Tom Payne (basketball)
A 7-foot, 2-inch center, Payne played with the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA during the 1971-1972 season. He was also the first African American ever to play basketball for the University of Kentucky. Payne is currently incarcerated in Kentucky State Reformatory in LaGrange, Kentucky.
The eldest of nine children, Payne broke one record in birth; he was the longest baby ever born at the local hospital. He grew up in a home where academics were stressed; his father had attained the rank of master sergeant in the United States Army before retiring, and his mother had a bachelor's degree in biology. His eight siblings were also well-educated, with a total of fourteen college degrees.
Despite his height and incredible physical skills, Payne was basically a newcomer to basketball. He didn't play organized basketball until his sophomore season at Shawnee High School at Louisville, Kentucky. By his senior season, he was one of the most coveted players in the nation, with Kentucky and UCLA recruiting him. On June 9, 1969 the high-school All-American signed with Kentucky; he was not only the tallest player ever to play at the school, he was also legendary coach Adolph Rupp's first-ever African-American player.
University of Kentucky
Touted as "another Lew Alcindor," Payne struggled in adjusting to college life at Kentucky. A low entering test score prevented him from playing on the Kentucky freshman team. (Freshmen were ineligible to play varsity basketball at the time.) He instead played for an AAU team called "Jerry's Restaurant."
Payne boosted his grades and gained eligibility to play during his sophomore season, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds per game, earning all-Southeastern Conference honors along the way. Impressive as these numbers were, signs of trouble developed during the season. In a road game against the University of Tennessee, Payne flipped Jim Woodall head over heels battling for a rebound. The referees whistled Payne for a flagrant foul and ejected him. In the rematch against Tennessee at Kentucky, Payne again flagrantly fouled Woodall, and was ejected from this game also. Payne was also ejected from a home game against Alabama for objecting to a referee's call. That he heard racial slurs in opposing Southeastern Conference venues didn't help matters any, either.
For all his temper, Payne continued to improve during the season, and dominated opponents. He scored 34 points in one game against Georgia, and 39 against Louisiana State. The future looked bright for Payne after he scored 30 points against Auburn, in a game that clinched the Southeastern Conference regular season title for Kentucky.
During the summer, however, things did not go very smoothly for Payne. In August, a police officer cited him for speeding in his new Cadillac. The car was registered to a Pennsylvania auto dealer; it was rumored that teams from the NBA and American Basketball Association were coveting Payne and that the car was a gift from the Pittsburgh Condors of the latter league to apply for the ABA draft. Payne also had nine hours of incomplete grades that needed to be made up before he could return to Kentucky. With the slim likelihood of being eligible to play the following season, Payne left Kentucky and joined thirteen other underclassmen in the NBA's first-ever supplemental draft.
Payne's promising career ended suddenly in May 1972, when police in Georgia arrested him after investigating several rapes in the Atlanta area. Later, he was indicted in Kentucky in connection with one rape and two attempted rapes. In 1972, he was convicted on two counts of rape and one count of aggravated sodomy in Atlanta. He served five years in prison in Georgia, two and a half of those in solitary confinement for participating in a prison riot.
Immediately after his release from prison in Georgia, Payne was extradited to Kentucky, where he was convicted on one count of rape and two counts of attempted rape. He served five years in prison in Kentucky before being paroled in 1983. After his release from prison, he attempted a basketball comeback with the Louisville Catbirds of the CBA. He also made an attempt at a professional boxing career, participating in five bouts. Later, he moved to Hollywood and became an actor, once appearing in Night Court, as well as a McDonalds commercial.
Payne was released from prison in 2000, after legal wrangling allowed him to get his sentenced reduced. He was then transferred back to Kentucky, where he faced an additional 15 years in prison for violation of parole from the 1971 charge.
- "California Registered Sex Offender Profile - Thomas Robert Payne". Megan's Law - California Sex Offender Registry. Retrieved July 24, 2010.
- "Tom Payne NBA & ABA Statistics".
- "Offender Online Lookup System". Kentucky Department of Corrections. Retrieved July 24, 2010.
- "One-Time UK Great Still Behind Bars After Three Decades - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports". Wave3.com. 2012-09-22. Retrieved 2012-10-17.