Remember Jayson Williams? Yes, that Jayson Williams.
The former NBA all-star who played for the Sixers and the New Jersey Nets before accidentally killing a limo driver, Costas "Gus" Christofi, more than a decade ago.
Well, he's served his time, calls his actions back then cowardly, and says he'll spend the rest of his life maintaining his sobriety and atoning. One of the ways he does this is through the new drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility he founded 30 months ago in Jupiter, Fla., called Rebound, A Better Solution.
Still, I initially looked side-eyed at an offer to interview him that landed in my inbox on Instagram from Charlie Mack Alston, a movie producer and a longtime friend/bodyguard for actor Will Smith. Yes, I remembered Williams, but not in a good way. Not at all.
Christofi had been hired to drive Williams and his friends that fateful night back in 2002. After arriving at Williams' mansion, Christofi stepped inside for a tour, and that's when the basketball star produced a shotgun that accidentally discharged. Williams went into damage control – wiping down the gun, jumping into his pool, and getting a friend to dispose of his clothing. His ensuing legal battle was a long, drawn-out
, media circus. Williams eventually pleaded guilty in 2010 to aggravated assault and was convicted of four counts of covering it up. He was released from prison in 2012.
Some ex-cons emerge changed for the better. Others not so much. I was curious to know what Williams had to say for himself, so I accepted Alston's invitation.
Our telephone interview was scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Despite the early hour, Williams was full of energy as he described the gorgeous 8,000-square-foot waterfront property where Rebound is located and its adventure therapy program that has recovering addicts engaging in active pursuits such as scuba diving, snorkeling, and going out on Jet Skis — as well as traditional drug and alcohol rehab methods.
"You have to change people's lifestyle," Williams said. "You have to show people how much fun it is being sober."
"Teammates," as they are called, are on the move from early morning until about 9 p.m., and Williams is right there with them six days a week. It's a small program – Rebound admits just seven people at a time. Some are addicted to opioids; others, alcohol. A New Jersey resident I interviewed who said his name was "Steve" went to Rebound after spending three years in bed suffering from depression and anxiety. Steve has nothing but praise for his time spent there as well as all of the follow-up care he's gotten. More than 70 people have completed Rebound's program.
"This is my defense mechanism for all the pain that I caused 17 years ago," Williams told me. "I take full responsibility. Not an hour goes by in my life that I don't think about that. And the only way that I can cope with it is trying to help others help me. I just try to stay busy and I don't need alcohol. I don't need Ambien. I don't need the things that I would need when I would get home at 5:30 or when I was laying in the bed all day."
He gets as much as he gives.
"Every time I get someone to come down here, that gives me another 45 days — another 45 days that I know I have to be on the straight and narrow," Williams said. "We save each others' lives."
After his release from prison, Williams retreated to the woods in upstate New York, where he downed copious amounts of corn whiskey and dandelion wine. He might still be there if his pro-athlete buddies including former NBA rival Charles Oakley hadn't staged an intervention and insisted he go to rehab. Once that was done, Williams returned to upstate New York and, once again, his pro-ball buddies came through for him and encouraged him to return to the Sunshine State and volunteer in drug and alcohol rehab.
Former 76ers teammate "Charles Barkley is the first one to say, 'Jay, stay your ass down there,'" Williams told me.
While there, he decided to start his own recovery center, a nonprofit that gets fund-raising help from the likes of Barkley himself and event planning services from Will Smith's sister Ellen Smith, who is organizing an anniversary black tie gala and other events for Aug. 4-5.
"Through the grace of God, I've finally found something that I'm truly good at and it's helping addicts," Williams told me.