EL PASO, Texas - Nolan Richardson's journey from the poor Segundo Barrio neighborhood to championship coach 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 joins Don Haskins, Nate Archibald, and the 1966 Texas Western College team as the only Miners in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
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, 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 anywone 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 perso 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.
"I almost threw away basketball because of that," Richardson said. "And I'm trying to coach a team the first time at Arkansas. There was unbelievable pressure. I could care less if I ever win. Then I asked the good man upstairs what should I do. I knew she (daughter Yvonne) wouldn't want me to quit."
"So I rededicated myself again," Richardson said. "When I think of winning, sometimes I think we do so for the ones we loved so much. I was happy, but it was different. Things went in the right perspective at that time. What's more important a life or a game? That's what I was faced with. I will pick life every time."
He also called out a former referee in the audience and told a favorite story of his about the devil wanting to play God in a game of basketball.
"'You know who I have up here besides Wilt Chamberlain?' Richardson said God told the devil. "He can call up anybody at any time. 'And you still want to play a game?'"
And the devil replied, "yes, because all the officials are down here."
The story got a huge laugh from the crowd and Richardson shook hands with his presenters, Archibald and John Thompson.
"That's why I don't like 'em," Richardson joked, refering to referees.