On August 8, 2014, a little more than twenty years after Coach Nolan Richardson lead the University of Arkansas Razorbacks to the 1994 NCAA Basketball Championship, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as the only coach in history to win the National Junior College Tournament, the National Invitational Tournament, and the NCAA Tournament. His acceptance speech lasted just over 30 minutes as he was accompanied on stage by Basketball Hall of Fame inductees, former Temple Coach John Chaney (2009) and Nate “Tiny” Archibald (1991).
The speech was vintage Coach Richardson. He weaved his own brand of thankful, parable-like and us-against-the-world stories with sincere gratitude to his family, “team”, and those who gave him opportunities to be a trailblazing coach. There were moments of silence and laughter while he appeared to relish the moment of the ultimate acknowledgment of respect for which he always fought so hard. Nolan Richardson focused on people around him through the years. His accomplishments had already spoken before he stood on the podium. He spoke vaguely in terms of “championship” at times and mentioned his championship at Arkansas in terms of being rededicated to coaching basketball as his daughter, Yvonne, who lost her battle with leukemia, would have wanted for him. “Things went into the right perspective at that time. What’s more important, a life or a game? That’s what I was faced with, and I would pick life every time. It’s a lot more important than any game that I’ve ever been in.”
As much as it would have been great to have a completely comfortable moment listening to Coach Richardson, it’s not what one expects. His greatness doesn’t emanate from comfort and harmony, rather it’s rooted in hunger, fatigue, and “war,” and he didn’t sugar-coat his own moment. The bitterness of his exit from Arkansas salted his speech in places, particularly in the contrasting accolades he gave to Frank Pollard at Bowie High School and Dr. Emery Turner at Tulsa University who each hired him as a coach versus “there was Frank Broyles” at Arkansas. He didn’t name names when he said that he was called in and told that what he had done would keep him out of the Hall of Fame, but the unnamed “what he had done” was clear, and the list of who could “call in” Nolan Richardson was relatively few. From a different side, he thanked the Hon. Wendell Griffen for his counsel during his “trials and tribulations.” **
It’s difficult to think of Nolan Richardson’s speech without envisioning an analogy to Little Rock-born Douglas MacArthur, his disagreements with Pres. Truman resulting in MacArthur’s departure, and the last lines of his Farewell Speech to Congress, “The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that ‘old soldiers never die; they just fade away.’ And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.”
Nolan Richardson’s speech wasn’t about the game of basketball. It was about his life and his duty which were far more important. He was true to himself and every bit of the champion and the man he is. Old soldiers may never die and may just fade away, but who they were and what they did will never be forgotten.
Congratulations Nolan Richardson and thank you!
Nolan Richardson’s Hall of Fame Speech
To start off with, my wife could not attend here tonight even though we are here in the hotel. She is just not feeling very well.
I do have some family members here. To start off, I would like to introduce them, my daughter Madelyn, my great-granddaughter, somebody looked at that. I got a great-granddaughter. She’s a cheerleader. My nephew, Oscar, my nephew is Oscar, and a great buddy of mine who helped me which I will talk about as we go along, Andy Stoglin.
Before I get started, I want to first of all to thank John. I appreciate Chaney I wanted him up here, but he’s not feeling well. But I admire big John. You know you he was… When I got to Tulsa University, when I was a junior college coach, John was a major college coach doing his thing, and I admired his team so much because they played so hard. Physically they played hard. I know that Vince Lombardi would say, “Fatigue will make cowards of us all.” And I saw John’s teams make cowards of the teams he played, and I enjoyed that. So when I think of John McClendon who ran the fast-break better than anybody ever ran it, and I copy those things and I put them in my repertoire, and John, I just want to thank you for being who you were who also backed off of no one at any time. That was important to me. I needed someone as I was coming out to be the college coach that I could look up to, and Cheney was in that same, same group.
I don’t think that George is here, but George Raveling…those guys they’re old-timers, but those are the guys that I had to have. I want to thank you for that.
I want to thank Tiny Archibald. I go back with Tiny. Tiny played for the same coach I played for, Coach Haskins. He’s a Hall of Famer. I’m very proud. I’m going into the Hall with a man that’s in the Hall already who was a great, great basketball coach. But Tiny, I use him all the time. I said to players who claim, “I don’t get enough touches.” I said, “Go talk to Tiny.” Hell, you know what he did? He not only won the NBA scoring title, he was also the best assist man during the same year. Now, how in the hell can that happen? How? (Laughter and applause) Now think about what I just said. Think about it. I said, “So go rebound, dammit, and you can shoot all you want.”
You know, let me tell you something. Going back, I never forget driving, and I’m listening to a game. It’s New Mexico State playing Indiana State. I don’t really care about the game, but New Mexico State is right up the street from El Paso, and I went to UTEP. We’re big rivalries, so I’m hoping that Indiana State would beat New Mexico State. And I’m listening to the radio, and I have no clue of the players on either team. All of a sudden, this name keeps coming. Bird. He goes to the right. Bird. He makes a shot. Bird. I said Goddamn who is Bird? Blah blah blah Bird. Now here’s Bird, and Bird this, and did you see the pass that Bird made? I can’t see it, but I’m just trying to imagine it. When the time got to the end, I said, “Damn, that brother can play!” Hey, let me tell you something, when I got the newspaper and saw Larry’s picture, I said, “Damn!” Larry, that you what, you know, to be honest with you, the young lady that said you were her favorite player, mine too. I love you too, Magic, but not as much as I like Bird.
I have to tell you this because my grandfather and my grandmother were so important in my life. I was about 10 years of age, and my grandfather said, “Son, you got a believe.”… And he had some preacher in him. You can tell, I got a little bit in me too. He said, “Whatever you do, you’ve got to believe in it.” And that was his voice. “You got to believe.” He said, “Let me tell you this story about this little boy. He was 10 years old.”
And back in our days, we used to buy pop bottles, and some of you guys, I see you out there. You’re about as old as I am. You remember the pop bottles that you could get a deposit of two pennies off of? You take the bottles back to the store, and they give you two pennies for the bottle that you already paid for. You remember that? Okay.
“This little boy saved up all the bottles around the neighborhood. It rained. It snowed. He had a little red wagon, and it sat outside, and it went through all this weather. And summer come. It’s May, and he’s got himself quite a few bottles saved up. He take those bottles, put them on his wagon, and he’s got, school’s out, it’s May, it’s beautiful. And he’s taking them across to sell those bottles, and all of a sudden one of the wheels got kind of moving and ‘pop’ it popped off which overturned the wagon. Bottles fell. Some of them broke. The little boy said, ‘Damn!’ (striking himself on the forehead)
I’m looking at my granddad and he said, “yeah.”
“He said then he looked at the little… There was a preacher on the corner that heard him say that and he walked over to him and his reverendly voice… ”
We’ve got a great monsignor over there who understands what I am talking about…
“He said to him, ‘Son, you have to believe. Don’t use that word! Instead of saying that word, look into the heavens and say ‘Hallelujah!’ and then say, ‘I believe!’ and then, you’ve got to believe!’ The little boy said, “Yes, sir.” So he says, ‘Pick up the remainder of the bottles that you have, and put that wheel back on the wagon, and get on across that street and get them sold.’ So he did that. He picked the bottles up, put them on the wagon, and he says, ‘Remember, you must believe.’ So the little one was on his way, and the wagon starts shaking, and he looked up into the heavens, and he said, “I believe, ain’t nothing going happen. I believe this wagon is going to make it I believe this!” And all of a sudden ‘pop.’ Overturned. He’s getting ready to say something, and all of a sudden, the wheel jumps back on the wagon. Pop. The bottles that broke down the street was fixing in the air and coming back on the wagon. The little boy looked down the way at the preacher and said, ‘Damn!’ (Striking himself on the forehead)”
He says, “Son, just remember, he’s the messenger. That’s all the preacher was.” So when we won the national championship, I had preached about believing. Shit, I was like this (slaps himself on the four head).
God has blessed me in many ways and all honors go to him. When I stopped to think about going into the Hall, and I want to thank the Hall, all the committee, and I also want to have a special thanks for Fran. Everybody, give it for Fran. (Applause)
You know, I have always believed that you have to have a team to reach a dream. A lot of folks don’t understand what I’m saying, but you have to have a team to reach a dream. Everybody can dream and never reach it, but if you’ve got a team you can, and you can reach it. And it’s not talking about a national championship team. I’m talking about the team that helped raise Nolan Sam Richardson, Jr. And who was that team? That team to me was my teachers. When I started off to school, elementary school, my teachers in high school, my coaches, junior high, high school, my college.
I went to junior college, and I also played for the legendary coach Don Haskins who had a lot to do with the way I approached the game. And the reason is that when I met him I helped him move into his house, and he decided that he wanted to have an interview with me, which is a meeting.
And he said to me, “I understand that you are a good football player.”
And I said, “Yes, sir.”
“You are the leading scorer on this minor basketball team. You’re averaging 21 points a game.”
I said, “yes sir.” I was really… He knows I averaged 21 points because I was shooting it every time I touched it. Damn right, I’m going to the beeb team, so he said, “I understand you turned down a baseball contract.”
I said, “yes sir.” I’m saying “wow” I’m a pretty good athlete. I didn’t know anybody better than me to be honest with you, not in any sport, okay.
So he said to me, “I also heard that you can’t guard a damn telegraph post.”
Now here it is, I am the leading scorer. I came to you. There was a coach before him. I came to that coach to be a scorer, and he’s telling me that I’ve got to guard somebody. I didn’t think that was right. So he coached me from averaging 21 to 14, and my senior year I averaged 10. But you know what I found out though? We won. I didn’t know that I liked winning that much, but we won so he introduced me to the rest of that team. This is a guard on your team. This is a forward. Hell, I didn’t know that there was any other player but me, but I found out at that time, I said, “Hey, if I can play like this, and coach like I want to coach and not look at the book and be a book coach”…everybody out there and the fans are all coaches. Everybody. My wife? She’s a point guard. She points out every damn thing I do wrong. I’m telling you people, I’m very proud. Tonight is a night of thank you. That’s what tonight is for me, and when I start the thinking of the people I must thank, I’ve got to thank the man that gave me the first opportunity.
His name is Frank Pollard. He’s been gone a long time. I’ll never forget. I went to BowieHigh School and went back there to be a schoolteacher. And I never forget him bringing me into the office, and he says, “I’m going to start you…”
That school was seven through 12…
“So I’m going to start you in the seventh grade, and I’ll move you if you prove that you can teach and coach.”
At that school was basically Mexican-American kids. I went to school there. I remember when I first went to school there. They integrated. I was one time the only black on the campus, but I spoke Spanish better than they did. He said, “If the head-coaching job ever opens, I want you to think about what you want to coach. We’ll see…”
I had played football, basketball, and baseball. So he said to me…
“Football, I would like to be a football coach.”
He says, “Oh no, not in my lifetime, or yours will you be a football coach at this school.”
I start thinking why? He says,”Son,” and he was straight up with me, that’s why I loved him. He says, “There are no black coaches in football ever in El Paso. There are none in basketball.” He says, “but in baseball, I might be able to push you through there without a whole lot of fanfare.”
I said, “Okay.” So for two years that’s what I did at seventh grade. They moved me to the eighth grade, then they moved me to the ninth grade, and then finally the varsity basketball job came open, and Jay Clay Cox, he was a very close friend to the principal and was my football coach in high school, he called me and said, “I’m going to go in there and talk to him for you.”
Mr. Pollard called me, and he says, “Nolan, I am going to make you our head basketball coach.” I was 26 years old. Happiest time of my life. I said, “Hey, since I’m going to be the coach at Bowie.”
You knew what the school… the tallest kid was 5’11”. When I went there, I was 6’1″, and I was the tallest guy on the campus playing center when I knew I was a point guard, like Magic.
You know, but anyway, he called me and he says, “We gonna, we gonna get it done.”
I felt so good and so proud that I had this man behind me. He had my back because he was the principal.
As I moved up, I moved in to think the junior college. I never forgot. I never will forget the man that gave me the opportunity to show that I am pretty good at what I do. There were 50 JCs in the State of Texas. 50. And there was not one African-American coaching as a head coach. Dr. Simpson was his name. He was the athletic director. It was funny. He told me, he says, “Now Nolan, if you don’t do well, you, me, and the president are going to have to buy a ticket to get out of this place.” Snyder Texas. That’s a challenge to me.
“Oh, we’re going to do all right because if I don’t do good, there won’t be anyone following us.”
I got that from Granny. Why I got that from Granny? I didn’t want to go to a town where they wouldn’t let me stay in a hotel with my teammates, so I told them I’m not going. My coach came and told my grandmother that I wasn’t going. She said, “Oh no, he’s not old enough to make decisions like that.” She called me in, and said, “I need to talk to you, son.”
And it’s funny, ‘Ol Mama was very smooth. She said, “I’m going to tell you something. You remember Jackie Robinson?” Oh she loved Jackie Robinson.
I said, “Yeah, I remember.”
She said, “You remember what he did?”
I said, “Yes, ma’am.”
“You’ve got to do the same damn thing.”
I said, “Oh, yes, ma’am.”
So I was gone. I didn’t like it.
That’s why she said, “Crack the door is all you need, son. You can take care of the rest yourself. It’s all about attitude. For sure attitude on the people you deal with. Let them see through you. Let them see through your eyes where you need to go and where you need to be.”
That was a beautiful teaching. ‘Ol Granny was something very, very special.
I get a kick out of the parents today saying, “We need role models.” Bullshit. Excuse my French. I’m sorry. We need parents that our kids can look up to. See, that’s what we need.
Emery Turner, no black people in coaching nowhere in Oklahoma. I got the Tulsa job. You should’ve seen my resume. I said, “If you want to win, you need Nolan Richardson.” That was it. I mean, I’d turned down anyway, so I said, “Hey, I ain’t going to waste all this. I did this. I did that. Oh yes I …” No, no, no. “You need me! I can change all that stuff.”
We changed it too, that first year. First of all, for me to do right, I had to go get my main man, Andy Stoglin. Andy was working at San Diego State making about $24,000 a year. I had $18,000 in my budget.
I said, “Andy I need you.”
He said, “I’ll be there.”
I said, “I don’t have no money.”
He said, “I’ll be there.”
So we started that program, and then of course, he later went to Southern University and Jackson State, but that’s how it started. But that man gave me the opportunity at Tulsa, and I had a man to come and help me.
I got to Arkansas. There was Frank Broyles. He opened the door,so therefore, if he opens the door (flash to a Razorback banner in the auditorium), it gave me a chance to go into the South and try to do what I thought was a little bit different than what everybody else did. And why did I change the way that I wanted to play has always been the question asked. I remember passing the ball, passing it, and getting beat 21 to 27, 28 to 32, but we were losing. I said, “Damn, I’m tired of losing. I’ve got to figure out something else.”
We didn’t run. We ran the plays. Oh my God, all the old coaches that beat me, they said, “Man, your team is very well coached. You’re really hitting good,man.”
God, I’ve never seen anything like that. But I was losing! I didn’t like that, and I started biting, grabbing, slapping, trying to create turnovers, try to win the possession war. They didn’t know about all of those things. If I could win the possession war and get more opportunities to shoot layups, I got a chance. That’s all I needed was a chance. In that year, I’ll never forget, we were so bad that never in the history of El Paso High School that no team had ever won 30 games. I did it with the team that had nobody 6 feet on it. It’s so different today. I thank those people for giving me that opportunity.
There are some special people here tonight that have come a while, a long ways to celebrate with me here tonight.
There’s a guy that I coached his son in junior college Joe Rosales, Hymie Rosales. They came a long ways.
My spiritual leader Msgr. Smith, I am so indebted to Msgr. Smith. I lost a daughter. He presided over that funeral in 1987. No one knows how hard that was an trying to coach and trying to win. If I could have thrown away basketball, which I almost did because of that tragedy, she died of leukemia at the age of 15 in the prime of her life, and I’m trying to coach a basketball team for the first time at the Razorbacks. It was unbelievable pressure, unbelievable feelings. I could care less if we ever won anything. Then I reached up and asked the Good Man upstairs, what should I do. I know she wouldn’t want me to quit, so I rededicated myself again.
I think in terms of winning, sometimes you do things for the ones you love so much, and I dedicated that all the time in my heart for what she had to put up with to win a championship. Was I happy? A little bit, but it was different. Things went into the right perspective at that time. What’s more important, a life or a game? That’s what I was faced with, and I would pick life every time. It’s a lot more important than any game that I’ve ever been in.
In closing, there’s another young man that, I thank. He wrote a book that he called, 40 Minutes of Hell. Bradburg. Spent a lot of time putting that book together, brought a lot of good things to light. Did make me look like a hero either, and I didn’t like that worth a crap. That’s okay. I’m not perfect. The only perfect one that supposedly lived here don’t live here no more, but I want to thank him.
I want to thank guys like Judge Wendell Griffen during the trials and tribulations, during the tough times. Being able to talk to someone, going through a trial, going through all kinds of things that makes this such a great honor to me.
I remember a guy who once called me in and said, “You’ll never make it to the Hall for what you did.”
I said, “Then I don’t make it to the Hall, if that’s what it is. If what I did was wrong. I don’t deserve to be in the Hall.”
That’s who I am. I only hope and pray that whatever I receive was what I was supposed to receive. Simple as that.
And so, when I say that it is a night of “thank you,” and I want to thank again all of my college mates, all my teachers. I’d be up here all night developing the team that made me reach the dream. That’s how I see it. The team that made me reach a dream.
In closing, I’ve got one more short story to tell you. Because of Delaney, where’s Delaney, the official (gentleman stands up). Thank you, you can sit down now, and you don’t have a whistle. Sit down.
I guy asked me, he said, “You know, you are rough on the officials.”
And I said, “You know why?”
“Let me tell you a story that was told to me when I was down in Mexico when I was coaching.”
Many years ago, I would say to that, supposedly there was going to be a game between Heaven, the Good Man upstairs and the Bad Man, the Devil, downstairs. He kept calling the Good Man upstairs saying, “Hey, I want a game.”
The Good Man says, “No you can’t win.”
He says, “What do you mean I can’t win?”
He said, “Let me tell you something. You know who I have up here, besides Wilt Chamberlain? Do you know who else I have up here? And, do you know who I can call up at any time?”
Now, that’s powerful. He can call up anybody at any time. Woo hoo.
“And you still want to play game?”
And the Devil say, “Yeah, what makes you so strong?” He says, “All of the officials are down here!”
That’s why I don’t like them. No, in all seriousness, Delaney, you were one of the great ones, and there’s a lot of them that are great.
People, I am thoroughly pleased and thoroughly enjoy the fact that I can say that Larry Bird, I am a fraternity brother. That Magic, we can rub elbows.
They named a school after me called “NolanRichardsonMiddle School.” This was 10 years ago or 12. And I’ll never forget that my granddaughter was a little girl, and they told the story of who I was. She was there, and she started crying. I said, “Erica, be quiet. Be quiet. What’s the matter?”
She said, “Grandpa, you’re gonna die.”
“I’m gonna die?”
“Yeah. They only name things after people who are dead.”
God bless you all and have a great night!
The thirty minute video of Nolan Richardson’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech is here.
** To this day, many will debate who was correct in the Richardson v. Broyles feud. Without reading hundreds of pages of testimony transcripts, U.S. Federal Judge Bill Wilson heard the testimony and gave his findings in his opinion. Nolan Richardson, Jr. v. B. Alan Sugg, et al. 325 F.Supp.2d 919(2004) The link is free from Google Scholar.
Effort was made to make the transcript verbatim, but like many transcripts, perfection isn’t claimed. There were a few places difficult to understand what was said and sometimes where repeated statements (like “false starts”) are omitted. It is not expected that there is any significant variation from the original.