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Family friend remembers O.J. Simpson's rise to fame long before murder trial infamy

O.J. Simpson's Bay Area beginnings remembered
O.J. Simpson's Bay Area beginnings remembered 07:47

O.J. Simpson wasn't just one of San Francisco's most famous sons; he may have been the most famous for a time. For some, Simpson was a friend who achieved unparalleled stardom, only to see that fame tarnished by the subsequent notoriety of his murder trial.

"It is something that when you can say two letters, you just say O.J," said Timothy Allen Simon. "Just say O.J. people know who you're talking about."

For Simon, the letters O.J. are more than the name of the San Francisco sports hero who became notorious. He knew Simpson from the time he was a child.

"I am a native San Franciscan," Simon said. "O.J., maybe one of the most famous native San Franciscans of all time. I've known his family my entire life."

KPIX Archive: O.J. Simpson comments on athletes making political statements in 1967 interview 01:45

He says the story of O.J. Simpson is one that has changed the country. It was, at first, the fairy tale success of a young man famously from San Francisco's poorest neighborhoods.

"You might say this is what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to make it," Simpson said in an interview in 1967. "I came from a pretty rough neighborhood around here in Hunters Point."

"Yeah, it was tough," Simon said of the neighborhood. "It was tough. Life is tough. So we say tough. I hope your viewers don't think it was because of the zip code necessarily."

"And I feel that if I make it, that would be a good example for other kids up there," Simpson said of his rise to fame during the 1967 interview when he was still on the rise at USC.

"Not out of wealth or opulence or with a silver spoon," Simon said of how Simpson accomplished it. "But that if you apply yourself, if you work hard, that you can become something great. And he did."

And then there are the other chapters of the Simpson story. The chase, the murder charges, and the trial of the century.

"I would say that maybe the trial of two centuries," Simon added. "In the fact that it is still as vivid in the minds of those who witnessed the trial. And I think this is an important point that it created an industry within the media itself."

The media frenzy surrounding a trial that would run right through America's racial divisions. An attorney, Simon watched the verdict with his colleagues.

"Our department of over 200 people went to the law library to watch the verdict," he recalled. "We were families. In some cases, folks were literally married. They knew that verdict was going to be controversial. But I think people were trying to not be in a situation where their emotions could impact their professional friendships."

And the reaction to the verdict, in Simon's mind, another part of a long complicated story that riveted the nation, and challenged it.

"He was acquitted," Simon explained. "By a jury of his peers. Which means that he's innocent. Much of America, and I would include, no offense, the media, decided, 'Well, even though he was acquitted, we are going to make the determination that this man was guilty.' And that is un-American. If we're going to call ourselves Americans, we should stand. True, we should be devoted to that concept, that construct, of our Jeffersonian democracy."

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