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It was one of the nastiest blows on a basketball court since Kermit Washington shattered Rudy Tomjanovich's face with a sucker punch in 1977. On Jan. 15, 1999, Tony Limon (right), a 6'3" center for South San Antonio High, intentionally threw an elbow to the face of Brent Holmes, a 5'11" guard for East Central San Antonio. The blow, which was captured on videotape, fractured Holmes's nose and cut his gum and lip. Holmes needed plastic surgery to repair the damage.
The hit took place away from the ball on an inbounds play late in the second quarter. The video shows Limon raising his right elbow and stepping into Holmes as Holmes approaches with his hands at his sides. Limon's forward-swinging elbow hits Holmes squarely on the nose, and Holmes's head whips backward as he crumples to the hardwood. Holmes's father, Dwayne, saw the attack from the stands. "Any head trauma can kill you," says Dwayne, "and Brent didn't have a chance to defend himself."
Four days after the game South San Antonio High suspended Limon from the team for the remainder of his senior season. That didn't placate the Holmes family, who on Feb. 10, 1999, filed aggravated assault charges against Limon. Brent told the police that Limon, who is of Mexican ancestry, had been taunting him from early in the first quarter, saying he was "just a n——" and that Holmes was "gonna be washing my car like a slave." Holmes, now a freshman at Texas A&M-Kingsville, says he has no idea what provoked Limon or why the trash talk escalated to violence. "I still don't know what made him do what he did," says Holmes.
Limon's mother, Olivia Ramey, tells a different story. She says Holmes had hit another South San Antonio High player in the groin during the game and had called her son a "taco," charges Holmes denies. Limon's lawyer, James Rodriguez, says his client also "took a beating under the boards and finally lashed out."
In December, Limon pleaded no contest to aggravated assault with serious bodily injury. He expected to get probation, and he might have if not for his previous record. In March 1999 Limon was sentenced by Bexar County Judge Mark Luitjen to probation after pleading no contest to two counts of attempted burglary in connection with a December '98 incident. On Feb. 7 Limon again stood before Luitjen, for sentencing in the Holmes episode. Moments into the hearing the judge retired to a juror's room to review footage of the elbowing. When he returned, Limon pleaded for leniency, citing his exemplary behavior during his first year on probation. "I'm still young," Limon said. "I feel that I can still make something of my life, sir."
Luitjen's reply: "You came into this court [before]; I granted probation. And within a month of committing those burglaries, you're out knocking people down, coldcocking them. It's outlawed in the NFL to do what you did if you were wearing full pads, and that's not going to be tolerated."
Limon's basketball is now limited to a small court at the Bexar County Jail. He has until March 8 to file a motion to appeal. Whether or not the case serves as a legal precedent—a fuzzy issue, since his criminal record weighed in the ruling—the harshness of Luitjen's sentence may cause others to think twice before striking a blow in the heat of battle.
BASEBALL AND ANDRO