NEW YORK — Three-time NBA All-Star guard Deron Williams will make his professional boxing debut on Dec. 18, when he steps into the ring against Frank Gore, the five-time NFL Pro Bowl running back, on the undercard of the Jake Paul vs. Tommy Fury fight at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.
The bout between the 37-year-old Williams and the 38-year-old Gore is contracted for 215 pounds and four rounds. Williams, who last played in the NBA in 2017 as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, has included boxing training as part of his offseason routine, but you’ll never guess what his biggest adjustment has been as he gets ready for his fight next month.
“Getting punched in the face,” Williams told Bally Sports on Tuesday afternoon.
“Yeah, I mean, you get hit every now in basketball. You see, basketball players, even when I was playing, you get hit every now and then in the face. … It just happens every now and then, and it happens once every 10 games or 20 games. If you were out there getting smacked in the face every play, you’d get used to it (and) you adjust. So I think it’s kind of the same thing with boxing and MMA. You have to get used to getting punched in the face.”
Williams, the third pick in the 2005 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz, won two Texas state wrestling championships while at The Colony High School. Before his prep wrestling career, he won Texas state wrestling titles in the 67-pound weight class at age 8 and in the 116-pound weight class at age 12. He ended up choosing basketball over wrestling in high school because of their conflicting schedules as winter sports.
A retired 12-year NBA veteran with the Jazz, Brooklyn Nets, Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers, Williams admits that some of his NBA contemporaries have given him a hard time about his new profession.
"You're fighting Frank Gore,” he said of their reaction. “What are you doing?"
Williams respects his opponent in Gore, a 16-year NFL veteran who last played with the New York Jets in 2020.
“Frank looks good. The man is tough, no doubt about that,” Williams said. “It's a good challenge for me.”
While preparing for his fight against Gore, Williams has been paying attention to the the NBA. He continues to be amazed by a point guard who’s one year younger than him but keeps playing at an All-Star level — Chris Paul.
“It’s amazing,” Williams of the Phoenix Suns star. “I’m jealous.”
The 36-year-old Paul is averaging 14.7 points, 10.2 assists and 2.6 steals per game for a Suns squad that has won nine straight games and jumped to second in the Western Conference at 10-3.
“He’s playing at such a high level,” Williams said of Paul. “I’ve talked to him a lot. I talked to him last week, and he’s doing a great job of taking care of his body, of doing all of the right things. Kind of like the LeBron method of spending the money on his body.”
“He’s always had a great basketball mind, and it’s almost like he’s getting better,” Williams added. “Maybe his numbers aren’t what they used to be, but he’s so efficient. He knows how to run a team. Nobody expected that Suns team to be in the Finals last year, and he was a big reason for that. I think he’s a big reason why Devin Booker took another step and DeAndre Ayton is playing so well.”
Williams also has been keeping tabs on the Los Angeles Lakers and their big three of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. The Lakers are 8-7 and seventh in the West, having dealt with injuries — namely James’ abdominal strain that has sidelined him since Nov. 2. Despite the rough start, Williams thinks James and the Lakers will endure.
“I expect him to be good,” Williams said of James, his former Cavaliers teammate. “They’re going to be there at the end, come playoff time. They have a solid team around him. They got a lot of vets, a lot of guys that know how to play the game of basketball. I’m sure with the age of a lot of their guys, they’re going to miss some games here and there and rest and things like that, but when it comes to the playoffs, those guys are going to lock in. They’re going to be locked in, and they’re going to be very tough to beat.”
Williams also had high praise for the Lakers’ Carmelo Anthony, who has adjusted seamlessly from star player to star role player in L.A. The 37-year-old Anthony is averaging 15.5 points while shooting 46.9 percent from the field and a career-best 45.3 percent on 3-pointers.
“I think he’s accepted it. He’s embraced it,” Williams said of Anthony’s supporting role. “He’s OK with it, and I think he’s flourishing now.”
“He’s playing pretty good basketball from what I’ve seen, and I think it’s something that took him some time,” Williams added. “It took him getting out of the league before he could come back in and figured it out. But he’s definitely got it figured out. I’m so happy for him because there’s no way he shouldn’t have been playing basketball. There's no way he’s not good enough to make a roster. So you’ve definitely been seeing it the last three years.”
Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd was one of Williams’ mentors while he played for Kidd in Brooklyn. Williams, who grew up watching Kidd when he played for his hometown Mavs, said he is excited for the team’s future.
“He’s always been a great basketball mind,” Williams said of Kidd. “I think he’s going to maximize that roster. There’s no doubt he’s a great coach. And I think him being with Luka (Doncic) is going to help that whole situation flourish, and I think they’re going to be pretty good this year. I got a chance to talk to him a couple of months ago and seeing some games. They’re playing pretty well.”