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Thomas Robinson has gone, in what feels like the span it takes a dribble to go from his hand to the floor and back, from being chased by bullets to being chased by autograph seekers.

“I had a story before THE story,” says Robinson, who often feels like people only know him for his athleticism, and the passing of his mother and grandmother and grandfather—who all had a hand in raising him without the help of a father, and all departed in the span of a month less than two years ago. “I was just a regular kid in DC, into dumb stuff. Doing everything that was gonna get me killed or locked down.”

As he sits in the backseat of a black Mercedes-Benz S550, on his way to the Beats by Dre store in SoHo, where he was treated like the VIP that he has trouble believing he is, Robinson recounts a tale from a different time that almost sounds like it had to have happened to a different kid.

He was 14 or so, hanging with some friends on his home block in the Trinidad section of DC when they saw a car get pulled over at the top of the street. Robinson and crew didn’t know why the cops were arresting the man, but they could tell from his pimped-out ride that he was definitely into something. So, as soon as the cops whisked the man away, the kids jimmied the trunk open and alleviated the man of the jar of $5s and $10s that they unsurprisingly found stowed there.

That would have been the end of it. A hustler would have been out of some illicit money, and a few misguided kids would have had some spare pocket change. Except that…

“He came back later that night,” Robinson says, embarrassed by his misdeeds but willing to share in hopes that kids can learn from him. “We were outside, and we could hear him snapping. ‘I’m gonna kill somebody.’ He walked back to his car, pulled out his gun and I was gone.”


Robinson and his friends ran from the gunfire, splitting up and diving into different alleys in an area dotted with them. Robinson and his friends hid for close to half an hour while the man circled the block, looking for them. Robinson and his friends prayed—for themselves, and for one another. Finally, Robinson and his friends retreated to someone’s house where they stayed, in relative safety, for the rest of the night.

“I’m lucky,” says Robinson, emotion bleeding into his words all these years later. “If he would have hit me…If you think about it…”

“We always think about, if it wasn’t for basketball what would we be doing?” Christopher (Rome) Thompson, one of Robinson’s close childhood friends, says a few days later. “We always ask ourselves that, and we can never come up with an answer for that one.”
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