Yes, a movie based on the NCAA legend is in the works. It seems a natural choice for a movie with films such as Remember the Titans and Glory Road preceding it. Glory Road if you don't remember, was based on the 1966 championship winning Texas Western team that would later become UTEP. The movie dealt with coach Don Haskins and his all-black starting lineup that would beat Adolf Rupp's Kentucky powerhouse team. Nolan Richardson himself attended Texas Western and was coached by Haskins himself. And with the racial barriers that Nolan busted through on his way to his own NCAA championship it seems that his life is a perfect big screen story. But let me tell you, Nolan Richardson, much like Don Haskins, is not Hollywood. Before this movie comes out I just want to tell you about my experiences with the legend before you get a glossed over look at one of the greatest men I have ever known.
Nolan was born in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Texas: El Segundo Barrio in El Paso. As one of the few black families in the Second Ward, the Richardson's were actually accepted. Nolan was actually the first black student to attend Bowie High School when it was first integrated (Bowie was the "Mexican" high school of the city). The racism that affected most of the country at the time did not engulf El Paso. He lost his mother when he was three to a mystery disease and would go to live with his grandmother, his father battling an addiction to alcohol. Ol' Mama, as Rose Richardson was affectionately called, instilled in him the drive and determination that would define his career.
Even at age 70 Nolan is still as tough as they come. He lost his daughter Yvonne to leukemia when she was just 15 after battling with the illness for two years. Earlier this year he lost his son, Nolan Richardson III, who died of a heart attack. Nolan was here in El Paso when it happened and had to wait almost 20 hours to say goodbye. Still he held his annual golf tournament a few months later to continue to raise money for local charities. As former NBA great Larry Johnson once told me,"Nolan is one tough son of a bitch!"
Though he has gone through hardships and broken racial divides, Nolan still does not get the respect he deserves. Even though he is the only college head coach to win a junior college title (first African American to do so as well), an NIT title, and an NCAA Championship he is still only one of the greatest black head coaches ever. Nolan is one of the greatest, period. Instead critics only look at his dismissal from Arkansas after he claimed he was being racially targetted, these critics claiming he was speaking nonsense. Or his recent stint in the WNBA(go look at some of the ESPN footage of him coaching the Tulsa team, it is hilarious). Or the claims that UTEP brass made saying he thought he was too good for school now. This last is actually funny considering the rumors that the UTEP athletic director actually wanted Nolan to ask for the job to bring prestige to the school.
I know Nolan. He coached my father when my father was in Bowie. I would later attend one of his basketball camps. In high school I would meet the guy that would become my best friend, who just happened to be one of Nolan's nephews. I got to be around Nolan a lot since then, volunteering at his golf tournament, hell I even get to drink whiskey and beer with the man occasionally! So when I say I know Nolan, I mean it. He is always offering a hand up(he offered me a job working for the Tulsa Shock but I couldn't commit because of my newborn). He is gritty. He is usually cranky. He likes to sit around and drink a few beers while he watches a game with his family. Does he care about this movie being made about him? No. Nolan is definitely not Hollywood. This man taught me how to shoot a sky hook because I was from an El Segundo family. Because kids like me didn't get many opportunities to learn these things, not because cameras would see it. Nolan Richardson is El Segundo, one of the Ward's favorite sons. He learned his famous 40 Minutes of Hell from those barrio streets. So if you go to see the movie, with someone like Terrence Howard or Don Cheadle playing Richardson, remember that the big screen (nor those great actors) could never capture the grittiness or the pure heart that makes up the legend.