In 1982, he signed up for a boxing class at the California Youth Authority facility at Chino, where he was serving a year on an armed-robbery conviction.
Tillman's career will forever be linked with Mike Tyson's. It was Tillman who prevented the 17-year-old New York slugger from making the '84 team, beating him twice in the trials.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 17, 1994 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 4 Column 3 Sports Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Boxing--Yugoslavian boxer Anton Josipovic and referee Gligorije Novicic were misidentified in the Aug. 10 edition. Also, Josipovic, not New Zealand's Kevin Barry, won the light-heavyweight gold medal in the 1984 Olympics. Barry won the silver.
And in 1989, Tillman was selected as Tyson's first opponent after his shocking knockout loss to Buster Douglas in Japan. Tyson knocked out Tillman in one round.
Tyson, an Olympic team alternate, wound up being Nappi's go-fer at the Olympics. Four years later, Tyson grossed $50 million.
Today, Tillman, 34, lives in the Diamond Bar home he bought with the $350,000 earned in the Tyson fight. He is married to Gina Hemphill Tillman, whom he met during the '84 Games. Hemphill, a granddaughter of Jesse Owens, carried the Olympic torch during the opening ceremonies.
Tillman has studied real estate and frequently does public speaking.
"I wanted to be the world heavyweight champion when I turned pro," he said. "But I'm not sorry it never happened. It was time to move on. I did all right."
TYRELL BIGGS: Gold Medalist (201+ pounds)
Biggs, more than anyone else on the '84 team, benefited from Cuba's boycott of the L.A. Olympics.
Cuba's triple Olympic champion, Teofilo Stevenson, was 33 then, but still on top of his game and 2-0 against Biggs.
Biggs won a decision from a ponderous Italian, Francesco Damiani, for the gold.
Pro trainers were intrigued by Biggs, who was 6 feet 5 and 220 pounds, had graceful ring movement and a workmanlike left jab. It was apparent he lacked knockout power, but many believed that through athleticism and boxing ability, he could become a prime-time heavyweight.
Largely unknown at the outset of his pro career, however, was that Biggs had a drug problem dating to his Philadelphia high school days.
Also, Biggs was always a much better interview than boxer. Great fighters all have, somewhere, a nasty streak. Biggs didn't.
Now 33, he lives in Costa Mesa on some of the $1.25 million he earned from his 1987 Mike Tyson fight, the money having been put in trust for him. And he says he has been clean of drugs for nearly 10 years.
With his pro career (27-9) over, he would like to train young boxers.
"I never really had a trainer who could develop the skills I had," he said. "Most pro trainers are big-punch oriented and tried to make me a puncher, when I wasn't."
Biggs' career was never the same after Tyson defeated him in 1987. Biggs was 15-0 at the time, but lost his next three bouts was 24-5 by 1991.
Footnote: Nappi died at 75 in 1992. Not a single member of his '84 Olympic team attended the funeral at West Point, N.Y.
A look at the professional boxing records of the 1984 U.S. Olympic team:
Paul Gonzales will retire Thursday (18-4 record)
Steve McCrory retired (35-1)
Robert Shannon retired (18-6-2)
Meldrick Taylor active (32-3-1)
Pernell Whitaker active (33-1-1)
Jery Page retired (11-4)
Mark Breland retired (30-3-1)
Frank Tate active (31-4)
Virgil Hill active (38-1)
Evander Holyfield awaiting medical clearance (30-2)
Henry Tillman retired (25-6)
Tyrell Briggs retired (27-9)