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But in the month since he disappeared, Tommy appears to have aged five years. For hours, he talked through his impoverished childhood in Bainbridge, Georgia, and the small-town stardom that basketball gave him as a teenager.He talked his way from the old bicycle wheel that he’d nailed to a pine tree as his first hoop, to the night he’d dunked on an entire high school team’s starting five, to the scholarship offers, the All America honors, and the grown women who wanted to seduce the teenage boy destined for the NBA.He didn’t much care for defense, but that was fine, because whatever Tommy gave up, he earned back on the other end. With that release and those hops, he could subsist on nothing but jumpers and lobs.Sitting there in the homeless shelter, Tommy talked me through all of that.Tommy would come off down screens to catch and release unblockable jumpers from as far out as 30 feet.If his man stuck with him, he would power dribble once to get all the way from the perimeter to the rim. Newspaper archives reported numbers that seemed preposterous: 28 points and 14 rebounds per game as a senior, 41 points against future Heisman winner and Knicks point guard Charlie Ward, dozens of scholarship offers, a 42-inch vertical leap.Then he says, ‘Try it again.’ That time I liked it.” Tommy paused.
He is still striking, 6-foot-6 when he stands up straight, gray at the temples and in his mustache. He shakes my hand and nods, as if willing his next words to be true. We were sitting in the lobby of the homeless shelter where he lived.On the way out of the gym, Tommy turned to me: “I’m still pretty good, right? On game nights, fans drove from as far as Florida and Atlanta to see him play. And then there was his son, born to another girl while they were still in high school, nine months after she and Tommy had sex under the bleachers at a football game. “That would be good.” fter that first trip to Atlanta, Tommy stayed in touch with me. He would text: “This is TOMMY, just checkin on you I am great.” He’d gotten in touch with his daughters, ages 24 and 16, and begun building relationships with them. That’s where I found him on July 15, standing at the rear of a moving truck in an apartment complex in East Point. ” Tommy said, sweat soaking through his white button-down shirt.” There was no boastful glint in his eye or bravado in his voice. Tommy, however, barely considered a future in the NCAA or NBA. Bainbridge was a 10,000-person town, a place of cotton fields and abandoned homes and a poverty rate twice the national average. “Not for basketball, not for college, not for nothing.” Tommy told outrageous stories of his own recruitment, none of which can be confirmed, all ranging from the suspect-but-feasible to the nearly impossible. He said UGA gave his high school coach money, too, which he believed was done to keep other coaches from recruiting him. One day he went to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting and he met a couple of fellow addicts who were wearing shirts from Georgia Works. He talked to his mom and brother nearly every single day. I shook Tommy’s hand and we grabbed a couch — a blue husk with broken springs that he’d gotten from the furniture bank. “This is the day I been waiting on.” The apartment was surrounded by drug haunts and would require a two-bus commute, but it was his.’m standing in the dark in downtown Atlanta, waiting for a man who carries his clothes in a polka dot suitcase and his teeth in his sweatpants pocket.He said he would be here, at Five Points Plaza, at a.m.