The Hurley family, basketball royalty in the state of New Jersey, is back on the board for the NCAA Tournament now, a long time after the oldest son, Bobby Hurley, was with Duke, and played with Christian Laettner and Grant Hill on one of the best college basketball teams you will ever see.
The father, the great Bob Hurley, of St. Anthony's in Jersey City, is one of the storied coaches in all of high school basketball history, with 28 state championships and more than 1,000 wins in nearly 40 years as a coach. He was in Sacramento on Friday and so was his wife, Chris, and so was Bobby, watching Danny Hurley's Rhode Island team get a game off Creighton and advance to the second round. It was a big day for Danny, who has paid his dues in coaching, and for the family of Rhode Island basketball. And for the Hurley family, which now gets to watch Danny coach another tournament game on Sunday, against Oregon.
The irony, of course, is that this game was in Sacramento, where Bobby Hurley's life nearly ended and his basketball life changed forever because of an automobile accident one night in 1993 when he was coming home from a Kings game as a rookie, and just getting started with them, just beginning to show the NBA what he had been showing the world since he was a kid: that you better not be fooled by his size, or by the altar-boy looks, because then you were missing the size of Bobby Hurley's heart and his talent for basketball.
He had been drafted by the Kings with the seventh pick in the draft. But then 19 games into his pro career, his Toyota 4Runner got rammed by a station wagon without its lights on. Hurley, not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown 100 feet from the car and ended up in a ditch. He would call himself "blessed" later, despite what had happened to him, because a driver in front of him saw what happened, and came back to help. One of Hurley's teammates, Mike Peplowski, was a few minutes behind him, in another car, and good thing, on what had turned into such a terrible night for the kid from Jersey. There was a lot of Bobby Hurley broken that night, and the sooner he got help the better.
The damage was this: collapsed lung. Broken ribs. Fractured shoulder blade. Compression fracture of his lower back. Torn tendon in his right knee. Soft tissue injuries.
Somehow he came back from all that. You knew he would if you knew him at all. He was Bob and Chris Hurley's kid. You didn't think he could come back to the Kings and come back to the NBA? You didn't think he was going to get up? Watch him. He was the little gym rat who had been proving people wrong his whole basketball life. There was the year when UNLV crushed him and Coach K and Duke in the NCAA finals, one of the worst blowouts in the history of the big game. Bobby Hurley and Duke came back the next year and beat UNLV in the semis of the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis, in the old Hoosier Dome, when maybe only they thought they could. And won the title that year and then won another one, as they kept playing themselves into NCAA basketball history.
We heard at the time that UNLV was a dynasty. Bobby Hurley and Laettner and Hill and them turned out to be a lot more of one. When they beat Jerry Tarkanian's team in Indy that day, John Wooden said this about the Runnin' Rebels as he slowly made his way from the court:
"A lot of teams have won one in a row."
That Duke team was one of the most complete the tournament has ever seen. It started with the ball in Bobby Hurley's hands. I always remember something his father told me, after Hurley had been asked to practice with the Dream Team of 1992 before it headed off to Barcelona. You know who was on that team: Michael and Magic and Larry and Chris Mullin and Charles Barkley, and that's the short list. John Stockton was on that team, too, and was often matched up with Bobby Hurley.
"He couldn't get in front of [Bobby]," his father said of Stockton.
In the end, the only thing that could slow down Bobby Hurley was a car without headlights on a dark road. He came back from that. He made it back to the Kings. But it was clear he was not the same streak of light he had been at St. Anthony's, and at Duke, and practicing with the Dream Team, and when he first hit the ground running with the Kings. He eventually got traded to Vancouver, and then he stopped playing basketball for good.
When he came back to basketball for good, he came back as a coach. It is the family business, after all. He did such fine work at Buffalo that he went from there to Arizona State. He has not won there, at least not yet. He will. Winning is part of the family business, too. Basketball is this wonderful part of the family's DNA. There was a day when I was riding around Jersey City with Bob Hurley, and we passed a basketball court at a playground, and Hurley suddenly stopped the car.
He got out and I got out and we walked across the court and he pointed to a rim without a net.
"You see that?" he said to me that day. "Something like that affects 100 kids." When we got back to St. Anthony's that day, he was on the phone. The next day there were new nets on that court in Jersey City.
The father has always honored the game. So have his sons. Danny coached St. Benedict's in Jersey into a powerhouse, then went to Wagner. Now he is with the Rhode Island Rams, who got hot and played themselves into a tournament his brother's teams owned once, and now have played themselves into a second round game against Oregon.
Bobby was there on Friday. He was back in Sacramento, not so far from the site of an automobile accident that didn't take his pro basketball career right away, but took it eventually. You saw him on Friday, on television, rooting for his kid brother. The hair is gray now. But you can still see the basketball kid he was once, back when he and Coach K and his teammates owned this time of year in college basketball.
This was his brother's big day. This was such a big game for him and his players and his program. It was just ironic that the game was played in Sacramento. When they asked Danny Hurley about that the other day, before the Creighton game, he became emotional just talking about what had happened to his brother in this city once.
"It's emotional for me just because my last time here I was watching my brother cling to his life in a hospital room surrounded by his family," Danny Hurley said the other day, before he said he was going to try to keep it together in front of the media. Then he did. He's a Hurley. He says his team has got some good, tough Jersey to it. Runs in the family.