An exploration of the racial politics of American sports, from the Jim Crow era to the present day, witnessed through the life of legendary African-American basketball coach and NCAA title winner Nolan Richardson
Born in El Paso's Segundo Barrio, or Second Ward, pioneering basketball coach Nolan Richardson grew up in the only black family in a Mexican neighborhood and attended desegregated Bowie High School in 1955. Richardson went on to play at Texas Western College, now the University of Texas at El Paso, as the first black star player for legendary coach Don Haskins. Richardson eventually rose to national prominence as a coach in his own right. He became the first black coach at a predominately white school in the Old South to win the NCAA Championship in 1994 at the University of Arkansas. With Richardson's Razorbacks playing at a high-pressure, electrifying pace—a style he called "Forty Minutes of Hell," which became a nationally known trademark—Arkansas made three appearances in the Final Four, and Richardson was named NABC Coach of the Year in 1994.
Richardson's gradual political awakening, and his subsequent refusal to keep quiet about overt or subtle racial injustices, marked his rise. Regardless of his staggering win totals, tensions in Arkansas culminated in an infamous 2002 press conference in which he accused the University of Arkansas of discriminating against him, bringing about an abrupt end to his college coaching career. The only coach in history to win a Junior College National Championship, the NIT, and the NCAA tournament, Richardson went on to coach internationally and in the WNBA.
Rus Bradburd, a former college basketball coach who also worked with Don Haskins, highlights Richardson's trailblazing career with empathy and intimacy, revealing a man whose hard-won successes were matched by deeply felt losses. An intensive inside look at elite collegiate athletics and a chronicle of the transition away from the segregated era of American sport, Forty Minutes of Hell is the first full-length biography of Nolan Richardson, setting his complicated story against the backdrop of a decisive time in American history.
In 2002, when Nolan Richardson gave his famous press conference that blended elements of US race history with a call to buy out his contract at the University of Arkansas I was one of many who thought that it was time for him to go. Granted, I did not know the entire story at the time and the debacle that has been Arkansas Razorback basketball has caused a deep sense of regret that the greatest figure in Arkansas sports history does not still roam the sidelines.In this book, Bradburn recounts Nolan’s rise from the poorest neighborhood in El Paso to arguably the most important black collegiate basketball coach of all time. He does a remarkable job of placing Nolan’s meltdown into its full context. Nolan does not escape without any scars in this telling but the greatest damage is done to the legacy of Frank Broyles, the most powerful Athletic Director in the country who could not tolerate any coach being more popular or successful than he was.That Nolan’s story ended at the University of Arkansas so poorly is a sad testament to the bitter specter of racism that has plagued this nation for far too long. Nolan was a trailblazer in many ways. How sad that he is not still coaching my favorite team. Arkansas basketball might never regain the prominence that he led them to.read more
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