championship run with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999.”

In addition to the NBA experience with the Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, and San Antonio Spurs, Williams followed his profession to the Philippines, France, Greece, Germany, Italy, and Israel. “No matter what I had previously seen, learned, or even mastered, there was always a new playbook, another culture, a new language. It was incredible and I never reached a point of learning saturation. I was constantly reminded that at every turn, there is endless opportunity for us to raise our intellectual ceiling.”

As is the case with many professional athletes, Williams’ playing career ended sooner than he expected. But Williams had prepared for the day when he would no longer play the game for a living and, upon retiring in 2005, joined the NBA as director of community and player programs. 

He brought to the corporate position the solid educational foundation he had acquired at Philips Exeter Academy and Davidson College; political acumen gained in his year as a White House intern; lessons in successful leadership absorbed from teachers, mentors, coaches and managers; fulfillment experienced through community service as well as academic and athletic success; business skills learned working on entrepreneurial ventures in the basketball off-season; and a deep interest in developing creative programs to advance the professional, social and personal growth of NBA players. 

Brandon Williams family
Brandon D. Williams at his May 2013 graduation with wife, Yolanda, nine-year-old daughter, Bailey, and 21-month-old son, Remington.

“Whether through the creation of the Corporate Crossover, an internship-type experience specific to our athletes, or the Legend’s Circle, a program that sets up mentoring relationships between NBA superstars and up-and-coming stars, I had a passion for addressing the underlying challenges that affected both franchise and league success.” As the player development role brought Williams into closer contact with team owners and general managers, he began to consider the greater impact he could have in the business if he combined his knowledge of the game, participants, and team environment with a comparable expertise and familiarity with the law. 

An even more influential factor in his decision to go to law school was the NBA executive team. As Williams explained: “Our commissioner and senior management are attorneys with profound and extensive experiences that began at major firms and eventually as in-house counsel. Without question, I was impressed and inspired by each of them. I became increasingly familiar with their shared skill to cut to the core of very difficult and complex issues, command facts, guide analysis, and reach a conclusion in order to provide direction. I began to learn that the business of basketball was a complex system of interconnected environments, whether basketball operations, events and attractions, community and player programs, communications and PR, security, or myriad international concerns. And the one discipline underpinning every component was legal.” 

Before he could enroll in law school, Williams had to allay his NBA bosses’ concerns about handling the challenges of law school along with a demanding job as associate vice president, basketball operations, and family responsibilities. He convinced senior leadership that combining proven skills in communicating matters of game play with the ability to contribute to the adjudication of disciplinary matters and counsel as to cultural change initiatives would be mutually beneficial and won their support.

Williams selected Rutgers School of Law–Newark “because of what I felt was an institutional commitment to the advancement of the public interest, empowerment within the urban community, diversity in the student body, as well as the curriculum.” Also important to his decision were the Minority Student Program, which he recognized as “a great transitional help, as I had been away from academia for over 13 years,” and the Clinical Program. “I was excited by the idea that I could get hands-on experience, learning to function as a lawyer, particularly because my full-time employment would preclude me from taking advantage of summer associateship opportunities.”

Brandon Williams with Warriors
Williams with the Golden State Warriors.

A semester in the Community Law Clinic (now known as the Community and Transactional Lawyering Clinic) proved to be one of Williams’s favorite Rutgers–Newark Law experiences. Much of his clinic work involved nonprofit ventures, real estate matters, and businesses in need of structuring advice. “I came to Rutgers thinking that I would be most intrigued by Employment and Labor Law, as I had done significant research on collective bargaining agreements (CBAs),” Williams explained, “particularly the NBA’s CBA history. At work, we were preparing for a work stoppage as the negotiations surrounding our CBA were imminent. So, it was logical that I would get more intimately familiar with the laws and precedent. However, I found that the skills learned in Business Associations, Real Estate Transactions and Hedge Fund Seminar came together in the clinic in a tangible way. And I got the satisfaction of having helped real clients move closer to realizing their professional dreams.”

“The competitor in me has always wanted to test my limits, pushing to better my best. Earning a J.D. from Rutgers affirmed a mantra of mine, that there is a significant difference between struggle and sacrifice. Sacrifice is a conscious decision to do without something for a future benefit or gain. This past three-and-one-half-year period of sacrifice was my family’s investment in our future.”

To succeed in law school, Williams relied on a “laser-like focus for whatever was before me at that moment. Whether, Torts, Respect for the Game monitoring, or preparing my first-grader for a spelling test, I could not afford to be distracted as there was no time for a ‘do-over.’” When Williams started as a 1L, he and his wife had one child who was five years old and beginning kindergarten. By graduation, his daughter was turning nine, entering the fourth grade, and had been joined by a brother who is now almost two. Over the course of his time at Rutgers, Williams was promoted twice by the NBA and took on substantial new duties, requiring more travel and direct management of a staff of 30 mobile employees. In the end, not unlike many of his classmates who balanced jobs, families, and school, he was tired but had enjoyed the challenge.  

“The competitor in me has always wanted to test my limits, pushing to better my best. Earning a J.D. from Rutgers affirmed a mantra of mine, that there is a significant difference between struggle and sacrifice. Sacrifice is a conscious decision to do without something for a future benefit or gain. This past three-and-one-half-year period of sacrifice was my family’s investment in our future.”

Since the age of nine, Brandon Williams has known that his true passion is the world of sports. Therefore, contemplating next steps, he sees two logical career paths: NBA general manager or a college or university athletic director. 

“As Dean Rothman shared with me early in my Rutgers education, law students are preparing to provide sound and well-reasoned advice and direction. Whether reporting to a university president and board of trustees or a commissioner, owner and board of governors, within five years I hope to be leading a people-centered championship work culture that exemplifies and represents an unyielding competitive spirit. The challenge,” he offered, “will be to do so while upholding the core principles of teamwork – Trust, Commitment, and Care.” His ultimate vision? “To be in a position to promote values that set a new standard of accessibility with fans, marketing partners, and community constituents, while providing an enthralling brand of basketball.”