Back in his NBA playing days, teammates thought Tom Hammonds was crazy when he’d peel off to the book store before road trips to pick up reading material on martial arts.
Who did this 6-foot-9, 220-pound man think he was? Bruce Lee? Jackie Chan?
His frame, nor did his basketball routes, fit the mold.
Of course, everyone said the same thing when drag racing caught his eye in the late ’90s.
This is Hammonds, though, the consummate athlete.
A man who led Crestview to a 3A state championship in 1985 as a McDonald’s All-American.
A man who was named ACC and NCAA Rookie of the Year at Georgia Tech, where he twice earned All-ACC honors and was an All-American.
A man drafted by the Washington Bullets with the ninth pick in the 1989 draft, which paved the way for a successful 12-year NBA run before retiring in 2001 with 3,686 points and 2,287 rebounds.
“Hambone” and “The Terminator,” people called him.
A man who was a driver in the National Hot Rod Association Pro Stock series, finishing second in the 1996 Mopar Parts Mile High Nationals before establishing the Race For Achievement program to promote racing, leadership, education and sportsmanship for teenage students.
And now, he’s a man with a 20-0 Jiu Jitsu record, accented by a slew of accolades: International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation Pan Am gold medal, a World Championship at Blue Belt and, most recently, a World Championship at Purple Belt.
“When I finished drag racing, I needed something to fill that competitive fire,” Hammonds said. “I’ve always loved martial arts, and my oldest son was a Taekwondo world champion when he was about 14, 15 years old, so I’d always been involved with it. I just never participated in it.”
When he began to, people were in awe of his size.
“Jiu Jitsu is specifically for a smaller person, to be able to overcome a bigger person,” said Hammonds, who now weighs around 275 pounds. “They don’t expect a bigger person to learn it and then beat everybody. When I first started training, people didn’t understand it. But I learned, got better and it’s taken off.”
Already a member of the All Sports Association Hall of Fame and a Professional of the Year winner in 1999, Hammonds’ latest passion earned him another ASA honor: Amateur of the Year.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve been called an amateur,” Hammonds laughed. “Probably since high school or college.”
His versatility within the ASA runs hand in hand with his success across multiple venues as an athlete, one whose résumé is the benchmark for area basketball players. One who continues to serve as a role model, inspiring athletes that you don’t have to fit a certain mold.
“I love sports, but I think the biggest thing is no matter what I’ve tried to do, I work hard at it,” Hammonds said. “The biggest message I tell people is ‘You can do anything in life as long as you work for it.’
“I think the biggest compliment I’ve ever received is from Coach (Bobby) Cremins, and he’ll be here this weekend. He always said I was the hardest-working player he’s ever had, and that’s transitioned into whatever I do, whether in business, Jiu Jitsu, drag racing or basketball.”
So what’s next, Tom?
“I’m enjoying what I do, just progressing belts,” he said. “But you never know.”