Nolan Richardson's journey from the poor Segundo Barrio neighborhood to championship coach at Arkansas
and now, a hall of famer, is complete.
Richardson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Friday in Springfield, Mass., a time he called a night of thank yous.
Richardson's speech touched on just about all parts of his life, from being the only African-American student at Bowie High School, to the death of his 15-year-old daughter Yvonne, and the importance of teamwork on and off the court.
"I’ve always believed that you have to have a team to reach a dream," Richardson said during his speech. "I’m talking about a team that raised Nolan Sam Richardson. I’m talking my teachers, my coaches, junior high, high school, my college, junior college. I also played for the legendary Don Haskins
, who had a lot to do with how I approached the game."
When Haskins and his family first arrived at Texas Western College (now UTEP
), Richardson helped the family move into their home.
Then Haskins decided to "interview" Richardson.
Haskins quizzed Richardson about being a good football player, averaging 21 points a game for the basketball team, and that he had turned down a baseball contract.
"I didn’t know anyone better than me," Richardson said, remembering his talents in different sports.
"But I also heard that you can't guard a damn telegraph post," Haskins told Richardson.
Richardson recalled how his 21 point average dropped to 14 points as a junior and 10 points as a senior.
But the Miners ended up winning more as his point average declined.
"I didn’t know I liked winning," Richardson said. "He introduced me to the team. I didn’t know there was any other player but me."
After graduating from college he went on to become a teacher at his alma mater, Bowie High School.
It was the first time he encountered the challenges of breaking a coaching color barrier.
He was told by the principal that he wouldn't be a head coach in El Paso in his life time because there just wasn't a head basketball coach in El Paso.
Eventually, the head basketball coaching job opened up at Bowie and his Richardson's former high school football coach lobbied for him to get the job - and he did.
He was 26 years old and he was the happiest person in the world, despite the considerable height disadvantage he would have on his team.
"If you knew the school, the tallest person on campus was 5-foot-11," Richardson said.
Soon, Richardson would go on to coaching in the junior college ranks, noting that there were more than 50 junior colleges in Texas at the time and now one black head basketball coach.
"That’s a challenge to me," he said. "Oh, we’re going to do alright. Because if I don’t do good there won’t be anyone following us. I got that from granny. She called me in. Ol' mama was very smooth. 'You remember Jackie Robinson? You remember what he did?' I said 'yes, ma'am.' 'You have to do the same damn thing! So I said 'yes, ma'am.'"
So he did it.
"Crack the doors all you need, son. You can take care of the rest all yourself. It’s all about attitude. Force your attitude on the people you deal with. Let them see through your eyes where you need to go and where you need to be," Richardson's granny, who raised him, told him as he recalled what a great teacher and inspiration she was.
"I get a kick out of parents today saying 'we need role models,' Richardson said. "We need parents that our kids can look up to. That’s what we need!"
One of the special thank yous Richardson had was for Msgr. Francis Smith, his spiritual leader who helped Richardson deal with the death of his 15-year-old daughter in 1987, just as he was beginning his coaching career at Arkansas.
• • •
Current Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson
, his wife Marcehita, the Razorback coaching staff and former players like Scotty Thurman were on hand for the event.
"It's history in itself," Anderson said. " He has been a first wherever he's been. It all makes sense. It's fitting he'll be the first in the Hall of Fame from the University of Arkansas. What a great man. More than anything else he's touched a lot of lives and I'm living proof of that being the person that I am because of Coach Richardson.
"I'm here to celebrate with him. It's a great honor and a privilege. He called it the pinnacle of our profession. For the peers and the people in basketball to say you were one of the greatest ones, I think it is an awesome feeling for him. I hadn't seen him this giddy in a long time so it's a great thing. It's a great day for the Razorback nation."
Thurman, whose 1994 shot against Duke
lifted Arkansas to the only national title in program history, noted how pleased he was to have played for Richardson.
Obviously it was a tremendous honor to have played for him and to see the recognition that he so richly deserves. I am very happy and honored for him."
Thurman then delivered the following anecdote.
"Everything he does is fast," Thurman said. " People thought the way we played was fast. He plays golf fast. He eats fasts. Sometimes he drives fast. He's always been somebody who tries to do everything at a speedy pace. People should not have been surprised at the way we played."
Former Arkansas head coach Nolan Richardson went into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday night the same way he coached - in an entertaining fashion.