It is July, and Deron Williams is at his Salt Lake City home. He was traded from the Jazz to the Brooklyn Nets more than three years ago, but his permanent residence is still in Utah.
"It's the opposite of New York," Williams says.
Over the phone, the bustle of Williams' children can be heard. Williams and wife Amy, his high school sweetheart, have two girls and two boys.
"Eat your sandwich," he says to one of them.
Such a scene humanizes an NBA superstar. Williams is a three-time NBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist. He is the face of a franchise entering its third year in Brooklyn.
When Williams was an All-Big Ten guard and second team All-American at Illinois, it was easy to focus on basketball. Williams was the third overall pick in the 2005 NBA draft, and he had the sport at his fingertips.
His life took a turn in the summer of 2011. While Williams prepared to ship off to Turkey for a stint at Besiktas during the NBA lockout, his 22-month-old son D.J. was diagnosed with autism.
"I didn't want to believe it," Williams says. "We thought he might have just had hearing issues when he wasn't looking at us. We had his hearing checked. He was having nose bleeds, so we thought he might be having neurological damage."
D.J. (short for Deron Jr.) was adopted by the Williams family as a newborn from an agency in Utah. Amy is also adopted, fueling her desire to adopt a child. Ironically, D.J. was born at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, four miles away from Barclays Center and it happens to be the official hospital of the Nets.
D.J.'s diagnosis left Deron and Amy with a whirl of emotions.
"You start wondering if the kid if going to have a normal life and get married even though he's only 2 years old," Williams says.
Now 5, D.J. is starting kindergarten and living as normal a life as he can. D.J. goes to therapy three times a week and battles the challenges of autism. Loud music and crowded areas make D.J. anxious, and his parents must be attentive of his whereabouts at all times.
When Williams founded his foundation, Point of Hope, in 2007 with Amy, it focused on single parents, the Salt Lake City community and support for a variety of diseases and causes. In 2012, after D.J.'s diagnosis, Williams began a partnership with Autism Speaks. As one of his first events in conjunction with Autism Speaks, Williams hosted 30 families with autistic children affected by Hurricane Katrina at a Manhattan establishment for lunch, live music, activities and presents.
Even before D.J. was diagnosed with autism, Williams put heavy weight on community service. "As athletes, we have the ability to affect people," he says. "I'd say for people who support us night-in, night-out on the basketball court, it's our way of giving back how we can."
D.J.'s diagnosis changed the game. For Williams, giving back became more than part of being a professional athlete. It got personal.
One of his events dedicated to raising money for autism awareness is the Dodge Barrage Tournament, a dodgeball tourney founded back in Utah in 2009 with then-Jazz teammate Kyle Korver. The original tournament benefited Point of Hope and the Kyle Korver Foundation. The Dodge Barrage has since moved to New York City, where it appeared in 2013. This year's event will take place on Sept. 15 at Manhattan's Basketball City at Pier 36, and guests are expected to include NBA players Mason Plumlee, Jarrett Jack and Andrei Kirilenko, Giants punter Steve Weatherford, comedian Jay Pharoah, singer Ray J and broadcaster Ryan Ruocco.
"It's something different than what everyone else was doing," Williams says of the decision to use dodgeball as a philanthropic tool. "It's something everyone can do and have fun."
Autism Speaks Vice President of Community Affairs Jamitha Fields works closely with Williams to organize his fundraisers. She notes that much of the time, it is not her camp spearheading ideas, but Williams.
"The events that are done are conceptualized by Deron," she says. "They aren't just an Autism Speaks idea."
Williams hopes the timing of this year's event on a Monday night in September will bring as many athletes out as possible. The scheduling was done in coordination with his teammates returning to New York, and the Giants and Jets having an off day.
Williams also wants to see more of his friends and guests break a sweat during the game. In 2013, he noticed a lack of effort from the celebrity attendees.
"Last year, a lot of people dressed up," he says. "They didn't know they'd get down and dirty. They will this year. They know what to expect. Get out there and get thrown in the fire. The competitiveness comes out."
Along with the Dodge Barrage, Williams also makes a big push toward raising autism awareness during April, National Autism Awareness Month. Williams taped a PSA via NBA Cares on autism awareness. He also auctioned off two pairs of signed blue (color of autism awareness) sneakers that Williams wore during April, with all proceeds going to Autism Speaks.
For the second year, Williams hosted 65 New York area families with children affected by autism on Autism Awareness Night at Barclays Center. Williams donated his suite for the game, and he encouraged other suite holders to do the same. Williams hosted the children in a meet and greet after the game.
"It's a great night to be able to invite all these families and give them a safe environment," Williams says. "They don't like noise, they don't like crowds, they don't like being around people. It's hard for them to go to the game. A lot of them have anxiety where they can't leave their parents' reach. The suite gives them a calmer environment. It's a little quieter."
When reminiscing about the event, Fields notes how impressed she was with the way Williams went above and beyond.
"It's not like an event that's put on the calendar and he shakes a couple of hands and he's out the door," she says. "He's fully invested. He wants to make sure we're doing something for the families. He cares because he's a part of who they are."
Through such events as the Autism Awareness Night hosting, Williams gets to connect with parents and children in a setting where basketball is an afterthought. Williams has the chance to learn from other parents about how to treat autistic children, and vice versa.
"I'm able to give back to autism and I can relate to other parents," Williams says. "My son is high functioning. He can speak. He's verbal. Other kids don't talk. It's really hard, especially when they get older. Just being able to relate to people and share experiences and give and get advice has been great for me."
Although with the Dodge Barrage and the events surrounding Autism Awareness Night, Williams is constantly pitching in with Autism Speaks when he can. Williams hosts an annual Christmas dinner for homeless mothers and single moms in the autism community. Point of Hope plans on creating an event with Autism Speaks around All-Star Weekend in February when the mid-year classic comes to New York City.
Autism is a 24/7 subject in Williams' life, while basketball is a job. Williams keeps most of Point of Hope's efforts condensed during the season when his teammates can join his philanthropy. This does not mean his summers with D.J. are tame.
"I work out in the morning," Williams says. "When D.J. comes home, we just hang out around the house, go to the movies and stuff. I play golf when I can, but sometimes, I can't play golf."
While he loves his sport, he is not pushing his children toward the hardwood.
"None of my kids are interested in basketball. My girls don't like basketball. D.J.'s interested in iPads and video games," Williams says.
Williams also continues to use Point of Hope to support single parents and children in need. Along with Autism Speaks, the organization works closely with Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
"The raising awareness is the most important to me. I think a lot of people don't know how relevant autism is. A lot of people are scared. They know something might be a little off about the child. They're scared to get them tested. That's only hurting the kid in the long run," Williams says.
Jisset Pena has worked as Point of Hope's Director of Special Events since October 2012, allowing her to see much of Williams' efforts with Autism Speaks. She notes Williams keeps a level head on and off the court. Along the way, his devotion to autism awareness can be missed.
"What I've personally witnessed over the years is that Deron is highly committed to giving back to the community, but he does so in such a humble way," Pena says. "He doesn't seek praise for everything he does because this is something that sincerely comes from the bottom of his heart."
Professional basketball will end for Williams one day. The fight against autism, unfortunately, does not have a known expiration date.
"I come figure I'll play at least another six years," he says. "I'll continue foundation when I'm done. As far as long-term goals, I don't have anything set yet."
Spontaneity is nothing new for Deron Williams. More than three years ago, Williams did not expect to need to deal with an autistic child. But when the news came, raising autism awareness became a necessary and fulfilling part of his life.
Those wishing to participate in the 2014 Dodge Barrage can still sign up through the Point Of Hope Foundation website.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.