This much we know: In the early morning hours of Feb. 14 the lives of Jayson Williams, the wealthy NBA player turned B-list celebrity, and Costas (Gus) Christofi, a limousine driver who had apparently put a difficult stretch of his life behind him, intersected tragically. A shotgun was fired in the master bedroom of Williams's lavish estate, a grown man's Disneyland in northwest New Jersey. We do not know why the gun was fired or, with any certainty, how. But we know Christofi is dead, Williams is charged with killing him, and their names are now linked in perpetuity. First, the death was reported as a suicide, and then forensic evidence proved it was a homicide. Now, SI has learned, there was allegedly an attempt to tamper with evidence in the moments after the shooting in order to protect Williams. Creeping up slowly on the truth, investigators learn more from witnesses each day.
They lived in different worlds, the driver and his celebrity client. Williams, 34, played nine years in the NBA and struck the mother lode when he signed a six-year, $86 million contract in January 1999, two months before the first of a series of injuries led to his retirement in June 2000. But since his career ended, his fame has grown; a regular on the Manhattan nightclub circuit, he joined NBC's NBA studio show this year. Christofi, 55, who lived in Washington, N.J., went to prison four times (twice on burglary convictions) for a total of eight years between January 1976 and December '88. But he seemed to have righted himself in middle age and was described by Sam Nenna, his employer at Seventy Eight Limousine, as among the most reliable of his 15 drivers.
On Feb. 25 Williams surrendered to New Jersey State Police and was charged with shooting Christofi at Williams's mansion on his 65-acre estate in Alexandria Township, N.J. The charge, second-degree manslaughter, could still be upgraded. A witness told SI that he saw Williams and another person attempt to place Christofi's palm print and fingerprints on the gun that killed him, apparently trying to make plausible a 911 call claiming that Christofi had committed suicide. The witness also said that Williams and two other men disposed of the clothes that Williams was wearing at the time of Christofi's shooting. Either alleged act could expose Williams and perhaps others—to additional charges.
AT 8:45 P.M. on Feb. 13, Victor Santiago, who identified himself as Williams's brother, called the office of the limousine company, in Pittstown, N.J., near the Pennsylvania border. The caller asked to hire a stretch limo to drive Williams, a former All-Star center-forward for the New Jersey Nets, and nine other people from a Harlem Globetrotters basketball game at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., to the Mountain View Chalet restaurant in Asbury, N.J., 25 miles away, and back to Bethlehem.
Nenna told the caller that his only stretch limo was unavailable, but he could send a passenger van instead. Then Nenna made two calls. First, to make sure that the limo order wasn't a hoax, he phoned the Mountain View Chalet to confirm that a reservation had been made in Williams's name. (It had.) Next he contacted Christofi "because I knew he was such a great sports fan," Nenna told SI last Saturday. Christofi had been scheduled to make early-morning runs the next day, but Nenna shifted those to other drivers to put Christofi on duty with the Williams entourage. "We've had Jayson Williams in the past, and he's had diversions to Atlantic City and other places," said Nenna. "I had this feeling that it wouldn't be just to the restaurant and back, so I wanted to make sure Gus could stay out as long as he needed to."
Christofi picked up Williams and several other passengers at 10:30 p.m. at the Comfort Suites on West Third Street in Bethlehem and drove them to the Mountain View Chalet, arriving at the restaurant at approximately 11:15. A source familiar with the events of that night says the van was so crowded that one of the passengers rode up front next to Christofi and chatted with him. Among the passengers were four members of the Globetrotters' team that played at Lehigh that night: Chris Morris, an 11-year NBA veteran who last played in the league in 1999 and was a Nets teammate of Williams's for five seasons; Benoit Benjamin, who played in the NBA for 15 years, including two with Williams on the Nets, and who was on a 10-day tryout with the Globetrotters; Paul (Showtime) Gaffney, a nine-year Globetrotters veteran who plays the team's clown, as Meadowlark Lemon once did; and Curley (Boo) Johnson, a dazzling dribbler in the Curly Neal mold who is in his 14th year with the team.
The Williams party stayed at the Mountain View Chalet, a family-style restaurant, for roughly two hours. But instead of returning to Bethlehem, Williams took the Globetrotters and the rest of the group to his home, telling them he wanted to show off his digs. They arrived at about 2 a.m.
Chez Jayson is a sprawling two-story, 30,000-square-foot mansion with 17 bathrooms, eight bedroom suites, a theater with custom-made red-leather seats, an indoor swimming pool and a gymnasium; outside there are riding stables, a duck pond, an ATV track and two golf holes. The property—Williams named it Who Knew? Estates—also has a skeet range. At the range, according to his 2000 autobiography, Loose Balls, Williams nearly shot visiting New York Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet by accident when he discharged a mammoth .50-caliber handgun inches from Chrebet's face, knocking him unconscious.
According to the source familiar with the night's events, Williams kept several shotguns on a wall rack in his bedroom. In his book he recounts nine incidents involving guns, including one in which Williams threatens former NBA player Manute Bol's uncle with an unloaded handgun; another in which one of Williams's brothers shoots another brother twice with a shotgun for hitting him in the head with a baseball; and yet another in which Williams's father shoots a man in the buttocks after the man hit Jayson with a pool cue. In 1994 Williams was arrested on weapons charges after a handgun he admitted owning was fired at an unoccupied vehicle in the parking lot of Meadowlands Arena (now Continental Airlines Arena), where the Nets play. Williams denied firing the gun, and charges were dismissed after he completed a pretrial program.
As part of that program Williams took out a yearlong series of ads in The Bergen Record, warning youths about the dangers of using guns. "My message," he said, "will be that guns in the wrong hands can be deadly."