As a free agent after the 1994-95 season, Williams was romanced by the Bulls, who offered him a contract worth a reported $2.5 million a year. Michael Jordan made a pitch to him over dinner. But Williams chose to remain with the Nets and accept their offer of $7 million for three years. Given the ensuing season—Chicago won a league-record 72 games in the regular season and the NBA championship, while New Jersey finished 30-52 and missed the playoffs—Williams's decision seems ill-advised until one considers what he stood to lose by leaving his hometown area.
"I couldn't afford to move my family and friends to Chicago," he says. "I would've had to move the whole Lower East Side, and I couldn't have everybody working for me. How many people can pick up your laundry? Nope, I ain't leaving. I ain't going anywhere."
To prove it, Williams bought a 60-acre tract of hilly, wooded land about an hour west of New York City. He and his father designed a 35-room, 27,000-square-foot mansion that when finished will cover the length of a football field plus a third of another one. To cut expenses, Jayson and E.J. are doing much of the work themselves, from clearing roadways to laying bricks. "The house'll be worth four million when we're done," Williams says. "But it's only costing me about $850,000."
Williams relishes the prospect of exurban solitude, which is something he has never really had in his life: no one to knock on your door and tell you to turn the TV down, no way to discern your neighbor's nationality by the smell of his cooking coming through the walls.
"The best feeling," Williams says, "will be when we're done with the house and my mother is in the gazebo in back reading and saying her prayers and my father and I are sitting by the pool and the water's warm and maybe we're having a drink and suddenly he turns to me and says, 'We built it, didn't we, Jay?' And I turn back to him and say, 'Yeah, we built it.' "