He had just finished the best acceptance speech among all the newest members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame a week ago Friday when Jersey City’s Bob Hurley stepped away from the podium and down the stairs off the stage at Symphony Hall in Springfield, Mass.
As he was returning to his seat with his wife, Chris, and the rest of his family – children and grandchildren – the 63-year-old legendary St. Anthony High School basketball coach was greeted by hugs from Oscar Robertson, Willis Reed, Billy Cunningham, and John Stockton, all Hall of Famers like Hurley.
At that moment, Bob Hurley was indeed basketball royalty. He belonged. He was finally a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.
“To be perfectly honest, when it was first announced at the Final Four [in Indianapolis in April], it was very surreal and an out of body experience,” Hurley said at a press conference. “I didn’t feel comfortable. I didn’t feel like I belonged. But guys like Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone made me very comfortable over the last few days. It’s now a fraternity/sorority that I am part of and it’s amazing. I felt very comfortable with them.’’
Hurley only the third high school coach to ever earn the honor of being inducted. He was joined by legends like Pippen and Malone in this year’s class, along with the entire 1960 United States Olympic team and the 1992 Olympic “Dream Team” that featured people like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Chris Mullen, David Robinson, and Magic Johnson. All of them were in attendance Friday.
In his acceptance speech, Hurley said he remembered the first basketball tournament that he took a St. Anthony team to in 1972, a Christmas tourney at the now defunct Don Bosco Tech in Paterson.
“I was so impressed back then that they had a hospitality room where after the game I could get a sandwich and a beer,” Hurley said. “It’s hard to fathom that 38 years later, I’m here with the entire basketball community. It’s a little overwhelming.”
Hurley was presented by fellow Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, who had coached his son, Bobby, at Duke.
“A few coaches have done as well as Bob Hurley, but no one has done it better,” said Krzyzewski, who was selected to present Hurley for Hall of Fame induction because Krzyzewski was a Hall of Famer himself. “When I see a Bob Hurley team play or a Bob Hurley-coached player, that team or kid is playing with such intensity and hard work. There’s nothing like it.”
“I wish Mike could just take over now and make the speech for me, because I’m more nervous now that I’ve ever been,” Hurley said before the induction. “The world is totally different now. I hope I can still get through this now, because it’s a little intimidating. It’s utterly amazing that I’m standing here in front of all these talented people. I have to remember to control my emotions.”
‘Thank my friends and family from Jersey City’
In his speech, Hurley thanked his wife, Chris, and told the basketball world that the two will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in a few weeks. He also thanked his two sons, Bobby and Danny, now united again as the coaching staff at Wagner College on Staten Island, and his daughter, Melissa, who “keeps me plugged into the techno world,” Hurley said.
“Coach John Wooden gave me terrific advice years ago,” Hurley said. “He said the greatest thing you can do for your children is love their mother. We’ll enjoy our anniversary and contrary to public belief, this time it won’t have anything to do with basketball.”
Hurley himself grew up in Jersey City. He was born and raised in the Greenville section, attending St. Paul the Apostle School, St. Peter's Prep, and St. Peter's College. He currently lives downtown, a few blocks from St. Anthony High School.
In his speech, he also thanked the many people who made the journey from Jersey City to Springfield and forked over a lot of money to purchase tickets for the event.
“I like to thank my friends and family from Jersey City and let them know that I appreciate their support,” Hurley said.
The event was shared by Hurley’s players. Because of Reebok, which picked up the entire tab for the trip, Hurley’s team was able to participate in a clinic with Hurley on Thursday, then were part of all the festivities on Friday. Reebok paid for the transportation, hotel accommodations, and other amenities. The Friars were spotted both in the hotel lobby and later at the red carpet ceremonies prior to the induction running around, getting autographs, posing for pictures, and taking photos.
“I’m sorry if they were annoying anyone, doing what they were doing,” Hurley said in his speech. “But if I was there, I would have been doing the same exact thing.”
More than 70 prior Hall of Fame inductees were in attendance, the largest turnout of Hall of Famers to ever attend the induction ceremonies.
They got to see a humble high school basketball coach from Jersey City, one who has earned nearly 1,000 victories, 24 state championships, nine NJSIAA Tournament of Champions titles, and sent hundreds of kids to college, earning his proper place as a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.
St. Anthony High School has planned a special reception for Coach Hurley Sunday, Sept. 12. See the sports column this week for more details.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.
Read more about Bob Hurley’s induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Jim Hague’s Scoreboard column inside.