November 27, 2013 Updated: November 27, 2013 at 9:45 pm
He seemed mythical, slightly beyond belief. Thirty years ago, in gyms all over Colorado Springs, he rose to astounding dunks. The windmill rim-shaker against Doherty. The helicopter dunk against Harrison. The Statue of Liberty slam against Palmer.
These were brief air shows from three decades ago, but Mitchell High's Sherlock Holmes lingers in the minds of those who watched him play. He remains, forevermore, the most extravagant basketball showman ever to compete in Colorado Springs.
He departed 20 years ago on Thanksgiving Day. Holmes, who had thrilled so many, who had risen to such heights, died on the floor of a Las Vegas apartment a few hundred feet from Interstate 15. It was morning, and a confused, enraged Sherlock was banging his body on the door of his former girlfriend, Nicole White. Her new boyfriend, Marlon J. Cullors, called 911, begging for aid as Holmes kept pounding.
When Holmes burst through the door, Cullors shot him twice in the chest. Holmes, only 29, died quickly.
Today, as we remember the basketball star with the funky name and the tragic finale, it's time to return him to his proper place. Holmes lost his way and squandered his immense potential, and that offends many who watched him on his best nights. So much more was expected.
His basketball reputation has tumbled. He's often remembered as a mere dunker, a basketball circus act, but he was much more. He deserves to be remembered as one of the grandest high school players in our area's history, right up there with Lewis-Palmer's Josh Scott and Pat Garrity, Palmer's Reggie Jackson, Manitou Springs' Justin Armour and Air Academy's Rodney Zimmerman.
Yes, his real name was Sherlock Holmes. On Nov. 6, 1964, Raymond Holmes Sr. welcomed a large son at Memorial Hospital. Raymond had decided long before to name his baby boy after a rather famous fictional detective.
"I thought it would be a pretty unusual name," Raymond told me in 2010.
Sherlock, known to his friends as "Lock," soon became an extremely tall, extremely talented basketball player.
Tony Frankmore, who lives in the Northgate neighborhood on the edge of Colorado Springs, heard stories about Holmes. At the time, Frankmore was in the sixth grade, playing for Lincoln Elementary, and he kept hearing tales about this sixth-grader named Sherlock at Adams Elementary who stood a foot taller than anybody else and rose to near rim level.
He wondered if the stories could possibly be true. He wondered until he encountered Sherlock when Lincoln played Adams Elementary.
"Oh, we were all in awe," Frankmore said this week.
Holmes led Adams to a breezy victory, Frankmore said.
"They beat us, 70-10."
By the time Holmes was an eighth-grader at South Junior High, he was dunking, and we're not talking about barely dunking. He was rising high above the rim and slamming with his left hand. He seized rebounds with one immense hand. He terrified opponents. He became a 14-year-old basketball celebrity.
He ranks as the best junior high basketball player in Colorado state history. Yes, I realize this is a big claim in a state that produced first-round NBA picks Joe Barry Carroll, Micheal Ray Richardson and Chauncey Billups.
But no other player was so dominating so young. When Sherlock arrived at Mitchell, The Gazette named him the city's most acclaimed sophomore "ever" and later described Mitchell's team as "The Sherlock Holmes Traveling All-Star Circus and Air Show."
Street and Smith named Holmes one of the nation's top 30 high school players. He could shoot, soar, defend, pass and dribble. He was refreshingly tough and fundamentally sound for a player of his immense talents.
And he was surprisingly kind. He humiliated dozens of opponents during his years at Adams, South and Mitchell, but he was considerate about his utter dominance.
"You know, he had a boyish grin all the time and he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the game," Frankmore said. "He didn't make fun of our team and laugh. He just thoroughly enjoyed what he was doing out there."
The fun stopped immediately after Holmes completed his rollicking, successful career at Mitchell. He had been recruited by Memphis and Georgetown, among other schools, but a learning disability limited him in the classroom and his grades prevented him from playing for a marquee college program.
He played briefly for two junior colleges in Texas, but missed the mountains and his friends and family. He never adjusted to college life and soon returned to the Springs. Once he seemed destined for the NBA, but his flight had ended.
The Sherlock Holmes Air Show was over.
He wandered for several years, enlisting in the Army, driving a food delivery truck, working in Las Vegas casinos. He fell in love with White, but this was a turbulent, sad love.
On the evening of Nov. 22, 1993, Holmes met with his best friend, Darren Dunlap, The young men, as close as brothers, talked for an hour in the fading sunlight at the corner of Zion and Tahoe, near Dunlap's home. Dunlap and Holmes played together at Adams Elementary and South Junior. Dunlap became a star at Palmer before earning a scholarship to Colorado.
Holmes told Dunlap he planned to return to Vegas to see if he could rekindle his relationship with White. Dunlap begged him to stay in the Springs, near his oldest and dearest friends. Dunlap sensed grave trouble awaited Holmes in Vegas.
Sherlock ignored his friend's advice, climbed into his gray Ford Escort and departed for Vegas. Dunlap next saw his friend in a casket at the Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church in the Springs.
For years, Thanksgiving was a sad day for Dunlap. He mourned. He could barely endure the holiday.
Those days are gone.
"I try to have a good time for him instead of a bad time," Dunlap said late Monday night from his Springs home. "If he was here, he would want me to have a good time."
On this Thanksgiving, on the 20th anniversary of his death, it's time to place Sherlock Holmes back where he belongs, back where he's always belonged. Yes, the young man who flew so high, who thrilled so many, tumbled to earth.
But let's remember him, on this day, soaring above the rim once again, soaring high above those two gunshots, high above his early grave.
Flying free and forgiven.