March 5, 2009
I have thought a lot about what to say tonight in accepting this honor for Coach Lemons on behalf of his family and friends. It would be easy to talk about his humor, and there are those here like his good friend Jody Conradt who could do a better job of speaking to his ability to coach the sport of basketball.
There have been suggestions that I should stand here with a cigar in hand, and simply tell funny Abe stories for the allotted time -- or, even worse, I could try to tell you what I think Abe would have said in this moment. But I'm a guy who as a young college student remembers the inductions during the Cotton Bowl week in Dallas years ago, when portraits of the new honorees hung in the spotlight, and the honorees, to me, at least, seemed larger than life.
Abe Lemons belongs in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, not just for what he did (though that was certainly significant), but for who he was.
He was a very funny man who used his humor to make a point. When the University of Texas built its Special Events Center right beside Interstate 35, Abe rankled some folks by saying that we had really done well -- we built a building that would seat 16,000 and park two cars. And when the subject of playing at Heart of Texas Coliseum here in Waco came up, he made fun of a converted rodeo arena. And in both cases, he was right. He used his humor to motivate people to do better, and how proud he would be for Baylor and Waco as we stand in this wonderful facility where the Bears now play.
Abe took pride in a lot of things, but the thing that he relished the most was the success of his players after they had competed for him. Throughout his life, he stressed personal accountability, and he believed that part of a college education was taking responsibility for yourself.
So to make that point, I called Jim Krivacs, who was the all-American guard on the Longhorns' 1978 NIT champions. And this is what he said:
"I had the great privilege and honor to play for Coach Lemons his first three seasons at the University of Texas. The impact that Coach had on my life as a coach, teacher, mentor and man is difficult to describe in this brief tribute. So I will summarize as best I can.
"As a coach, his record speaks for itself. His real genius, brilliance in his preparation for games and his uncanny ability to make in game decisions are just a few of his attributes.
"He knew the strengths and weaknesses of his players and adjusted accordingly. He always managed to get the most out of our teams. His game preparation was unequaled and even though we always seemed to be over matched physically by opposing teams, he never wavered in his belief in us and always had us ready to win the game. By creating an unselfish attitude where each player understood his role, talents and abilities, Coach instilled the strong team concept. This team unity became our greatest strength.
"As a teacher, Coach came into a very challenging situation. He went to work right away. He was tireless in his approach and never stopped teaching. Whether it was the match up zone that he was teaching us or the full court press offense, both of which became effective weapons for us, he was relentless in his approach.
"As a mentor, Coach was always teaching life principles. It was always about doing the right things and making the right choices. Coach understood the commitment to excellence and the "No Excuses, No Explanation" way. He taught us about responsibility and self motivation. He would never have a pre-season conditioning program because he always wanted to know who was ready, who was prepared, who he could trust come October 15, the first day of practice. He felt if you wanted to win, you would be ready and if you weren't committed you wouldn't be ready. He instilled toughness in us and always pushed us beyond our limits. He understood that confidence only comes through preparation. The harder you work, the tougher you get and the more competitive you become. Losing becomes unacceptable.
"Probably the greatest impact that Coach Lemons had on me was his undeniable love for and devotion to his wonderful wife Betty Jo. The love and care he always showed his daughters was an excellent example for anyone to follow and I'm grateful for the impact he had on my life."
Finally, in closing, I'd like to tell you a story. In 1978, when Texas and Arkansas and Houston were in the process of regaining national basketball respect for the Southwest Conference, we had flown to Fayetteville to play the Razorbacks in a critical game. It was a showdown for the conference lead. As Abe and I sat waiting for the team to finish dressing after practice the day before the game, Abe picked up the local paper.
"What you are about to witness tomorrow," it read, "is a happening. It is like man's first step on the moon, or an unheard of world record of some sort." Abe chewed on his cigar, looked at me and said, laughing, "A Happening? Little, I have never been to a happening before. Do you think the price of oil from the Arabs is going to change, somebody's gonna cure cancer, or the drought is going to end in West Texas because we play a basketball game? There are more important things than this. It's a game. Too often, people forget that."
That is who he was. A maverick who loved the game, and yet understood it for what it was ... who believed in what was right, and most of all, believed in his kids. Thanks for honoring him. He would no doubt say something very clever. But he would also be very, very proud.