James Hampton, a 19-year-old basketball player from Washington, D.C. with an infectious smile and contagious laugh, did everything right, according to the people who knew him.
Growing up in the inner city, he was known for playing sports alongside a slew of friends at Beacon House, a Northeast D.C. education and youth development organization, or with the D.C. Owls, an elite basketball club. Known as “Jamo” or “Big Game James,” his jovial, laugh-out-loud attitude would take him to local gyms and AAU tournaments while transferring from high school to high school.
Hampton, who attended D.C.-area high schools until transferring to the Liberty Heights Athletic Institute in Charlotte this past fall, was “the good kid” and “loyal friend.” He was the son who tried to use basketball as a means of getting beyond his neighborhood. He was the player with untapped potential, said those around him, waiting to thrive in a secure, stable environment.
But on Saturday night, Hampton’s goals were cut short after he collapsed during a game playing for the Charlotte-based Team United at a Nike Elite Youth Basketball League tournament in Hampton, Va. Medical personnel rushed to Hampton’s side at the Boo Williams Sports Complex, attempting chest compressions. Paramedics transported him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“He died on the court doing what he loved and doing what he thought was going to get him out,” said H.D. Woodson Coach Trey Mines, who coached Hampton for a year but had known him previously.
It was the third time Hampton had collapsed on a basketball court since last May. Doctors could not attribute the previous two collapses to a particular medical condition, but prescribed Hampton seizure medication. The first collapse occurred during a May showcase in D.C. while playing for Team St8ment, a D.C.-based AAU team.
He was medically cleared later that month. Later that year, he suffered a second collapse, this time while playing pickup basketball with friends. Again, doctors cleared Hampton for play. Following his second collapse, he had no other reported issues until Saturday.
A Nike spokesperson said Nike EYBL requires players to be medically cleared before returning to the floor if they were injured or experienced health issues while participating in any of their events. In Hampton’s case, the Nike spokesperson confirmed that Hampton’s high school coach provided Nike with paperwork, clearing him after his prior medical issues.
The cause of Hampton’s death hasn’t yet been determined.
“It was heartbreaking to say the least,” Mines said. “One, to lose a player, but to lose him in that way, doing what he loves and what he thought was going to help make his life better for himself and his family.
“He didn’t deserve it.”
Hampton jumped to four different high schools in four years, starting off at Bell his freshman year and became one of the leading scorers in the D.C.-area. He transferred to Coolidge as sophomore, where his playing time was minimal. He then transferred to H.D. Woodson as a junior, where he was ruled ineligible before transferring again to Liberty Heights in Charlotte.
“Everybody liked the kid and it is just a huge loss for me and my family personally and for our wider basketball world, for all of his friends that are here and other places,” said D.C. Owls’ John Osborne.
Osborne was one of a handful of adults in Robinson’s life who had a positive influence on Hampton’s upbringing. While Hampton had a close relationship with his parents at the time of his passing, he was living in and out of his home during his childhood. Early Johnson, Hampton’s father, told WBTV on Monday in Charlotte that he is searching for answers after his son’s death, but he is not angry nor placing blame.
“I think people need to open their eyes up and know that anything can happen at any time and you got to be prepared,” Johnson told WBTV.
While it was those many adults who did what they could to help Hampton, giving him a cellphone, car rides, food to eat, clothes to wear and a place for him to stay, the friendships Hampton created through his time in D.C. had a major influence on Hampton’s life.
“He is getting an outpouring of love because of anybody, that is the one that you want to make it,” said Beacon House Coach Ty Johnson. “Like I said, he didn’t have a lot and he did the little things. He worked hard and he was respectful. He didn’t do anything to get out of character. He could have easily chosen a different path.”
Osborne said: “He was an inspiration. Like, ‘man, if Jamo can do this, I can do this.’ It gives them a lot of hope.”
Hampton is being remembered not only for his joyous attitude, but also his talent on the basketball court.
“He was not recognized locally for how good he was,” said D.C. Owls’ Coach Casey Craig. “He was as good as anybody in this area … he was just a killer. He was a flat-out assassin. He could score, he was a rough kid, he was skinny, he didn’t back down.”
Hampton also played on various AAU teams the past few years, trying to catch the eye of an unassuming college coach. His skills were enough to receive a verbal offer from Hampton University in April and, according to Mines, who had spoken with Hampton on FaceTime for about an hour last Tuesday, was going to accept the offer and get ready to start his college career.
“How awesome would it have been to hear the public address announcer say, ‘Starting at guard for Hampton University, No. 2, James Hampton!'”? Osborne said. “That would have been spectacular to hear that.”