By John Brennan, The Record (Hackensack N.J.) –
HACKENSACK, N.J. — Jayson Williams, the former all-star center for the Nets, is expected to become a free man Friday — 10 years after his involvement in the shooting death of a limousine driver, and two years after slamming his sport-utility vehicle into a tree in Manhattan while driving drunk.
Williams, 44, is scheduled to be released from Rikers Island (N.Y.) after serving eight months of a one-year sentence for DWI in the early morning hours of Jan. 10, 2010. The former St. John’s University basketball star had spent the previous 18 months in a New Jersey prison for his role in the death of driver Costas “Gus” Christofi on Feb. 14, 2002.
“Jayson is in great health, mentally and physically,” Williams’ manager, Akhtar Farzaie, said Thursday. “He has worked very hard toward his rehabilitation while he’s been incarcerated, and he will continue to do so.”
Sal DiFazio, Williams’ agent throughout a National Basketball Association career that lasted from 1990 to 2000, said he has continued to be in contact with Williams. That includes a visit last summer to the Burlington County prison where the 6-foot-10 Williams served time for the Christofi shooting.
“He looks wonderful — slimmed down, in great shape, and almost looks as if he’d be able to play again,” DiFazio said. “He was in a good frame of mind, and he seems to have made the best of a bad situation while in prison.”
The one-car, drunken-driving incident occurred just days before Williams accepted a deal to plead guilty in New Jersey to aggravated assault in the Christofi case.
The limo driver died shortly after a Browning 12-gauge shotgun that Williams was handling discharged into Christofi’s chest outside the master bedroom of Williams’ former 27,000-square-foot Hunterdon County estate. A jury in 2004 found Williams not guilty of three felonies and guilty of four lesser crimes for a botched coverup — but hung on the core charge of reckless manslaughter.
After years of legal wrangling between the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office and Williams’ high-powered defense team, Williams accepted the deal that included a sentence of up to five years in prison.
Williams was transferred from Mid-State Correctional Facility in Wrightstown to Rikers Island in New York City last August.
“It’s not going to be an easy road for him to rebuild after all this, but with his heart and his personality, I think he can do it if people give him a second chance,” DiFazio said. “He’s not the first celebrity to have made a mistake and paid the price.”
Former Nets President Michael Rowe said Williams has been anxious to start a new phase in his life.
“I’ve told him that his friends and I are ready and able to assist him in making a positive contribution back into society,” Rowe said.
The Nets acquired Williams from the Philadelphia 76ers in October 1992. Williams had only a reserve role for several years, but he blossomed into one of the NBA’s top rebounders. He was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 1997-98, a season in which he led the league in offensive rebounds.
After a labor dispute wiped out the first half of the 1998-99 season, Williams signed a six-year, $86 million contract with the Nets. But only 30 games into the guaranteed deal, Williams suffered a career-ending injury when he broke his right tibia during a game.
Williams was a broadcaster for NBC Sports before being dismissed after Christofi’s death.