At first, Plaxico Burress didn't know he shot himself in the leg. He told his wife he'd never go to prison. He never heard of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg until the aftermath of the shooting. He cried in jail too many times to remember.
Burress, in an interview with HBO's "Real Sports" that air will Tuesday, made these revelations and retraced some of the key events that put the former Super Bowl star behind bars for 20 months.
The controversial wide receiver, who signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the New York Jets at the start of training camp, recalled that fateful night, Nov. 28, 2008, when he brought an unlicensed handgun into a Manhattan night club.
"I had a drink in my left hand," Burress said. "I'm just walking up the stairs. And, you know, it was dark. And I kind of, you know, missed a step. That's when I felt my gun ... started to slide. I went to grab it ... to stop it from falling. POW!"
For a few moments, Burress thought he had escaped harm.
"I knew it had went off. I saw the fire, like, come through my jeans," he said, adding, "I took a couple more steps and my jeans were like -- my jeans are wet. And I looked down. I had some Chuck Taylors on and they were -- the white was all red. I'm in trouble."
Burress suffered a wound in his upper right thigh, leaving a small scar that he reveals on camera. His wife, Tiffany, an attorney, told him about New York City's tough gun laws, predicting he'd have to serve jail time. According to her, his response was "I'm not going to jail."
Burress' attorney, Benjamin Brafman, tells "Real Sports" that a bail agreement for $10,000, which would've allowed Burress to be released on his own recognizance, was undermined by Bloomberg. On the day of the agreement, the mayor delivered a harsh public rebuke of Burress, saying he deserved to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
"About 20 minutes after the mayor held his press conference, the prosecutor called me and said they're going to be asking for $250,000 bail," Brafman said. "I said, 'This is outrageous, we had an agreement.'"
Brafman said he relayed the mayor's comments to Burress.
"You know what I said after that?" Burress asked interviewer Bryant Gumbel. "I said, 'Who's Mayor Bloomberg?' Dead serious."
In July 2009, Burress asked the grand jury for sympathy, but it indicted him anyway. Asked why he believes he failed to convince the grand jury, Burress said, "My name is Plaxico Burress and my life hasn't always been squeaky clean."
Burress seemed to contradict himself when he added, "Half of those people had no idea who I was. ... They just saw an African-American over there, sitting around, making a lot of money, carried a gun into a club and shot himself."
Despite a litany of off-the-field issues, Burress took issue with the notion that he's a troublemaker, claiming, "I don't take no s--- from nobody. You got to earn my respect as a person. You got love for me, I got love for you."
At the Oneida Correctional Facility in upstate New York, Burress performed a variety of jobs, including mopping floors and stairwells, serving meals and cleaning showers and toilets.
Asked how many times he cried, Burress said, "I lost count. You work your whole life to get to a certain place and you can tear it all down, just making a bad decision." He said he no longer owns any guns.
Despite a two-year layoff from football, Burress predicted big things, reiterating what he has said from the moment he signed with the Jets.
"I believe in myself that I'm going to go out and play at a high level," he said. "Then everybody is going to go back to scratching their head again: How does he do it? How did he not practice and do it? He's been away for two years. How does he do it?"
Currently, Burress, who turned 34 Friday, is nursing a sprained ankle. He won't play in the preseason opener Monday night in Houston.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.