Jay Williams never thought he would be where he is today.
After a 2003 motorcycle accident halted his skyrocketing basketball career and almost took his life, the star has fully bounced back, cementing his mark as he continues contributing for NBA Countdown, The Jump, Get Up and ESPN+’s The Boardroom — and most importantly, as a father to 1-year-old daughter Amelia Brooklyn-Rose.
“It’s been the most fulfilling and chaotic year because of learning how to balance what the new norm is,” Williams, 38, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “When you get a chance to see all the things that my daughter has been able to develop over the span of a year, it also makes me a little bit frustrated ’cause I’m like, ‘Where the hell did the year go?’ “
Between his NBA analyst gigs, new life as a father and his wife Nikki Bonacorsi also returning to work, the former Chicago Bulls player has taken pleasure in life’s simpler moments.
“We had this moment the other day where we’re all sitting on the couch and we’re watching Elmo. It was the first time I’ve actually sat on the couch with my daughter and my wife watching TV. Just kind of relaxing and giggling and laughing,” Williams says. “It’s not until now that my relationship has really deepened with my daughter.”
Amelia is Williams’ first child with Bonacorsi, 31. The two revealed their pregnancy news in April 2018, tying the knot the following month before subsequently revealing the sex of their baby two days after that.
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Baby on the Way for ESPN’s Jay Williams
Just over a week ago, the couple celebrated Amelia’s first birthday with a Lion King-themed bash in their Brooklyn, New York, apartment, where they had a band play songs from the famed animated movie’s soundtrack and jungle themes throughout their home.
“It actually turned out to be an incredible day. We have a balcony that is pretty spacious and we invited over some of her friends and their parents,” Williams says. “I always get a little bit anxious when I have a lot of people in my personal space, but my wife is the boss.”
Though Williams made a comeback to the NBA in 2006, he feels he is right where he belongs. “I almost passed away when I was 21 and for the longest period of my life,” the NBA analyst tells PEOPLE, “I thought I threw away the biggest gift that was given to me, which was an opportunity for me to fulfill my dream in the NBA.”
He adds, “Now that I’m back, it’s exhilarating. It’s almost as if this was my calling to begin with. Maybe this is my real coming-back party.”
But balancing life as sportscaster contributing to four different shows, a husband and a dad isn’t as easy as it may look. Williams and Bonacorsi have had to map out schedules down to every detail, and reach compromises to ensure a balance in their lives as working parents.
“The priority is my family. Between the asks that she gets and the things I get, a lot of times I’ve had to learn how to say no to really cool things,” Williams shares with PEOPLE. “Because I also want my wife to be able to do cool things, and we have to go to things together.”
With both Williams and Bonacorsi having played sports in college (basketball at Duke University and soccer at Indiana University Bloomington, respectively), it seems only natural to assume their daughter may follow suit in athletics. But the sportscaster just wants Amelia “to be the best at what she does,” and will “be supportive in whatever direction she decides to go.”
And though their baby girl is keeping her parents busy, Williams says they’re potentially “open” to more kids. “We may not have everything planned out, but we’re also willing to go with what life presents to us,” he explains. “I think right now we’re just enjoying Amelia and focusing our attention on her.”
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