On the stage at Springfield’s Symphony Hall stood Robert Hughes in front of a red curtain that featured the logos of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Kansas Jayhawks, Chicago Bulls, UConn Huskies, and Fort Worth Dunbar’s Flying Wildcats.
On Friday evening, Hughes slowly walked up the steps to accept formal induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. In doing so he took all of Dunbar with him. Anyone associated with I.M. Terrell goes in, too.
And all of Fort Worth.
Everyone who ever played for Hughes at Dunbar, or at Terrell — or played against him. Every coach who coached with him and against him. Every referee who incurred his wrath. Every reporter who was amused and enlightened by his wit. Every administrator with whom he so tersely fought.
Friday night was most deserved for Robert Hughes and his life and career. And in the process of making it here to the Hall of Fame, he unknowingly took us all with him. All of us feel some degree of pride for his achievement.
“I’d just like to give thanks to the Basketball Hall of Fame; it’s a place where we’d all like to be but some of us never make it,” Hughes said in a pre-recorded video speech that was shown to the audience on Friday evening, with Hughes standing on stage with his presenter, former Texas Tech star, Sheryl Swoopes.
“Fortunately I was at the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.”
He concluded his 90-second speech by saying, “If you’re a worker, you work the best you can every day. You practice every day, and you go to class every day, and you carry yourself with dignity every day. I enjoyed the 47 years I had as a high school coach. To the Hall of Fame, I’d just like to say thank you. Thank you. And thank you, again.”
Hughes arrived at Symphony Hall in an escort, sitting in the front seat of a convertible, with his son, Robert Hughes Jr., and his wife, Nicki, in the backseat. This three-day festivities began Thursday with Hughes receiving his orange Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame jacket. Friday night was the formal ceremony and on Saturday Hughes will receive his Hall of Fame ring.
On Sunday, he and his family can go home.
Before the ceremonies actually began inside the Hall, noted Dallas resident and renowned basketball celeb and tireless promoter, Nancy Lieberman, told me that despite the breadth of their respective careers, she didn’t know Hughes.
“I’ve only heard stories about him but I’ve never actually met him,” she said. “I want to meet him.”
Nancy Lieberman then walked down the aisle and introduced herself to the winningest boys’ basketball coach in U.S.
In Springfield to enjoy the moment were Hughes’ daughters, Robin and Carlye, his sister Jean and brother Edmond.
Also in attendance were Fort Worth ISD director of athletics Kevin Greene, former Fort Worth ISD superintendent Walter Dansby, school board trustee Christine Moss, and chief of secondary schools Cherie Washington.
The ex-players who made the trip to Springfield to share this moment were Demetric Shaw Jr., whose uncle, Lee, also played for Hughes at I.M. Terrell; Dr. James Cash, a Hughes protege from Terrell who went on to become the first African-American player at TCU and the Southwest Conference.
Ex-Flying Wildcats Anthony Burks, Richard Gilliam, Jeremis Smith, Charles “Spider” Smith were also here on Friday night. Ex-Dunbar guard Michael Byars was here to collect more footage for a documentary he is producing about Hughes.
They were all here to celebrate their coach, to hold a reunion of sorts, and to trade stories.
“When I played at Terrell he would still play with us,” Cash said.
“I heard stories about this,” Spider Smith said.
“He was really good,” Cash said. “And he was the biggest trash talker you’d ever hear. He’d go to the corner and make 12 shots in a row and say, ‘I don’t know why I’m wasting my time with you.’ ”
Spider Smith is one of the best players to ever come from Fort Worth. He played four seasons at New Mexico before going pro and playing overseas. He’s Charles, but Hughes made him a Spider.
“I was 14, and I came to practice and I was shooting shots and he called me ‘Spider’ because of my long arms,” Smith said.
Jeremis Smith recounted the time after losing a state playoff game that he walked into Hughes’ hotel room to say he was sorry that they didn’t win it. And to ask him what he could do to improve.
“He had his feet up and he told me, ‘Get your teammates and be there tomorrow morning,’ ” Jeremis Smith said. “I got as many teammates as I could and we were there at 6:30 the next morning. He unlocked the gym and we played.”
After Hughes’ speech was over, he stood at the center of the stage and received a standing ovation from the audience. An audience that included Hughes’ favorite player, Larry Bird. An audience that included Isiah Thomas, Reggie Miller, Calvin Murphy, Larry Brown, Dikembe Mutombo and countless other men and women who are synonymous with great basketball.
Men and women who are Hall of Famers.
Just like Robert Hughes.
Mac Engel: @macengelprof
Robert Hughes’ Hall of Fame induction speech
“I’d just like to give thanks to the Basketball Hall of Fame; it’s a place where we’d all like to be but some of us never make it. Fortunately, I was at the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.
“Coming out of Texas Southern, where we played the game of speed, speed and more speed. Where we always figured we would work and work and work to the other team just dropped by the way side. I had that ability to judge players, and students.
“If you’re a worker, you work the best you can you every work every day. You practice every day, and you go to class every day, and you carry yourself with dignity every day. I enjoyed the 47 years I had as a high school coach. And to the Hall of Fame, I’d just like to say thank you. Thank you. And thank you, again.”