IMAGE COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO
Former NBA player James Hardy, one of the best athletes to ever come out of Jordan High, passed away in late December of a heart attack.
Hardy, who was 64, was from Knoxville, Alabama but came to Long Beach with his parents as a child as part of the Great Migration. He was a Parade All-American his senior year at Jordan in 1975. He’s one of just five first-team Parade All-Americans in city history and one of just two in Jordan history, alongside Travon Bryant.
“The class of basketball players in southern California in 1975 was one of the best years ever, and Hardy might be the most gifted of the bunch,” said longtime basketball sportswriter Frank Burlison. “There was nobody like him that I can recall–6-9, athletic, could shoot it. He’s in the mold of all the guys now in college or the NBA.”
Nicknamed “Trouble,” Hardy’s diverse skill set and physicality made him an impossible guard in high school and at the University of San Francisco. Burlison said that he’d put him right up at the top of basketball players to come out of Jordan and Long Beach.
“I have no doubt that if guys were going straight to the NBA out of high school when he graduated that he would have gone straight to the NBA,” said Burlison.
Local basketball fans were deprived of seeing Hardy’s full brilliance in high school games because players weren’t allowed to dunk.
“You’d have to see him at a Summer League to see that,” said Burlison. “If he were around today he’d be one of these guys with new Youtube videos of him every day.”
After arriving in San Francisco, Hardy and center Bill Cartwright helped lead the Dons to the No. 1 ranking in the country in 1976-77, as Hardy averaged a double-double and earned All-American honors. He was recently inducted into the USF Hall of Fame.
“I’ve never seen anyone that big who was so fast, could handle the ball and shoot like a guard,” said teammater Rod Williams at the ceremony, recalling a time he watched Hardy work out with Rick Barry, Charles Johnson, and Phil Smith of the Golden State Warriors, and absolutely demolish all of them. “He was a one in a million-type player.”
“In all of my years of playing basketball, he was maybe the best athlete I have ever played with, which I think says a lot,” said Cartwright at the ceremony Cartwright is a 15-year NBA vet who won three NBA titles alongside Michael Jordan on the Chicago Bulls from 1991-93. “But more importantly he was a good friend, an excellent teammate, and good man who cared deeply about his family.”
Hardy was drafted by the New Orleans Jazz in 1978 as the 11th overall pick after his junior year in college and played with the franchise for four seasons, as they moved from NOLA to Utah. He played professional basketball overseas for another eight years after that and then retired in 1990.
A private service will be held for Hardy on Friday at 11 a.m. at New Liberty Baptist Church, with attendance limited to immediate family.