Jimmy Hinton is into his third life

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Jimmy Hinton is into his third life

Postby rlee » Wed Dec 26, 2007 12:22 pm

Jimmy Hinton is into his third life
BY CHARLIE FRAGO
Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Twenty years have passed since standing-room-only crowds cheered themselves hoarse for Jimmy Hinton.

At 39, Hinton is starting over. The former Hall High basketball star turned high-rolling drug dealer turned ex-con now tries to reach children from his community before bad choices turn into permanent damage.

It’s a role that comes naturally, says Oliver Elders, his basketball coach at Hall.

“He was almost a coach on the floor. He has the ability to lead,” says Elders, who ranks Hinton as one of his top 10 players, including greats like Sidney Moncrief, in 36 years of coaching.

The arc of Hinton’s life after Hall — early promise, colossal collapse, redemption — staggers Elders.

“I just hated it, how something can go so badly in a person’s life. But that happens all the time. A kid does great in one program, goes to another one, and it’s a fiasco,” Elders says. “The day Jimmy left Hall, if I could have cloned him and kept him with me, I would have. Everybody loved him. And I applaud what he’s doing now.” Standing before a classroom of fourth- and fifth-grade boys at Washington Elementary School earlier this month, Hinton tells his peaks-and-valleys story of young glory, lucrative drug dealing and convict despair.

It’s part of a motivational program called “Keep It Real,” and over and over, he returns to the importance of making the right choice.

His eyes shine, he bounces lightly on his toes. “What is integrity ?” he asks, pointing to a thin reed of a boy. “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one else is around,” the boy responds. “That’s what I’m talking about,” Hinton says, as their hands meet in a high-five. No crowds follow Hinton’s every move these days. He makes ends meet selling insurance. But he’s got a dream again. Not NBA stardom or a garage full of dirtymoney cars but something that feels right. “I’ve been good at a lot of things,” he says, “but this is the first time I’m comfortable.”

ACT 1: YOUNG GLORY Cue 1987. Hall High School. Jimmy Hinton is a basketball star. His skills at point guard draw comparisons from local scribes to Earl “the Pearl” Monroe and Magic Johnson. Big-name coaches like Larry Brown stop by his house.

At just 5 feet 7 inches tall, Hinton stands tall in Arkansas hoops.

“To me, he was one of the top ballhandlers in the state,” says Wadie Moore, who, as a sportswriter for the Arkansas Gazette, watched Hinton play.

And there was his charisma, says Moore, now assistant executive director for the Arkansas Activities Association.

“This kid kept a smile on his face all the time. Very few things upset him. If he had a turnover, he’d smile and hand the ball over to the official,” Moore says.

He’s a good student, popular with his classmates. As a senior, Hinton is voted most likely to succeed.

“He had everything in balance,” his childhood friend Tyrus Chatman says.

That spring, in the Arkansas Democrat, Hinton, pictured with his father on one side and his basketball coach on the other, holds a letter of intent to East Carolina University.

His eyes are wide, confident. The eyes of a winner.

“Everything came easy for me,” Hinton says.

The next fall, after a 17-hour drive to Greenville, N. C., Hinton walks into a college gym and sees future NBA stalwart Blue Edwards soar into the air from the baseline in a 3-on-3 game. “I’d never seen a 6-5 guy leap so high,” Hinton says.

It was the first sign that college would be different. “In college, everyone is good. They’re all as good as you are,” Hinton says.

Still, he starts at point guard his freshman year and leads the team in assists, dishing out a neat dozen against Navy. But he clashes with his coach.

Jimmy Hinton “the First,” Hinton’s father, says: “He called me once from college, crying, saying his coach had thrown him out of the gym. That was the first red flag.” The next Pearl was being molded into a bad imitation of John Stockton. Hinton doesn’t like the fit. So he transfers to Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.

Hinton sits out a year. Then Mike Newell, formerly the coach at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, takes the Lamar job. Newell hadn’t recruited Hinton in high school, a sore point. Hinton figures if Newell hadn’t recruited him, he wouldn’t play him. He leaves Lamar and plays briefly at Division II Henderson State University in Arkadelphia. Then he gets busted on a misdemeanor marijuana charge. Just like that his life in basketball is over. He comes back to Little Rock at a loss. “I really didn’t know what to do,” he says in a plaintive voice.

ACT II: A DIFFERENT GAME Adrift in Little Rock, Hinton obtains a nail technician’s license. He also promotes rap and reggae concerts, scoring a coup with the first visit to Arkansas by UGK of “Ridin’ Dirty” fame.

But doing nails isn’t bringing him the status of his basketball days. So he cashes in his glory chips and sets himself up as a cocaine dealer.

Chatman, who, as always, remained a loyal running buddy, says: “See, the same people who were fronting that kind of weight, we’re the same people who came to see him play at Hall. It was standing room only in there. They respected him. They trusted him.” Soon, Hinton is one of the main distributors in town, frequently holding 15 or 20 kilos of cocaine. At one point, he has $ 250, 000 in cash. He has fast cars, nice clothes and all the women he can handle.

“It wasn’t nothing for me to drive around with $ 8, 000 in my pocket,” Hinton says.

In Little Rock, during the early ’ 90 s, cocaine was king, fueling the gang wars that eventually bring the city to the attention of HBO, which produces the 1993 documentary Gang War: Bangin’ In Little Rock.

“It was plentiful, it was cheap, and there was money to be made. Lots of money,” says Chatman, now 37.

And it was dangerous. The city set a murder record in 1993 with 76.

But Hinton doesn’t end this chapter of his life in a hospital bed or cemetery plot. Instead, his life as a drug dealer dies on Interstate 530 in White Hall on June 8, 1995, when he’s pulled over for speeding.

“As soon as I saw that light in my rear window, I knew, after those years, that the end was here,” he says.

A kilo of cocaine in that car leads to a 40-year sentence in the state Department of Correction. Twenty years are suspended, and he serves five years and four months.

“Working in the fields, with the hoe-squad rider breathing down my neck, hoping I’ll run so he can shoot me — prison was hell,” he says.

His father never visits him in prison. Not once.

“I always taught him life was about choices. If you make your bed, you got to lay in it,” says the elder Hinton. “A black mark on the family. No one in our family had ever gone to prison.” Rodney Peel, Hinton’s co-star at Hall, goes on to play college ball at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. Peel, now a senior vice president at Arvest Bank in Little Rock, recalls being shocked at the news that his old friend was behind bars. “I remember being caught off guard when I heard. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when it’s one of your friends,” Peel says. Hinton gets out of prison on March 6, 2002. Four years later, Gov. Mike Huckabee grants him a pardon.

ACT III: KEEPING IT REAL The Keep it Real program aims to give elementary school boys an hour a week to listen to the life stories of Hinton and partners Chatman and Reginald Mizer.

At Washington, Hinton talks about the drug game long enough to pique the interest of boys whose attention can be hard to capture. He asks them what they want to be when they grow up. Pro basketball player, says one boy. Pro football, adds another. Rapper, yells a third.

That’s fine, answers Hinton, who came closer than most to that kind of dream, but he says to them that they need to have a Plan B.

“I want to see lawyers, doctors, artists,” he says. “I had a lot of money when I was dealing drugs. But it was temporary money.” Washington Elementary Assistant Principal Delwin Smith says he has noticed a change in the pupils.

“I’ve seen some improvements,” Smith says. “The little fellas can relate to what he’s saying.” Kendall Pride, 10, is a fifthgrader at Washington. To him, Hinton is someone to admire.

“He makes me want to be on good behavior. I don’t get my card changed as much anymore,” says Pride, referring to a classroom discipline system in which the desired card is the green card and bad behavior gets it changed to yellow, orange or red.

Hinton’s dream is to expand Keep it Real to a districtwide program, then take it statewide, then national.

“The basketball and the drugs. That was temporary. They had ceilings. This thing here, it has no ceiling,” says Chatman.

Peel, his high school co-star, predicts “wonderful things” for Hinton now that he has his life back on track.

“Jimmy always could reach people and get his point across,” Peel says.

For someone who has had his share of glory and cash, his current dream has yet to pay a dime. Hinton estimates that he’s spent about $ 5, 000 since he began the motivational speaking engagements that preceded Keep it Real.

“It’s my calling,” he says. “Everything happens for a reason.”
rlee
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