Sarah Moomaw: Nolan Richardson dons Hall of Fame jacket to match ‘Triple Crown’ ring

Last modified: Monday, August 11, 2014

On his left hand, Nolan Richardson wears a ring with three large diamonds inset into a diamond-studded oval that reads “Triple Crown” along the perimeter.

He didn’t win the coveted Major League Baseball batting title nor does he own a racehorse. He is though the only coach in college basketball history to have won a Junior College national championship, an NIT championship and an NCAA championship. The ring symbolizes all three.

“That makes me the proudest of anything I’ve ever done,” Richardson said. “Because every job I had, I won a national championship. Every coach wants to do that. I did it.”

On Thursday, he added another accessory as he and the rest of the 2014 Basketball Hall of Fame inductees were presented with their Hall of Fame jackets in front of family and friends at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The class of 10, which includes former NBA commissioner David Stern and NBA All-Stars Alonzo Mourning and Mitch Richmond, will be formally enshrined in a ceremony Friday night at Springfield’s Symphony Hall.

“I guess the highlight (of my career) now would have to be entering the Hall,” Richardson said. “That means that you made it. I think that’s how a lot of people judge it. It’s the grandfather of them all. It’s the main one if you have to get in something.”

Richardson has championship rings from each title, but the idea of wearing all three never crossed his mind, nor could he pick just one as they all meant something. He came up with a system: For special occasions and speaking engagements, he’d wear the most recent of the three — his ring from the 1994 NCAA championship with the Arkansas Razorbacks. Even so, sporting just one wasn’t enough for those who knew two were missing.

“I was always getting, ‘Where’s this ring, or where’s that ring?’” Richardson said. “It stopped all of that.”

A group of doctors and lawyers from his birthplace in El Paso, Texas, where Richardson holds an annual charity golf tournament and where he played collegiately at Texas Western College (now UTEP), presented him with the Triple Crown ring in 1999.

“They said, ‘We’ll get you one for all three,’” Richardson said.

The ring is the only one he wears because all three titles mean so much to him, one doesn’t stand out from another.

“I felt so great with that group, those kids, that team,” Richardson. “Oh my god, same way with this group, that team and they all deserve the same.”

Leading Western Texas to the 1980 NJCCA title was the happiest day of his life, he said, but the following year, his Tulsa team won the NIT tournament.

“I didn’t think I could get any happier,” Richardson said. “We take a school that can’t even win five games and win a National Invitational Tournament back in the days when only 48 teams went to the NCAA, so all that other bunch was in the NIT, and (we) win it. I was happier, I thought, then when I thought I couldn’t get any happier.”

Eight years later, Richardson was back watching a team hoist another national trophy.

“That is what everyone wants to do,” he said. “Every coach that coaches college basketball wants to be a national champion. I did it, and once again, reached the peak (of happiness).”

He said he was optimistic at the start of every season. Every year, no matter where he was or who was on the roster, a national championship was on the horizon. He finished his college coaching career with a 509-207 record.

“The toughest game I ever played was the next one (after winning a title),” Richardson said. “But I always think I’m going to win. Always. I’m never thinking about losing.”

Being inducted into the Hall of Fame caps a career in which he has felt very blessed and leaves little room for anything else.

“The only thing that is left is heaven and the Hall of Fame there, and if I can get into that one — I don’t want to go right now — I don’t see anything else,” he said. “I’m very fortunate. ... I don’t know where I go from here. It’s been a beautiful career for me.”

A career that has given him the happiest of days and the finishing touches to any outfit.