We previously took a look at eight NBA stars who all had some sort of run-in with the law. However, those players all dealt with the matter and were able to continue on with their careers. But what about those who were involved in far worse crimes? Well, in a lot of cases, the only court those former stars are now playing on is the one at the penitentiary.
That’s why, this time, we’re taking a look at seven NBA players who committed serious crimes, and ended up doing time behind bars.
During his time in the NBA, Jayson Williams played for the Philadelphia 76ers (1990-1992) and the New Jersey Nets (1992-1999). On April 1, 1999, an on-court collision caused him to break his leg, with the surgery forcing an end to his career (though he briefly returned to the court in 2005).
On Valentine’s Day 2002, Jayson Williams shot and killed Costas “Gus” Christofi, a limo driver hired to drive an NBA charity team to Williams’ home. The shooting was actually an accident; while giving a tour of his mansion, Williams accidentally fired a shotgun he was fiddling with. But despite being unintentional, Williams still saw it fit to try and hide the incident, including tampering with evidence. According to reports, he wiped the gun clean, jumped in his pool, and had a friend get rid of his clothes.
The case got hung up in the courts until January 2010, when Williams pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. He was given five years in prison and obtained freedom on April 13, 2012.
While it’s nowhere near as bad as intentionally killing someone–though it could have been–Williams was arrested again in early 2016, this time for drunk driving. He was charged with misdemeanor driving while intoxicated, a similar DWI conviction he was handed in 2010, which tacked on another year to the sentence he was already in serving for the manslaughter conviction.
Since then, Williams has checked himself into rehab and looks to be learning from his mistakes. In an interview with Sports Illustrated in 2016, Williams is focused on staying sober and living a better life. “That’s my only job, to be sober…I don’t know what happened yesterday. I know I was sober. I damn sure don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” he said. He’s even been working on a book due to release in 2019 titled, Crashing: A Memoir.
Javaris Crittenton will likely be remembered far more for his heinous actions off the court than anything he did on it. Playing in the NBA from 2007 to 2009, he was shuffled rapidly from the Lakers to the Grizzlies to the Wizards following a series of unremarkable performances.
In August 2011, Crittenton was involved in a drive-by shooting in the Atlanta area, where he killed a 22-year-old mother of four named Julian Jones. He was arrested at a California airport, his lawyer claiming he was en route back to Atlanta to turn himself in.
Javaris Crittenton admitted to being part of a gang and prosecuters speculated that the intended target of the bullet was a rival gang member, with Jones being hit by accident instead. Crittendon, at the time, denied any involvement and he was released on a $230,000 bond.
Another case of the justice system taking its sweet time, Crittenton (along with his cousin Douglas Gamble, who was involved in the shooting) was indicted in April 2013 on 12 counts in connection to Jones’ death, which included charges of murder, felony murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, giving false statements, attempted murder, and participation in street gang activity.
He was not sentenced until the end of April 2015, when he pleaded guilty to manslaughter (of Jones) and aggravated assault (of the man he was originally aiming for). As part of the plea agreement, charges against Crittenton for another shooting around the same time were dropped.
However, while out on bond awaiting his trial, Crittenton was arrested for drug trafficking in January of 2014, only adding to the complications of his legal troubles.
On April 29, 2015, he was sentenced to 23 years in prison and is currently behind bars.
Nicknamed “Fast Eddie,” Edward Lee “Fast Eddie” Johnson Jr. was in the NBA from 1977 to 1987, playing for mainly Atlanta but also Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Seattle. He was a two-time NBA All-Star before his retirement.
Eddie Johnson holds a record among NBA players who committed serious crimes, having been arrested over 100 times. During his time in the NBA, Johnson was suspended numerous times, mainly due to a cocaine addiction.
In fact, his retirement wasn’t voluntary: he was banned for life from the NBA in 1987 after he skipped mandatory counseling. (Further controversy arose when another Eddie Johnson, who also played in the NBA, kept getting confused with this one, with multiple publications dragging the latter’s name throught the mud in reference to “Fast Eddie’s” heinous crimes.)
Things only got worse for Johnson after being ousted from the NBA. As noted, he was arrested for over 100 crimes, including the likes of shoplifting, robbery, burglary, and assault on a police officer, and already served time on five separate occasions.
The worst, however, came when he was found guilty of sexual battery on a child under the age of 12, and of lewd or lascivious molestation on a child under age 12. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Tom Payne is actually a historical footnote outside of being one of the NBA players who committed serious crimes; he was the first African-American to play for the University of Kentucky basketball team. He was only in the NBA for one year, playing for the 1971-72 Atlanta Hawks.
Why only the one year? Because in May 1972, he was arrested on suspicion of being a serial rapist in the Atlanta area. He was indicted in Kentucky on rape charges, as well.
He was convicted that same year on two counts of rape and one count of aggravated sodomy, serving five years in an Atlanta prison.
Upon leaving the Atlanta jail, he was immediately taken to Kentucky, where he was found guilty of rape and attempted rape and served another five years behind bars (two of which were spent in solitary confinement for participating in a prison riot).
After being paroled in 1983, Payne attempted to make a basketball comeback with the Continental Basketball Association, as well as making an attempt at both a boxing and acting career.
However, he was arrested for rape again in February 1986, this time being caught in the act by police. He was released in 2000, but went right back to jail in Kentucky to serve another 15 years for violating the parole of his 1971 charge.
Charles Smith had a storied professional basketball career, playing from 1989 to 2001. However, only three of those years were spent in the NBA, as a member of the Boston Celtics (1989-1990, 1991) and the Minnesota Timberwolves (1995).
But his basketball career was cut short when he was involved in a hit-and-run incident that left two dead. In 1991, Smith ran over and killed two Boston University students, pausing only for a second before driving away.
He was convicted of vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a crime almost exactly one year later. He was sentenced to four years in prison, but only served 28 months.
All things considered, Charles Smith should consider himself lucky. In 2010, Smith was shot twice in the chest, and in his own home no less. He underwent surgery and survived the ordeal. However, when investigating the incident, police discovered a large amount of cocaine and evidence that Smith was operating an illegal gambling business out of his home.
A 1979 first-round draft pick for the New York Knicks, Sylvester “Sly” Williams played seven seasons in the NBA, eventually transitioning from the Knicks to the Hawks, and later to the Celtics, who released him due to personal issues (they went on to win the championship that year). After basketball, he worked several “regular” jobs, such as a mechanic.
After leaving the NBA, Williams’ life appeared to enter a downward spiral. Then, in September 2001, he was alleged to have kidnapped a woman, holding her hostage for at least 24 hours while threatening her with a knife. He was accused of raping a second woman in January 2002.
Sylvester Williams pleaded guilty to charges of burglary, kidnapping, rape, and sodomy. Despite the severity of his crimes, he was sentenced to only five years in prison.
Active in the NBA sporadically from 1990 to 1995, Tate George spent most of his career in the minor leagues. While playing for the University of Connecticut in 1990, he is probably most remembered for winning an NCAA regional semi-final game with his breathtaking 15-foot turnaround shot, just as the buzzer sounded off.
He went on to become a first-round draft pick when entering the NBA. He played a total of four years in the NBA (for the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks), averaging 4.2 points per game throughout his short career.
After basketball, George founded The George Group, a New Jersey-based real estate development company. However, as CEO, he was arrested for fraud. He was suspected of being involved in a huge Ponzi scheme, where he preyed on other former professional athletes while faking investments and pocketing investors’ money.
Tate George was found guilty of four counts of federal wire fraud and was sentenced in January 2016 to nine years in prison. He will also have to pay restitution fees totaling $2.5 million and will also be on supervised watch for three years following his release.