When I came across this story, I knew the name Bison Dele seemed familiar. But, it was not until I saw a picture of Brian Williams in his NBA uniform that everything clicked.
Bison Dele, once known as Brian Williams, left the NBA behind to explore the world. His quest carried him to a mysterious end near Tahiti. More than a decade later, his spirit sails on - Chris Ballard, Sports Illustrated.
The Dele/Williams tale was hopeful and unconventional, yet ultimately sad and tragic. It contains many layers which allow for great reflection on the complexities of life.
Chris Ballard's piece is a compelling example of long form sport writing - a genre that is greatly neglected in this digital age which privileges speed and brevity. I remember watching Williams play, thinking he was a bit awkward and less physical than the typical big man in the league. The truth is, like most NBA centers, he just took a bit longer to develop. He was just beginning to come into his own when he left the league, and the remaining $36 million on his contract.
As a society, we are conditioned to think of professional athletes as the lucky ones - able to make a living out of a hobby, doing what they love. Dele bucked that notion in walking away from a lucrative contract to pursue an unknown life. He was an intellectual who was curious about the world, and yearned for something more than the bright lights of the NBA.
His story strikes a chord with me as I embark on my post-education life, trying to carve out a professional niche. His choice to leave the NBA and live his life as he wanted underscores the need to make the most of the time that we have at our disposal. What do we want from life? What are the insurmountable obstacles that we perceive as prohibitive toward that end?
He travelled the world. He fell in love. He did the things that were not expected of him, things that went against the expectations for someone in his position. It's a decision that I admire and one that we should celebrate when looking back on his life.
We will never know if he found all that he was looking for, or if he was happy in the end. The catastrophe surrounding his death shrouds the optimism and fervour with which he lived his life. He escaped the trappings of celebrity living and embarked on a path less travelled - one we should all aspire to in our own unique ways.
Bison Dele is the focus of my writing, but let us not forget all the people who were affected by this travesty. Many lives were torn apart by what transpired 11 years ago. I am not inclined to speculate or opine on the specifics of the so-called "mystery". Engage with all that in your own way.
For more on what happened, check out the story as represented on the "Disappeared" series. It features awful re-enactments, but also has interviews with some of the parties involved. It makes for a good accompaniment to the SI story.