Shattered from the loss, Hart questioned whether he would ever fight again. An Olympic gold medal had been on Hart's mind just about the time he started going to boxing gyms with his father as a 7-year-old.
With one quick punch in the summer of 1996, fellow North Philadelphian David Reid planted a dream in Jesse Hart: Olympic gold.
At the Atlanta Olympics, Reid was clearly losing heading into the last round of the light-middleweight final. But he scored a dramatic knockout of Cuba's Alfredo Duvergel. The Hart family watched the fight intently on the floor-model television inside their North Philadelphia rowhome.
The only problem was that Jesse Hart missed the knockout.
"Once I saw [how far Reid was behind on] points, I said, 'Dad, this is over, I'm going upstairs,'" Jesse Hart said. "Then I heard all this yelling and screaming and hollering. Dad yells, 'Our boy did it. We did it.' That really inspired me."
With his own Olympic disappointment behind him, Hart returned to boxing. He signed a professional contract with Top Rank, one of the sport's premier promotional outfits, in May.
On Saturday night, Jesse Hart will make his professional debut in a middleweight match against New Mexico's Manuel Eastman as part of the undercard before the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley pay-per-view at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. And in Hart's corner will be his father.
It will be the first of three undercard bouts to feature a Philadelphia boxer. Mount Airy native Mike Jones will face Randall Bailey for the IBF world welterweight title, and North Philly's Teon Kennedy will meet Guillermo Rigondeaux for the WBA super-bantamweight world crown.
The journey to Las Vegas started in the early mornings on Broad Street.
Before his elementary-school day began, Jesse Hart paced himself as he jogged toward City Hall from North Philadelphia.
At his side, usually riding a bicycle, was his father.
"Cyclone" Hart, one of the hardest-hitting boxers in the city's history, was replicating a technique he used early in his career.
The two would reach City Hall, turn around, and head home to North Philadelphia.
Along with the early-morning exercises, Jesse and his father spent hours each day in the gyms where the elder Hart had trained.
"When I was young, if you hung around trouble, then you got in trouble," the elder Hart said. "So when he was 7, I said, 'I'll take him to the gym and keep him with me.' "
When Jesse Hart was born in 1989, "Cyclone" Hart told his wife that his son would be the "one that goes in and does what I did and does it better than me." He even placed a pair of boxing gloves in the newborn's crib.
Jesse Hart's comanager, Doc Nowicki, expects him to become a world champion in less than three years. Hart said he'll be in a main event before then.
'Cyclone Started It'
Jesse Hart has seen grainy footage of his father trading punches with "Bad" Bennie Briscoe, Willie "The Worm" Monroe, and Bobby "Boogaloo" Watts.
He's quick to bring up his father's 1975 Atlantic City win over Olympic champion Sugar Ray Seales. Or the 60-second knockout of Stanley "Kitten" Hayward.
On Jesse's right bicep is a tribute to his father's career. In dark ink, a tattoo reads "Cyclone Started It," with a pair of boxing gloves hanging in the center.
"At the end of the day, the old-school fighters were hungry," Jesse Hart said. "They were hard, they were tough, they were mean."
"Cyclone" Hart turned professional when he was just 17. And he wasted no time building his name on his powerful left hook. He knocked out the first 19 men he faced. The first two didn't even make it out of the first round.
Hart is perhaps best known for his first meeting with Briscoe, in November 1975: a 10-round draw in front of a raucous and sold-out Spectrum.
Four months later, the two met again at the Spectrum. But it was a disappointment for Hart. Briscoe scored a first-round knockout.
Hart retired in 1982 with a 30-9-1 record, and he would fight just four more times after his loss to Briscoe.
"He was tremendous," Jesse Hart said. "My dad was ranked No. 3 in the world at one time - it doesn't get much better than that. My dad's in the history books - now it's my time."
A youthful appearance and thin, quick legs make father and son glaringly similar. But that might be where it ends. Known to be an aggressive, wild fighter, "Cyclone" Hart said his son is quite different.
Instead of a close-range fighter, Jesse Hart stalks from a distance with a strong right hand. The elder Hart compared his son to former light-heavyweight champion Bob Foster.
Promoter J. Russell Peltz got a firsthand look at "Cyclone" Hart's career as he promoted his bouts at the Blue Horizon and the Spectrum. He said he's seen only footage of Jesse Hart's bouts.
"[His father] was the best one-punch, left-hooker I ever saw," Peltz said. "I never saw a guy turn a left hook better than he could with power. Jesse's more of a jab, right-hand fighter."
The Hart way
With precision, Danny Davis wrapped Jesse Hart's hands before an afternoon training session at Joe Hand Gym in Northern Liberties. As Hart spoke about the impact his father had on his career, Davis briefly interrupted.
"One thing I can say about his father is that we all know our roles," said Davis, who refers to the elder Hart as Mr. Cyclone. "His father lets me do my thing."
Davis cotrains Hart and is also a longtime confidant and trainer of Bernard Hopkins. It's nearly impossible for a rising fighter such as Hart to not draw comparisons to Hopkins, one of the all-time great middleweights.
Hopkins reached out to Jesse Hart and told him he'd "be the next up." Hart respects the comparisons, but he said he's looking to make his own legacy.
"We're going to do it differently. I admire what he's doing," Hart said. "But, we're going to do it the Hart way."