Hawaii men’s basketball: Bob Nash puts long journey into perspective on jersey retirement night

Bob Nash spoke to the crowd at his jersey retirement ceremony at halftime of Hawaii's game against UC Irvine on Saturday night. / Photo by Andrew Lee, Special to the Star-Advertiser

There was an arena full of people to thank.

Bob Nash did his best to get to everyone.

“I’ve been blessed. My family’s been blessed. And I really appreciate you,” he told the nearly 6,000 in house as he became the first Hawaii men’s basketball player to have his jersey officially retired at halftime of Saturday night’s contest against UC Irvine. “My wife (Domelynne), sadly she’s not here to see this moment, but I know she’s smiling down on us. And I just want to thank you fans. You make the difference. You make the difference.”


Nash, the Fabulous Fiver who became the UH’s first All-American and NBA draftee in 1972, then went on to coach the Rainbow Warriors for decades, also thanked current coach Eran Ganot for doing up the 100th season celebration and taking the initiative to have him become the first former player so honored.

The “Nash 33” banner now hangs next to the program banner listing all NCAA Tournament appearances — including the one in 1972 that Nash and his Fab Five teammates made the first in program history.

“I owe a lot of thanks to the University of Hawaii,” Nash said. “Think about it, (it) gave me a degree. Gave me a wife. Master’s degree. Bachelor’s. It just goes on and on. My brother, University of Hawaii. My mother lives in Hawaii. So it’s been a true blessing for me to be a part of this community. And I want to thank all my friends and family for this special occasion.”

His Fabulous Five teammates Dwight Holiday, John Penebacker, Jerome Freeman and Al Davis were among a ring of special friends and supporters. At his beckoning, they joined him at center court.

“These are special people to me. And my son, my daughter, I can’t say enough about them. They’re just a blessing. So thank you so much.”

His son Bobby and daughter Erika stood behind him. Bobby Nash, a member of the UH 1,000-point club, introduced him while wearing a “33” shirt in his honor — the same number he too wore as a UH player. The shirt was donned by much of the crowd.

Bob Nash, who’d appeared on court previously this season when the Fabulous Five was honored on its own night — and again on 100th season night — handled the mic with confidence. But this was different. The last time he was in such a singular spotlight in Manoa, he was the head coach at the end of the 2009-10 season.

Bobby Nash said his father was always about helping others. In that sense, his speech was fittingly about everyone else.

“I’m sure my mom was talking to him. Telling him to slow down, to calm down, to embrace the moment,” said Bobby Nash, who has coached with his father in Japan in recent years (though they are back in Hawaii this season). “Because in all reality, she’s the coach. She’s the coach at home, she’s the coach in life and she’s forever looking down at us. And our job as kids, as him, is just to make her proud. She was a special lady and I think he did a great job.”

Nash closed by exulting the fans to “not sit on their hands” to help bring home a win against Irvine. That, unfortunately for UH, did not happen, as the first-place Anteaters proved too tough in a 70-63 win for the visitors.

Ganot, who was an assistant on Nash’s UH staff, expressed regret afterward that his Rainbow Warriors could not bring home a win on Nash Night. With a touch of irony, it was a shortage of rebounding in the second half that contributed to the ‘Bows downfall; Nash was one of the all-time program greats in that regard, and still owns the single-game record of 30 against Arizona State in the 1971 Rainbow Classic.

“When I came back here, and you look at the rafters, there’s two schools of thought. You either go, ‘man, why aren’t we honoring these guys?’ Or, ‘what a great opportunity it is to start a tradition.’ ” Ganot said. “What does the Nash retirement ceremony signify? One, honor. Two, he represents what we want our program to be about.

“In all areas, his performance on the floor, his efforts — there’s 13 NCAA/NIT plagues (in the Stan Sheriff Center locker room hallway). I think he’s part of all but two, and his fingerprints are all over our program because we are a class program, and I don’t know if there’s anyone with more class or professionalism. You hear about him as a player. Before I worked for him, you hear that across the board nationally. You see his presence, the way he carries himself, his family, the Nash name. Bobby. It was a great moment for his family, for Hawaii, for the state.

“It’s great that he’s the first, and it signifies that he won’t be the only one.”

Bob Nash is now represented in the Stan Sheriff Center rafters next to the NCAA Tournament banner he helped hang. / Photo by Andrew Lee, Special to the Star-Advertiser