Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Long Road Back

Sometimes your memory of a sporting event can be sparked by circumstances that surround the event itself.

The ESPN 30 For 30 documentary "June 17th, 1994" detailed the many significant sports moments that occurred that day. Whether it was the celebration of the New York Rangers' Stanley Cup championship, the opening of the World Cup soccer tournament in Chicago, Ken Griffey, Jr's pursuit of the MLB single-season home run record, Game 5 of the NBA Finals, or the slow-speed chase of fugitive and Pro Football Hall-of-Famer O.J. Simpson...there was something for any-and-every sports fan.

What the documentary didn't include was a basketball game inside a small high school gymnasium in Belmar, New my favorite player started his comeback from a nearly-fatal car accident.

My own "June 17th, 1994" story takes place at a high school gym in Belmar, NJ

As a University of North Carolina fan, it may seem odd to say that my favorite basketball player was a Duke Blue Devil. Bobby Hurley's game, however, transcended the rivalry for me. His leadership, ball-handling, passing skills, defense and ability to hit clutch shots comprised a style that I tried to emulate on the court during my teenage years.

Bobby Hurley enjoyed a very successful college career at Duke

After graduating from Duke in 1993, the NCAA's all-time assist leader was drafted 7th overall by the Sacramento Kings. At 22-years-old, Hurley was fulfilling his career goals and dreams...yet a fateful night in December 1993 threatened to take it all away.

Hurley was drafted 7th overall by the Sacramento Kings in 1993

Hurley was driving home from a Kings game against the Los Angeles Clippers, when his pickup truck was sideswiped about a mile away from Sacramento's ARCO Arena. Hurley -- who was not wearing a seat belt at the time -- was ejected from his vehicle and ended up in a roadside ditch, nearly 100 feet from where the accident occurred. He nearly died that night.

Hurley's rookie season lasted only 19 games before that near-fatal car accident

On June 17th, 1994, Hurley was beginning his road back to the NBA...playing for the Allenhurst Barbers in the Jersey Shore Basketball League. It featured a combination of college prospects and professional players, looking to keep their skills sharp during the summer months.

Belmar is better known for beaches than basketball during the summer

The McCann Activities and Athletics Center on the campus of St. Rose High School in Belmar could seat roughly 600 people...a far cry from the college and NBA arenas that Hurley had grown accustomed to. Still, it marked a significant milestone in Hurley's basketball journey.

That night, the Allenhurst Barbers faced Larson Ford, a team that featured former Providence College standout and Milwaukee Bucks point guard Eric Murdock. It would provide a good barometer of Hurley's progress to this point...and just how far he still had to go.

Eric Murdock was a standout player on the JSBL's Larson Ford team

Before a crowd of about 400, Bobby Hurley started his comeback. Wearing a maroon Barbers uniform, Hurley wore #11...the same jersey number he donned during his days at Duke. Playing with brother Danny Hurley and Detroit Pistons center Danny O'Sullivan, Bobby went 4-for-14 from the floor...with 7 assists and 5 rebounds.

Every time Hurley touched the ball, those in attendance began to cheer. With every made basket and pretty assist...the crowd would clap, yell and stomp their feet. When Hurley turned the ball over, people would groan...not because of the play itself, but because they so desperately wanted him to succeed.

Photo from a JSBL game at St. Rose High School

My friend Joe, his parents and I watched the game together...clapping, cheering and stomping along with every one of Hurley's successful plays. While the Barbers lost to the light-blue clad Larson Ford team that night, the most important outcome (to us) was that Bobby Hurley emerged from it step closer to an NBA return. In that sense, it was a major victory.

After the game, the four of us went to a local pizza place...where we watched a combination of the O.J. Simpson chase, and the NBA Finals game between the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets. In a world before smartphones and savvy Internet technology, we were completely oblivious to the day's events until we saw it for ourselves.

The O.J. Simpson chase captured our attention after the game

Bobby Hurley would make it back to the NBA...and played four more seasons before retiring from the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1998. While it was a career that left many fans wanting more, Hurley's comeback from a horrific accident demonstrated his character and love for the game of basketball.

Hurley made it back to the NBA, playing through the 1997-98 season

June 17th, 1994 has many different meanings to different people. It was a date that touched baseball, hockey, soccer, football and basketball fans alike. Even those who weren't into sports were captivated by the drama surrounding O.J. Simpson.

For me, the date serves as an entrance portal to my memory bank. While so many significant sporting moments and events were happening on that Friday...there are still many other stories that are still out there.

Bobby Hurley will forever be connected with June 17th, 1994 in my mind

1 comment:

  1. Great article on Bobby. I hadn't known that's when he started his comeback. Do you have any video footage of his 14-point, 17-assist game on March 3, 1995? Or when Eddie Jordan made him the starter at the end of the 1996-97 season? I rooted for Bobby especially more after his car accident. Nice to see him have the coaching success he's experienced. Thanks for the good story!