- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Ray Sherman knows life hasn't been right for Javon Walker since the first day of 2007.
Walker's world has taken a turn that worries Sherman, the Dallas Cowboys' receivers coach and a longtime Walker mentor.
"It's not him," said Sherman, who became a father figure to Walker while the two were in Green Bay together. "We need to sit down and talk. He needs to say what is going on, what is bothering him. We need to hammer it out. I'm concerned. I'm worried about him."
Sherman's concern is shared by others. Many of the dozens of people ESPN.com interviewed declined to talk on the record about their concern for Walker, a wide receiver who in March signed a six-year, $55 million deal with the Oakland Raiders. But everyone said they have reached out to him in recent days and they all worry about Walker's well-being, both mentally and physically.
A traumatic 18-month journey took another sad, upsetting turn in the early morning June 16 on a desolate Las Vegas side street. Shortly after 7 a.m., Walker's athletic body was found motionless, unconscious. His classically handsome face was battered. His wallet was empty. Jewelry was missing from his wrist, his neck and his ears.
Two days after the assault, the Raiders said they expected the former Pro Bowl receiver to make a full recovery and to be ready for training camp. ESPN.com's attempts to interview Walker were unsuccessful and his agent, Kennard McGuire, declined to comment.
The police still are investigating the robbery, which occurred after Walker spent two nights in chic casino nightclubs, reportedly spraying patrons with expensive bottles of champagne.
Once again, Vegas and spraying champagne bottles were playing a leading role in a drama starring Walker.
"When I heard this week that [the robbery] happened in Vegas, it immediately made me think of the past," said Walker's former Denver teammate John Lynch.
"It was just ironic. I'm not going to judge Javon. He's been through stuff few of us can imagine. He's really a good guy. I just hope the best for him."
Worry and concern have dominated thoughts for Walker since the first hours of 2007.
Walker was sitting next to popular Denver right cornerback Darrent Williams in a limousine when Williams was shot and killed in a still unsolved drive-by shooting. Walker said in an August, 2008 interview with HBO -- the only documented time Walker has spoken about the tragedy -- that Williams died in his arms. Walker showed up at Denver's facility 12 hours after the shooting with Williams' blood covering his white shirt.
In the HBO interview, Walker said there was a melee at a Denver nightclub before the shooting death of Williams that escalated when fellow Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall and his cousin were spraying champagne. Walker, who was known to go to Vegas often on the team's off days in 2006, went to Las Vegas and was seen frequenting nightclubs during the weekend of Williams' funeral. Nearly every other member of the Broncos' organization attended the heart-breaking service in Williams' hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.
Walker was roundly criticized for the action, but many in the Denver organization supported him, saying he needed to handle the situation his way.
Rosalind Williams, who lost her only child in the limousine, said she wasn't upset with Walker for not going to the service. Williams, who has built a relationship with Walker since the tragedy, cringes at the thought that Walker went to Las Vegas this month. Still, she said it all makes sense.
On the weekend of Walker's trip, the Darrent Williams Foundation held its first fundraising gala and parade. Rosalind Williams personally asked Walker to attend the event. He told her he was busy.
Williams believes Walker, who'll turn 30 in October, went back to Las Vegas so he'd have an excuse not to face the memory of her son's loss.
"It hurts me because he should have been here," Williams said. "But he went back to Vegas. It's his coping mechanism."
Williams said she knows Walker has not come to grips with the loss of her son.
"He hasn't dealt with it, he just tried to move on, and believe me, you can't," she said. "I think he is just trying to be strong for everyone. Some men are like that. But he hasn't allowed himself to grieve."
Perhaps, he's now trying.
Sherman said Walker recently told him he is seeking professional counseling to deal with his memories of Williams. In his HBO interview, Walker was defiant when asked about the possibility of counseling. He said he didn't need it. The Broncos tried to get Walker help, but he was reluctant.
"There were guys who said if he needed to talk, we were there for him," Lynch said. "But he never wanted to go there."
Some close to Walker said he has said he feels he can't get over Williams' death. Still, those who know him best said that day has changed him dramatically. Walker's 2007 season was hampered by a knee injury that helped lead to an ugly departure from the Broncos, similar to his 2005 farewell to Green Bay. Besides the injury, many in the locker room said Walker, already a loner, was withdrawn last season.
"It will never go away, but he needs to deal with it so he can go on," said Sherman, who lost his son to an accidental shooting in Green Bay several years ago. "Javon needs to come to grips. He is such a good guy. My daughters look at him like a big brother. He has such a good heart."
On his ESPN radio talk show in Dallas, Cowboys Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin talked to Rosalind Williams about Walker. He told her on the air that he was close with Walker prior to the shooting. But Irvin told Williams that he can no longer get Walker to return his calls since the tragedy. Others have similar tales.
Walker, described by some as a lost soul, is an enigma. He can be as cocky and selfish as any receiver in the league, often clamoring for the ball through the media. But he can also be generous and caring.
Walker, who made a practice in Denver of asking media members about their families and often asked for details of their jobs, would often show up at high school football games in low-income areas of Denver on Friday nights. Last season, he wore a Mohawk in a clear tribute to Williams for several months but he never publicly admitted the tribute, and also surprised Rosalind Williams with a professionally painted portrait of her and her son.
Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin on his conversation with Javon Walker.
He also donated $30,000 to the Darrent Williams Teen Center in Denver.
For all of his inner pain, his questionable judgment and his complaints about his role in offenses in both Green Bay and in Denver, Walker has a sizable warm, lovable side.
"Hearing about this situation is just so hard because I have so many good memories of Javon," said Jeff Bowden, Walker's offensive coordinator at Florida State. "He'll always be a special kid to me. And that's how I see Javon -- as a kid. He has that great child-like smile. He always wanted to please you -- he was never trouble. Never."
"He's a great kid," Sherman said. "I just want the best for him."
Bill Williamson covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
4dEric D. Williams
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3dEric D. Williams