Looking fit at 245 pounds, Williams says God and sobriety make him feel the best physically he has in years even though he has trouble sleeping.
On this walk, Williams is hilarious and heartfelt, quick with a quip and a hug and autograph for fans on the street or in the barber shop. Williams is so gregarious, he would have thrived as the life of any party, without getting loaded on booze or trying to play Doc Holliday in a mansion.
“No excuses, but when people come to your house as a young man,” he said, “they don’t want to see your Picassos, they want to see your pistols. The department of justice took the pistols off. So you’re left with the Picasso, which is a lot safer.”
The series of delays in the case led to Williams finally serving time eight years after the accident. Williams believes the ripple effect of that night in his mansion was the overwhelming stress that caused his father to have a stroke at 70 and die in 2009.
“Two lives were taken,” that night, Williams said. “I’d tell my dad everything was going to be all right. He said, `Not this time.”
Williams did have staunch supporters while he was in prison. Former NBA star Charles Oakley was a frequent visitor. Williams calls former New York Jets running back Curtis Martin his spiritual advisor. And through all his legal woes, Williams maintained a tight friendship with director Penny Marshall.
It seems like a cast straight out of “Hollywood Squares.” For Williams, the trio helped form the backbone of support through his darkest days.
Williams recently filmed an interview for Marshall for a documentary on Dennis Rodman. Marshall and Williams talked for more than an hour Monday night, connecting much as they have for most of their 27-year friendship. Using his best nasal whine, Williams recalled how Marshall implored him for years to cut down or cut out his drinking _ he just failed to listen.
Williams also exchanged letters with NBA Commissioner David Stern while in prison.
A first-round draft pick in 1990, Williams would love to somehow return to the NBA via coaching or TV studio work. At the very least, he could be the type of motivational speaker to scare rookies straight at orientation.
“I think I can explain to those young folks better than anybody can how one mistake, one reckless act, can change your life,” Williams said.
Williams, who lives alone in Hudson County, is close to finalizing his divorce from his wife, Tanya. He’s tried to establish a daily routine with volunteer work and his longtime manager and best friend, Akhtar Farzaie, is always near for support. His legal woes took a toll on the $63 million he made in his playing career, but Williams insists he’s not strapped for cash.
For eight years he talked to no one more than his attorney, Joe Hayden.
“He’d never give you, `It’s a good day,’” Williams said. “And how could it be? Everything was half empty.”