Traces of San Francisco native O.J. Simpson's complicated life sprinkled across the city

File: O.J. Simpson of the Buffalo Bills looks on during an NFL game circa 1975. (Photo by Robert Riger/Getty Images)

Before the infamous Bronco chase, before he was acquitted of murder, O.J. Simpson was a hometown hero and Bay Area Hall of Famer with humble beginnings.

The San Francisco native, Orenthal James, was born in 1947 and raised in the poor neighborhood on Potrero Hill.

Simpson was developing his sports talent at the Potrero Hill Recreation Center, where he played basketball, baseball, and football.

Director of Potrero Hill Archive Project Peter Linenthal acquired photos of Simpson in his youth.

"When O.J. lived here, there was a lot more public housing on the hill than there is now," he said.

On the wall of the rec center, a faded mural of him still commemorates his success and the trophy box inside touts a photo of his 1959 little league baseball team.


O.J. Simpson dies at age 76, family says

O.J. Simpson, the NFL running back who was later infamously acquitted of his ex-wife's murder, has passed away at the age of 76. His family confirmed the news on Thursday.

"Later on in the 70s he donated to the center, and they were very thankful for that," said Linenthal, as he showed us a photo from his Potrero Hill history book of Simpson with kids at the facility taken in the 70s.

Simpson went on to wear the number 28 at Galileo High School and the number 32 at City College before he moved on to become a USC Trojan. No. 32 is the same number he made famous with the Buffalo Bills when he was drafted for the NFL.

Member of the Board of Directors for the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame Carmen Policy said "Juice" was inducted in 1987 for his outstanding football career.

"Everyone knew O.J. Simpson in the 70’s as one of the most dynamic athletes in the area, and he was certainly at the top of the list for the NFL," said the retired 49ers executive.

Policy said he first met Simpson towards the end of his career when he came home to play for San Francisco in 1978.

"Even if he wasn’t playing in the game, even if he wasn’t producing on the field, you might say he was still scoring with the fans," he said.


Watch: O.J. Simpson said his ‘health is good’ in final video before death

In his final video posted on social media ahead of the Super Bowl, O.J. Simpson addressed his ongoing health battle.

He still remembers the distinct way Simpson made people feel.

"The way crowds would react, and the way people would respond to O.J., and it’s like a Taylor Swift effect, that kind of thing," said Policy.

In the 90s, the NFL MVP and TV star’s notoriety became tied to a tragedy.

"O.J. didn’t live just one life," Policy said. "He lived two."

It was the second life that began with the murder trial that changed everything.

"That’s what makes his life, the second half, such a great tragedy, because he had risen to such a high level as a performer and an individual and it all came crashing down," he said.

Despite his polarizing reputation, Policy said the board never considered removing him from the Hall of Fame.

"If he qualified for induction, if later on in life he has some difficult times and later in life he does some difficult things, even bad things, that doesn’t say he didn’t achieve what the goal of the organization is to reflect," said Policy.

Policy also noted how deeply Simpson cared about his children, who were surrounding him at the time of his death.

He died Wednesday of prostate cancer at the age of 76.