By DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer
WEEHAWKEN, N.J. (AP) - Jayson Williams wants to walk. After 26 months behind bars, Williams never squanders an opportunity to stretch the legs that once helped make him one of the NBA's most ruthless rebounders. Besides, he doesn't have a driver's license.
Dressed in a New Jersey Nets T-shirt and Chicago Bulls practice shorts, the 6-foot-10 Williams looms larger than the Empire State Building behind him in the distance. He takes only a few steps out from a hotel around Lincoln Harbor when a pair of 11-year-old girls wants to know if he played in the NBA.
He sure did. Was an All-Star, too.
"You're lying," one of the girls teases from her bike.
"Naw, I'm telling the truth," a laughing Williams said.
"I can't swear. But I'll tell you, it's the truth. It's a sin to swear."
Before asking for an autograph, the girl tells Williams she'll look him up online. He encourages the search. "No. 55," he throws in for good measure.
What they'll find of his name in a search engine is more than his successes and stats over an injury-shortened nine-year career. They'll also discover a cascade of stories detailing legal troubles that stretched more than a decade once his career dried up. They'll find Williams served eight months for drunken driving in New York and 18 months before that in New Jersey on charges stemming from a limo driver's shooting death.
"There's nothing I can do about that," Williams said.
Williams says all he can do today, and for the rest of his life, is apologize for his wrongs and crimes and start to move ahead, grateful for a second chance, with God on his side.
He quit drinking _ 893 days sober and counting _ discarded the guns, downsized the house, and returned to civilian life with a renewed focus and vigor for community work.
He walked more than a mile to his barber for a cut Tuesday because he was due later that night at an Upper Montclair Country Club fundraiser for HIV shelters. On Father's Day, he took a group of homeless men to the same barbershop, after arranging for breakfast at a local shelter, to clean them up and restore a chunk of their dignity.
In his first extended interview since he was freed from jail in April, the 44-year-old Williams stressed over and over that he's sorry, and vowed to live life without the toxic tag team of booze and bravado that fueled his reckless behavior and led to the shotgun death in his New Jersey mansion of chauffeur Costas Christofi and the night he drove his SUV into a tree in lower Manhattan.
"People say, `Jay, you're a great guy, you just had a couple of bad nights,'" Williams said. "People that have themselves under control don't have a couple of bad nights like that. Plain and simple. I could have been better. That's my goal now, to be better."
It's a start for a man rendered unable to get a handle on his life. Williams, who tackled the lighter side of the NBA in "Loose Balls," reveals how he lost his way, and the lessons learned and scars formed from childhood and prison in his latest book, "Humbled: Letters From Prison." Williams wrote candid letters, journal entries, even poetry, to pass time in prison, mailed them to a friend who saved them, and turned them into a collection of his works.
In one entry, he reveals a secret _ saying he was sexually abused as a child.
"I don't like talking about it and I won't talk about it," Williams said. "That was the most embarrassing thing to write. The most painful. It was very painful for me to read the book again."
Even with a wife and children, Williams' retirement was filled with pain because of the 2002 fatal shooting of Christofi.
Two years after a freak leg injury suffered with the New Jersey Nets forced him to retire, Williams killed Christofi with a 12-gauge shotgun while showing it to friends, having failed to check the weapon's safety mechanism before snapping the gun closed.
Williams then wiped down the weapon and placed it in the chauffeur's hands, stripped off his own clothes, handed them to a friend and jumped into his pool, according to testimony. Williams' lawyers maintained that the shooting was an accident and that his actions were driven by panic.
The tragedy will always haunt Williams.