A combination career retrospective and racial history of Southern college basketball.
It’s unjust that the legacy of Nolan Richardson, legendary former University of Arkansas basketball coach, is distorted by a surreal 2002 press conference that resulted in his termination. Bradburd (Writing/New Mexico State Univ. Paddy on the Hardwood: A Journey in Irish Hoops, 2006) uses that incident—in which the frustrated coach rambled about slavery and proclaimed that if the university would pay him his money, they could take his job—as a springboard to explore Richardson’s controversial yet undeniably influential life and career. Raised in segregated El Paso, Texas, Richardson became a multisport high-school star before playing for Don Haskins—the first coach to win an NCAA championship starting all black players—at Texas Western College, after which he embarked on a coaching career seemingly destined to fail because of his race. Still, Richardson persevered, rising through the ranks before breaking into Division I coaching at the University of Tulsa. He later achieved historical success at Arkansas in 1994, becoming only the second black coach to win a championship. His on-court achievements, however, were shadowed by personal troubles, including the death of his daughter and an acrimonious power struggle with Arkansas’ athletic director, Frank Broyles. Richardson’s staunch opposition to racist slights, both real and perceived, led to what Bradburd contends is an unfair reputation as an angry, ungrateful black man—a perception refuted by Richardson’s habit of befriending older white men (including sportswriter Orville Henry and Tulsa booster Ed Beshara) and donating considerable amounts of time and money to charities that aid children of all races. The author’s ambitious attempt to contextualize Richardson’s struggles within the larger historical framework of racism in the South adds nuance, but occasionally derails the narrative flow. Nevertheless, he manages to transform the prickly coach into a complex figure worthy of reexamination.
Establishes Richardson as one of college basketball’s most compelling figures, both because of and in spite of his race.