FAYETTEVILLE — Former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson has been elected to nine different halls of fame for his work over an illustrious career.
There has been recognition from his hometown of El Paso, Texas and others from his coaching career at Tulsa and Arkansas. They’ve meant a lot to Richardson. But he admitted something about Monday’s honor especially filled him with pride.
“Well, this is the big one,” Richardson said in a telephone interview. “It doesn’t get any bigger than this. All of them have been wonderful, but this is the big one.”
Richardson was announced as a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s 2014 class during a press conference in North Texas on Monday. He joins a class that also includes Alonzo Mourning, Mitch Richmond, former Maryland coach Gary Williams and five others who were directly elected by members.
Richardson — who already is a member of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame among his lengthy list — also became the first player or coach with ties to the Razorbacks to be elected into the Naismith Hall of Fame. Naismith finalists had to receive 18 of 24 votes from an honors committee to be elected. Richardson was selected in his year as a finalist.
“I’m so delighted, so proud, so happy for many reasons,” Richardson said during a taxi ride to another hall of fame event Monday afternoon. “For all the people who helped me. For all the things that we started out being and this is the crown royal jewel that you get at the end of the rainbow. There are so many people to thank to get to where I’ve gotten. My teachers, my coaches, my friends, even my enemies.
“Everybody pushes you to get this opportunity to celebrate something phenomenal.”
Richardson, of course, had to push plenty along the way as well.
From the childhood lessons in El Paso to his successful career as an athlete, Richardson fought for every opportunity he earned. He played college basketball for fellow Naismith Hall of Fame coach Don Haskins at Texas Western, begin his coaching career in El Paso and slowly climbed the ranks to Western Texas junior college, Tulsa and Arkansas.
Richardson went 389-169 with the Razorbacks during 17 seasons with the program, leading Arkansas to three Final Fours. The crowning achievement was the 1993-94 season, when Richardson’s team won the national title by beating Duke.
His election to the Naismith Hall of Fame came 20 years after the national title.
“You couldn’t have scripted it any better,” Richardson said.
Richardson never was shy along the way, whether it was in unleashing his “40 Minutes of Hell” style on opponents or the chance to use the podium as a pulpit. He stood up for what he believed was right even if it had consequences, including the racial discrimination lawsuit filed against Arkansas after being fired.
But Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, who was a long-time assistant with the Razorbacks, said it was “emotional” to see Richardson’s work recognized Monday.
“I’m so happy and so proud for him,” said Anderson, who attended the Hall of Fame press conference. “If you talk to him, he’d probably say it’s on the wings of all the players, all the people that have worked with him. And obviously the administration that believed in him and gave him an opportunity. …
“But he did it his way and for that, he’s being recognized as one of the best.”
Richardson, after a lengthy absence following the fallout of his rocky departure and lawsuit against the program, has become a familiar face at Arkansas games in the past few seasons with Anderson’s return as head coach.
He took part in a ceremony along with former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former Razorbacks coach Eddie Sutton — who also was a 2014 finalist for the Naismith Hall of Fame, but wasn’t elected Monday — honoring the program’s Final Four teams in February. Arkansas announced during that ceremony it will hang a banner in Bud Walton Arena’s rafters in Richardson’s honor next season.
Richardson will be a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame by then. The 2014 class will be formally inducted during a ceremony in Springfield, Mass., on Aug. 8.
“It’s an extraordinary recognition,” Anderson said. “It’s one thing to be nominated, but to be nominated and selected on your first go-round, that says something. Coach is a special man. I think Razorback Nation ought to be extremely, extremely proud that one of theirs is being recognized.”
Richardson said he feels fortunate, calling the Naismith Hall of Fame election the “ultimate achievement.”
“You put yourself in the company of some of the most outstanding coaches, players, contributors that the sport has ever known,” Richardson said. “That makes me very proud. I was very proud of being inducted into the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach, but to go into the Naismith Hall of Fame, it means lot.”