Long, lean, a slam dunk machine. In the world of prison basketball, you have crash test dummies and then you have players like Ali "B3" Tatum, who at 6-foot-5 1/2 and 225 pounds might not even know the true extent of his abilities on the court. Dudes on the pound call the 26-year-old from Toledo, Ohio wild. But they don't even know. The kid has been wild since Day 1. On the court and in life. But one thing is for certain, B3 as they call him (signifying the unit he lives in) can fly. He is not grounded like the rest of us mere mortals. On the basketball court he soars heads and shoulders above the other players. Dudes gotta be careful or they might get some nuts in their face because Ali is taking it to the rim. Because he goes hard in everything he does. In the real world, scouts would have been drooling over this kid’s ability from an early age, but since age 14 Ali has barely seen the streets. He grew up and learned to play ball inside these fences.
"I got juvenile life and spent seven years from age 14-21 in Tico a joint in Columbus, Ohio for murder and attempted murder," Ali says matter of factly.
He's done a couple of bids since for possession of crack cocaine, trafficking in cocaine and assault but now he is serving 42 months in the feds for possession of a firearm. The kid is definitely no angel but that doesn't stop him from soaring like one on the court. Tomahawk jam, alley-oop, two-handed power slam, reverse slam – they are all in his repertoire and dude can run the floor like a gazelle and of course finishing on the break is his specialty. In traffic or whatever. He doesn't have to juke defenders because he can jump over them.
"I can do what I feel like doing when I feel like doing it," Ali says.
And he's right basically. This correspondent has witnessed him taking over games at will here in the rough-and-tumble world of prison basketball and bullrushing through the paint to the rim.
"I can play any position from the 2 to the 6. Shooting guard, small forward, power forward, center and out of body. That’s the 6th spot."
And out of body is what dudes on the pound say when Ali has a great game. He had another out-of-body experience," they say in reference to his unbelievable hops.
"All I ever wanted to do was dunk since I was 15," Ali says. "And that is what I am known for. It's like 'Watch out, he’s coming.'"
Coming he is like a pogo stick. And Ali plays forth win.
"It's about winning," he says. "Shuttin' ya man down and giving the crowd what they came to see. The dunks, the crossovers... My offense is a little and without the traveling and carrying cause, I give the crowd what they want. But my defense is of the NCAA-type where it's played the hardest."
Being in the pros was never a dream of Ali's but he says, "I could play ball anywhere in the air or on water".
About prison ball Ali says, "Dudes go real hard on the court. It's a respect thang and a few real men would die for their respect."
He admits that tempers flare at times on the court.
"Dudes get into their feelings. I do at times. That’s just part of prison ball."
And to him, "Basketball is a stress reliever. That's all. I focus on the bigger things in life."
Yeah, like the NBA – where Ali says he supports KB8 and the Lake Show.
"But really I'm about winning. I got the hops of Vince Carter and its only common sense for me to have the ball in my hands and focus on mines," Ali says.