Bahn: Films And Pep Rallies Are Nice, But Time For Lasting Tribute To Nolan Richardson

by Chris Bahn  on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012 9:00 am  

Nolan Richardson won 389 games in 17 seasons at Arkansas with three Final Fours and a 1994 national title. But his impact goes beyond winning games. (Photo by Eric Howerton)

Commissioner Mike Slive was on hand for the movie premiere and is appreciative of the former Arkansas coach’s position in history. Slive sees the doors that Richardson helped open.

“[Richardson] talked about diversity,” Slive said. “I think one of the things I’m proudest of, I’ve been in the league 10 years, and I was listing them: right now in football we have three minority head football coaches and six of our head basketball coaches are minorities. He takes a great deal of satisfaction from that as do I.”

Things have progressed since that 1994 championship season when Richardson challenged national media to “stop stereotyping coaches” as motivators and recruiters only. Many misunderstood Richardson’s anger at the time, but details from the biography “40 Minutes of Hell” and the documentary of the same name have helped us understand more about the man’s life and the challenges he faced.

Throughout his career Richardson felt he carried the burden of all minority coaches. He feared — and it was a very real fear at the time — that his failures would be their failures.

So their fight was his fight, he recently explained to me. And, damn it, if that made people uncomfortable, it made people uncomfortable.

Richardson’s success helped pave the way for other success stories. So it’s no wonder that locally and nationally Richardson is being hailed for what he accomplished.

But Richardson deserves more.

These past four or five years have brought multiple celebrations of all Richardson accomplished. He was elected into the College Basketball Hall of Fame. Arkansas held the “Celebration of a Championship” on the 15-year anniversary of the national championship to recognize — and rekindle the relationship — with Richardson. ESPN’s “40 Minutes of Hell” is another tribute to the coach and his fight.

Richardson, who is now heavily involved with his charitable foundation in El Paso, told me recently that he is no longer fighting. He still sees opportunities to fight, but with no team to coach, no microphone directly in front of him on a regular basis, Richardson feels his platform isn’t what it used to be.

Perhaps Richardson’s window to actively petition for change has closed, but his work shouldn’t end because his career is over. Certainly, recognition of his contributions must continue.

There is a next logical step in showing respect to Richardson. Former players have already begun work behind the scenes to ensure appreciation for Richardson isn’t limited to a museum, the pages of a book, the occasional pep rally celebrating the 1994 National Championship or a documentary.

Those Razorbacks are hoping, like I’m hoping, that the court will soon bear the name of Nolan Richardson. Putting Richardson’s name on the floor — an honor bestowed to other championship winning coaches in other sports at Arkansas — would be a fitting tribute to a man that made a lasting impact on the state, the university and college basketball.

Painting the Richardson name on the surface at Bud Walton Arena would serve as a permanent reminder of all he accomplished as a coach, what a great ambassador he was for the state and how hard he fought for others. There is no better way to celebrate than to have Nolan rollin’ across a red carpet on the newly named Nolan Richardson Court.



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