Bobby Hurley played in three Final Fours, won back-to-back national titles and remains the NCAA’s all-time leader in assists, so it might be surprising to learn that his most memorable moment in basketball was a game witnessed by no more than 100 people.
He helped beat the original Dream Team.
In the summer of 1992, Hurley was on a squad of college stars that USA Basketball had assembled to give Magic, Jordan and Bird some legitimate competition in practice. Now this was just a 20-minute scrimmage, but they were keeping score, and the college crew won by eight points.
“It was the best week of basketball in my life,” Hurley says.
Just a few months earlier, Hurley had led Duke to its second consecutive championship and was named Final Four MVP. But in that closed gym just outside San Diego, playing – and thriving -- against the Dream Team made his own NBA dream all the more realistic.
“I was scared to death to be playing against them just knowing the level of talent that was on the floor,” Hurley says. “But I held my own and had my moments.”
A year later, the Sacramento Kings picked him seventh overall in the NBA draft. Then two months into his rookie season came a horrific car accident. He suffered two collapsed lungs, with the left detaching from his windpipe. He also sustained several broken ribs, a broken fibula, a compression fracture in his back and a torn ACL in his right knee.
Although he beat the odds simply by returning the court, Hurley has talked about his disappointment of not having the NBA career he had hoped for – just six seasons with pedestrian stats. That’s why he stayed away from the game after retiring from the NBA in 1998.
He got into horse racing, and except for one year as a scout with the 76ers, he was out of basketball.
But last year he got back into the college game when his younger brother Dan became head coach at Wagner and convinced Hurley to be his assistant. Through the prism of Hurley’s career, it is interesting to see how college basketball has changed in the past 20 years.
When March Madness rolled around in 1991, Duke wasn’t really Duke yet. The Blue Devils had established themselves as an elite program under Coach K with four Final Four appearances in the previous five seasons, but they always fell short of the championship.
UNLV had pistol-whipped them by 30 in the 1990 title game, and Duke was nobody’s idea of a bully heading into the Final Four rematch the next year.
Duke became the Duke we know now by stunning Vegas, beating Kansas in the championship game and repeating in 1992 with a win over Michigan. This past weekend marked the premieres of “Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV” on HBO and “Fab Five” on ESPN, and both documentaries framed their teams as revolutionary forces that changed the culture of the sport.
To different extents, the Blue Devils are seen as foils to those two programs -- new school/old school, state school/private school, black/white, -- a sentiment that Michigan’s Jalen Rose crystallized in “Fab Five,” saying Duke “only recruited black players who were Uncle Toms.”
With all this labeling, it was easy to mark Hurley -- 6-foot and 165 pounds on a good day – as the white kid who beat you with smarts and heart. But that really shortchanged his game.
There’s no denying that Hurley had a high hoops IQ. He wasn’t just the son of a coach. He was the son of a Hall-of-Fame coach. And he was a relentless competitor, logging every minute of the 1991 Final Four and the overtime classic against Kentucky in the regional finals the next year.
But Hurley had real skills.
The Dream Team became true believers from those scrimmages. As Michael Jordan put it to Sports Illustrated in 1992, “He surprised me. I thought he’d be average, but his penetration is unbelievable.”
A Carolina guy pumping up a Duke guy.
No wonder Hurley considers it his finest moment.
Watch this video interview with ThePostGame.com's Victor Chi for more of Bobby Hurley's memories, along with some of his picks (besides Duke) in this year's tournament.