The tale of two lifelong hoopers who are bringing the basketball dreams of White Chocolate fanatics to life.
If you’re reading this, it’s too late. Dreams of dunking from the free throw line have been replaced by nightmares of losing your hairline. Aspirations of heating up your rec league have been swapped out with realities of icing your knees. Your Y2K highlight tape only lives now through 2K.
Or maybe not.
This Saturday in sunny California, NBA legend Jason Williams is hosting an open run in Orange County. The best part? He’ll be throwing those behind-the-back passes to you.
Teaming up with Stance Socks and Move Insoles, J Will and his righthand man Nik Winkleman will hold court for a Fantasy Camp, keeping the dream alive for a full three hours of hooping with a hero.
For Winkleman and Williams, their paths intersected far before this coming weekend in California. More notably, their own court kinship dates all the way back to a fateful Florida summer that still defies imagination.
How it Started, How it’s Going
Growing up in West Virginia, Jason Williams benefitted by having the keys to his local high school gym.
What he didn’t always have was nine other hoopers to run with.
Because of this, a young Williams would spend all day alone in the gym, playing full games of 5-on-5 in his mind. This would begin by running into the gym as if it was a roaring packed house, soon transitioning into sprinting up and down the court, throwing lob passes to leaping forwards who weren’t actually there.
Around that same time in the early ’90s, Nik Winkleman was picking up the ball in The Sunshine State, starting an odyssey that would eventually take him all over the world.
“Basketball has always been my entire life,” Winkleman told Boardroom. “I’m a 5’10 white guy with no plan B.”
In the summer of 1998, a 22-year-old Williams and 14-year-old Winkleman met for the first time, fittingly on the hardwood.
After getting suspended by Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators just weeks after setting a school record with 17 assists in one game, Williams signed with an agent and began training in Orlando with hopes of making the NBA. Already a gym rat, the longtime loner was now playing pickup with the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, and Nick Anderson.
Up in the rafters, a teenage Winkleman watched, absolutely astounded.
“I found a backdoor where I could go and watch those runs from a balcony,” Winkleman said. “I used to sit upstairs and watch. It was unreal. The Orlando Magic practiced there. But me? I was sneaking into the place.”
Playing at the RVD Sportsplex, a gym held by the DeVos family who owned the Magic, a young Williams won over eventual teammate and neighbor Shaq before the world knew who he was.
As more talent trickled into the gym, the inner circle of hoops suddenly became familiar with who Williams was and who he was going to be.
“The Olympic Team would come through and get runs at the same time,” Winkleman recalls. “He held his own like nobody else. A lot of people were kind of surprised when he went seventh, but people that were around when he was playing with NBA competition? Nobody was surprised.”
Over the course of that summer, both Winkleman and Williams would spend every waking hour at the same gym, becoming friendly between runs.
Sneaking in and watching from the nosebleeds, Winkleman had inside access to SportsCenter highlights from White Chocolate months before he had a known name, let alone a nickname.
Long before kids like Kevin Durant would see No. 55 firing bullet-passes on TV, Winkleman was privy to Williams running through the best ballers routinely in Orlando.
“It was NBA legend after NBA legend, and Jason was still doing his thing,” Winkleman says. “I’ve seen some of the wildest passes. Some of the craziest full-court behind-the-back bounce passes that you’ve never seen that would blow your mind. The thing that surprised people the most is that athletically he was on that level. He could run and jump with the best of them, he could get up and down the court like nothing I’d ever saw in real life. Post pickup one day, he casually windmilled off of two feet.”
Seeing was believing for Winkleman, NBA peers, and soon NBA fans.
Over the course of the next decade, both Williams and Winkleman continued to chase their dreams of basketball. Famously, Williams went on to become one of the most culturally relevant players of all-time, taking his brand of ball to the game’s biggest stage. In his rookie season, just months after playing pickup in Orlando, Williams’ No. 55 Sacramento Kings kit was amongst the top-five best-selling jerseys in the whole NBA.
Even future Hall of Famers were inspired by his style and his play.
“I wore  that year just because of him,” Kevin Durant recently said on The Etcs. “The hesi on Gary Payton was insane, but the pass he threw in the Sophomore Game? Man, the one he threw off the elbow we tried everyday. Jason Williams definitely made an impact on the community.”
Heading into the 2000s, the game didn’t stop for his younger friend. Winkleman went on to play college ball locally at Florida Christian, eventually taking his talents to China, Ukraine, and Brazil as both a player and a coach.
“I was chasing basketball at all costs,” Winkleman said. “If anybody gave me a Happy Meal and a place to stay? I’d play anywhere.”
In the 2010s, a coaching clinic at an Indian reservation quickly led Winkleman to a gig at San Jacinto College in Texas. Packing his bags and moving overnight from Florida, Winkleman and his wife relocated to teach hoops at the famed JUCO that produced Walter Berry, Sam Cassell, and Steve Francis.
All the while, J Will and the kid he met in the rafters remained connected through the game and a home base of Orlando. Once Williams retired from the NBA, the two lifelong hoopers kept close by playing in men’s leagues around Florida, popping up at exhibition games overseas, and coaching kids in the area.
Not only did friends keep up with Williams, so did fans.
Williams’ flashy game has gone on to transcend time and even platform.
“If Instagram was out when he was a rookie and a sophomore? His ‘gram would be insane,” Rich Kleiman said on The Etcs. “I still watch his YouTube clips four or five times a year. I’ll set up for five to 10 minutes and watch old Jason Williams highlights.”
Winkleman knows this truth both as a fan and as a friend.
“If you want to go highlight for highlight? You’re going to have to move up to Kyrie Irving or Chris Paul to find those level of highlights,” he said. “Those are the guys you’re going to have to put him into the conversation with which is so wild to me. The dude lives a mile away from me and drives a pickup truck! It’s so wild because it’s beyond me and it’s beyond him, too.”
The grounded nature and love of hoops kept Winkleman and Williams as friends for over 20 years.
In 2018, two decades after they first met at RVD Sportsplex as adolescents, an opportunity arose to give back to the game in a whole new way.
As Winkleman recalls it, he and Williams were set to travel to China for a paid appearance and an exhibition game.
Flying from Florida to the Far East meant a daylong layover in California with no set plans. What did Winkleman and Williams want to do with a day off? Hoop. Quickly, Winkleman called Tzvi Twersky, a former SLAM editor who’d taken his talents to Stance Socks.
For years, Winkleman had been sitting on the idea of doing a Fantasy Camp for adults, similar in some spirit to the Flight School concept Michael Jordan once rolled out in Vegas. More down to earth and approachable in play and price point, the Stance x Jason Williams Fantasy Camp debuted for the first time in the summer of 2018.
Naturally, it was a hit.
“We had such good feedback,” Winkleman said. “It really resonated with guys saying, ‘Man, this is something I always dreamed of.'”
After a pandemic pause, the Fantasy Camp returns to the Stance HQ in San Clemente on Saturday, April 23. Tickets have recently gone up for sale here.
Subject to limited spaces, the California camp offers an opportunity for adults and kids alike to play and practice with Williams as if they showed up at the gym as a member of his squad.
“If you’re in high school and on J Will’s AAU team, what would a day like that look like? That’s why we call it the fantasy camp, you get to relive your dreams,” Winkleman said. “The camp is for anyone who’s a basketball fan who thought, ‘Man, how dope would it be to catch a behind-the-back pass from J Will and get that bucket?'”
Despite being buddies for two decades, this dream proves true for the trainer that once watched Jason from the rafters of an Orlando open gym.
“I’ve been friends with him for 20 years,” Winkleman said. “Five years ago we were doing an exhibition in China and I jumped in one of the games. It’s a crowd of a couple thousand people and I caught a behind-the-back pass and knocked down a three. I don’t care who you are, that’s cool. The camp is for those guys. Like, how cool would that be? Let’s make those dreams a reality.”
Jason Williams x Stance Fantasy Basketball Camp (Tickets available here)
Sat, April 23, 2022
11:00 AM – 2:00 PM PDT
193 Avenida La Pata
San Clemente, CA 92673