EL PASO, Texas — The charisma and the poise of El Paso basketball legend Nolan Richardson resonated in the entire room with the first few words he spoke in a deep commanding voice.
“There was times when I wished I could just take my skin and just peel it off and turn white so I could be accepted because I knew I could do the job,” Richardson said.
From a very young age, life was not easy for a young African American boy growing up in a predominantly Hispanic city
The former college basketball national champion coach and El Paso’s Segundo Barrio own son returned to The Sun City to keynote Black History Month at the University of Texas at El Paso and to help promote his new biography, “40 Minutes of Hell” by Rus Bradburd.
Richardson addressed Miners of the past, present and future on his heritage, where he came from and how those things led him to become the sports star and humanitarian he is today. Richardson, famous for his powerful and motivational speeches delivered a message reminiscent of Martin Luther King Jr. He said King was influential in his life.
Circumstances will force people to question their own life choices and their abilities, he said. Raised by his grandmother, Richardson said he was pushed to be a better person everyday and never give up on what he wanted to accomplish. He said, “Believing what you can do is what’s important. If it is to be, it’s up to me.” And those strong words really do tell it all. “Everything that you want to do in life is up to you, and only you can effect the outcome of who you are going to become.”
Everyone goes through seemingly impassable moments when they think they can’t get through the difficulty. There were times in Richardson’s life when things did not go well for him. Whether it was growing up as an African American, being fired from the University of Arkansas for speaking out against racial discrimination, or the loss of his daughter to leukemia, he has fought and overcome many obstacles in his life.
In the biography, Bradburd and Richardson pay tribute to all the people that came before Nolan who did not receive recognition because of the color of their skin. Not being afraid to question authority and speaking out against injustice, Richardson distinguished himself as a great basketball coach and a wonderful humanitarian.
“If I couldn’t stand for something, then I would fall for anything, “said Richardson. He knew that who he is today, had everything to do with the people who made a difference in his life. And still regardless of his achievements, Richardson never has forgotten the town he grew up in and the people that loved him every step of the way.
Richardson told stories of his youth in Segundo Barrio, going to Bowie High School, coaching basketball and success at every level of coaching. He also recalled that the late UTEP basketball coach Don Haskins taught him what “40 Minutes of Hell” really means.
At every step of his career, Richardson said he wanted to teach his players one main thing. “When you come back tomorrow, be better than you were the day you left.” Richardson said he taught them that today is always the most important day of their lives and they were responsible for making it count.