Nolan Richardson was on fire.
It was Friday night in Springfield, Mass. at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, an evening that was ostensibly about honoring former NBA greats Alonzo Mourning and Mitch Richmond, as well as newly retired Commissioner David Stern.
Richardson apparently didn’t get the memo, because no sooner had he started his acceptance speech that it was clear he was going to steal the show.
With all the panache of a southern minister, Richardson delivered the most sprawling, the most off-the-cuff, the most touching, and by far the most entertaining speech of the night.
What he gave the audience was just a small taste of his magnetic personality as he moved acrobatically between humor and pathos, parable and stand-up comedy, nostalgia and heartbreak, righteous indignation and genuine graciousness.
Few coaches in NCAA history have been as charismatic and as polarizing a figure as Richardson. He was simultaneously revered and vilified, and his tumultuous tenure as head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks was chronicled in the unflinching ESPN documentary 40 Minutes of Hell. It is a complex portrait of a man whose career was emblematic of the struggle for black coaches to break the color barrier in the Deep South during the late 70s and early 80s.