ESPN had already devoted plenty of camera time to the 1991 and 1992 Blue Devils with the "I Hate Christian Laettner" 30 for 30 documentary that premiered last March. Those Duke teams also make a cameo appearance in the "Fab Five" film, but Tuesday night, the network peeled back another layer of the title-winning squads: point guard Bobby Hurley.
Hurley—now the head coach at Arizona State—was profiled Tuesday night in a one-hour special by E:60. The film details Hurley's early days playing for his father in the tough neighborhood of Jersey City, N.J., his rise to stardom running Duke's offense under head coach Mike Krzyzewski, his near-death experience 19 games into his rookie season in the NBA and his journey back into college basketball as a coach.
"It’s easy to be good at basketball—everyone loves you," Hurley says at both the beginning and end of the piece. "How about not being good at basketball? I went through an accident, was lost for a while, but can you pick up the pieces and figure out a way to succeed in life?"
Hurley played for his father, Bob, at St. Anthony's in Jersey City, where he led the Friars to a perfect 32-0 season as a senior. The success drew the attention of several top college coaches, including Krzyzewski, North Carolina's Dean Smith, Georgia Tech's Bobby Cremins and more. Hurley considered attending Seton Hall with teammates, but was talked into taking a visit to Duke by his mother.
The visit made up his mind for him.
"If you go on a visit to Duke, it’s hard to pass up," Hurley said.
Hurley's freshman season ended in a 30-point loss to UNLV in the national title game, a blowout that drove the Blue Devils throughout the offseason and the 1990-91 season. They had a chance at revenge in the Final Four that next season, and knocked the Runnin' Rebels from the ranks of the unbeaten. Hurley hit an open wing 3-pointer late in the second half with Duke trailing by five that Krzyzewski lauded as one of the best plays of his career on the Blue Devil sidelines, and the Blue Devils defeated Kansas two nights later to claim the program's first national championship.
"I identified with him. We had this relationship that you just don’t have. You can’t have it with every player," Krzyzewski said in the film. "When you have it with a player that’s a great player, it’s incredible."
Hurley and the Blue Devils repeated as champions in 1992, dispatching the Fab Five—Michigan's quintet of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson—in blowout fashion. Teammate Grant Hill praised Hurley with lighting a fire under star Christian Laettner at halftime of that game, reversing a relationship in which Laettner had motivated Hurley by slighting him.
During his senior season, Hurley became the NCAA's all-time assist leader, and was selected seventh overall by the Sacramento Kings in the 1993 NBA draft. The floor general's career got off to a strong start, but disaster struck in December of his rookie season, when he was involved in a gruesome car accident near Sacramento's Arco Arena. Hurley—not wearing his seatbelt—was ejected from his car and flew 70 feet into a ditch on the side of the road, and was rushed to a hospital, where he underwent eight hours of emergency surgery.
Hurley made it back to the NBA the next season after a long rehab process, but was never the same player, and was done with professional basketball at age 27.
"I beat myself up—accident or no accident—there’s a way I could have been better, and I never figured it out," Hurley said. "That was the frustrating part."
He turned to the thoroughbred business as a way to maintain his competitive spirit, purchasing a horse named Songandaprayer, which placed 13th at the Kentucky Derby in 2001. Hurley later purchased a 140-acre horse farm in Florida that he named Devil 11—a reference to the number he wore while playing for Duke. But the business fell into debt during the economic downturn, and he had to sell.
But for a player who had nearly lost his life, there would be another comeback.
"Anything after [surviving the crash], you’re going to come back from that," Bob Hurley said in the film.
Hurley's brother, Dan, had recently been named the head coach at Wagner, and hired his older brother onto his staff as an assistant. Soon, Bobby Hurley had a program of his own at Buffalo, leading the Bulls to the 2015 NCAA tournament as the MAC champions in just his second year at the program.
"He wasn’t following his heart, which was the game. His whole family has been in this game," Krzyzewski said of Hurley's return to basketball. "He had to be part of the game."
Power schools took notice of Hurley's success at Buffalo, and he made the jump to Arizona State last spring. The Sun Devils went 15-17 in his first season as the head coach. One of the more memorable moments came in his first rivalry game against Arizona in early January, when a fired-up Hurley was ejected with less than a minute to go in a 94-82 loss to the Wildcats.
Said Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson near the end of the film: "If you wanted fire and you wanted electricity, you got it in Bobby Hurley."
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