ESPN's Jay Bilas shares life lessons with Elon Law students
The noted authority on college sports visited with Elon Law Leadership Fellows and the Sports & Entertainment Law Society during his visit to campus for the Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series.
As Jay Bilas sees it, life often comes down to two types of choices: “have to” and “want to.”
“Have to” choices are those you make to support a spouse and children. To pay bills. To honor commitments. “Want to” choices are those you make to pursue a personal goal. To explore a passion. To discover new things about yourself with little or no risk.
And Bilas believes that when you take care of “have to” choices early in life by living frugally, securing a career and attending to family, what remains are “want to” choices that can open up new opportunities.
Of course, he said, there’s also a little thing called “luck.” “I was very, very lucky,” said Bilas, a nationally acclaimed college basketball commentator for ESPN who visited the Elon University School of Law this spring. “And you can not discount luck as a big factor in success. Luck is a big deal, and I was really lucky.”
Bilas spoke April 18, 2016, to nearly two dozen Elon Law students taking part in the Leadership Fellows program and the Sports & Entertainment Law Society. His afternoon remarks in an Elon Law classroom preceded the final program in the 2015-16 Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series presented by The Joseph M. Bryan Foundation.
How does Bilas believe he was lucky? He received a scholarship to play basketball at Duke University in the mid 1980s. He played for Mike Krzyzewski, one of the game’s greatest coaches of all time. He shared the court with “amazing teammates” and, after graduating, played professional basketball overseas, which made him money to support other pursuits.
Those opportunities eventually led to Duke Law and an early career at a Charlotte law firm, all debt free. “I didn’t have the day-to-day pressure of having to make money right out of the gate,” Bilas told students. “I felt secure.”
So when Bilas was approached two decades ago to offer radio commentary for men’s basketball games on the Duke Radio Network, he knew that his “have to” choices were made. He took a chance on radio because it was a “want to” decision - and ever since, he’s been hailed as one of the best observers of the game.
As his career advanced, Bilas recalled,he discovered that his time was a precious commodity. “The most important word you’re going to have in your lives at this time and going forward is ‘no,’” he said. “‘No’ is a really important word. When you say ‘no’ to one thing, you’re saying ‘yes’ to something else.
“There’s no one’s time in the world that is more valuable than yours. Nobody’s. My time isn’t more valuable than any of yours. It’s not any less valuable, either.”
Bilas joined ESPN as a college basketball analyst in 1995 and today serves as a game and studio analyst and courtside color commentator, working more than 40 games a season and co-hosting ESPN’s popular road show, College GameDay. He also is a regular contributor to SportsCenter, ESPN.com and ESPNews.
He graduated from Duke University with a degree in political science in 1986 and from Duke Law School in 1992. He has been a litigation attorney with the Charlotte, North Carolina, firm of Moore & Van Allen, PLLC since 1992. In 2013, Bilas released his book “Toughness: Developing True Strength On and Off the Court.”
Bilas reminded students that it takes initiative to pursue life goals. Start early. “The jobs a lot of people are passionate about don’t usually come to you,” he said. “You have to go to them.”