The Ring of Honor Represents the ‘Wow’ Moments of My Life

by on March 5, 2021 · 5 comments

in From the Soul, Sports

by Ernie McCray

For being able to basically snatch rebounds and whip outlet passes to start fast breaks and swish the ball through the hoop from all over the place, a space has been made for me, alongside some other guys who could really play, in the “Basketball Ring of Honor” at my alma mater, the U of A.

Just the other day.

And pretty much all I can say is “Wow!”

I’m loving it and how.

And I’ve loved my university and its teams since before I knew what a basketball was.

I became a fan at my mother’s breast as she listened to Arizona Wildcat football and basketball games on the radio, humming soothing lullabies.

I used to pick cotton in Marana on Saturdays so I could pay for a cheap seat in the knothole section at the night’s football game and a butterscotch milkshake at Dairy Queen on my way home from the game.

Did the same thing after track meets, basketball, and baseball games.

I doubt if a week passed that I didn’t glide through the campus on my bike checking out the jocks swaggering around wearing the big “A,” thinking already at a young age, especially in a town where Jim Crow was all the rage, that playing ball might be a real nice way to “give to the community,” as we say today.

Fast forward a few years from those early days and the University of Arizona gave me a stage to show off my talents, to do my “Easy McCray” thing, to show my love, to represent South Park and A Mountain and Sugar Hill and my side of town. The “colored” neighborhoods.

Playing ball gave me the opportunity to talk about and teach basketball to kids at rec centers. It got me through the door of their schools to speak at large assemblies. I had the experience of signing autographs and getting a chance to make a significant comment or two in the press a few times.

Then, poof, it was gone, except for the memories of the times.

And I left Tucson with a couple of degrees, heading to my first teaching job in San Diego by the sea. I was still very much feeling aglow from my past four-year love affair with the Old Pueblo when I met my first class, about 44 sixth graders who I can best describe as wild on the one hand and as lovable as teddy bears on the other hand. They were put in the “new” teacher’s room, one of the terrible things schools sometimes do.

But being a “Bear Down” kind of guy I kind of instinctively knew that if I was to survive a school year with this crew I had to come up with a good play to make sure this game went my way. – without me having to “fight like wildcats” day after day.

So on the first day when they were out for recess I went over to where they were shooting basketballs, grabbed a missed shot and dunked it back over my head and, for  what seemed like about three hours, there was a loud and deep inhalation and then a “Wow!” that must have reached the heavens and rocked the nation.

I had them. And they had me. I had found a place to keep on shining, a place where I felt free to express my love for people and life itself, unapologetically and fervently, a place as accepting of me as Bear Down Gym had been.

I let my love flow in our classroom like the rushing waters of Sabino Creek in Sabino Canyon when the snows of the Catalina Mountains melt in the sun.

And the love was reciprocated in tons, the school year ending with a sixth-grade promotion celebration where, when my name was called out as the teacher of Room 22, the conglomeration of dads and moms and grands and uncles and aunts and teachers and children exploded into a standing ovation.

Talking about “Wow!” I’ll forever remember the sensation.

Like the night I scored 46 points and Bear Down Gym went wild with adulation.

All of whatever it took for me to create exciting learning environments for children in my community for close to forty years began forming in Tucson and was licensed, so to speak, at the University of Arizona.

So, to me, the honor I’ve received is not just for my wizardry on a hardwood basketball floor but for my very life, one in which I have done the best that I can do. Left it all on the court, as the saying goes.

I see the recognition as paying homage to that history, to my personal Black History and to the history of my beloved hometown and university. And I’m thrilled that somebody down the line might just be, from seeing my name in the rafters up there with my peers, inspired to pursue a generous supply of “Wow” moments in their lives too eventually.

Meanwhile I’ll just bask in the honor. Because it sure feels good to me.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Haslet March 5, 2021 at 10:18 am

Congrats Ernie!! You deserve it.


Lyon March 6, 2021 at 12:57 pm

Your piece is beautifully done, Ernie – it dances between poetry and prose, swaying to the music of your memories – all invoked for the sake of inspiring your readers to live deeply, so one day, we too will be able to look back on a life well-lived and recognize our own “wow” moments.
Thank you for sending a tingling jolt of inspiration down my spine.


Thomas Gayton March 6, 2021 at 7:57 pm

Read my memoir LONG JOURNEY HOME on Amazon Kindle and share my WOW moments


SANDRA HEATER March 18, 2021 at 10:27 am

This is a long overdue honor to an outstanding human being who transcended excellence and elegance on the basketball court into the arena of life. His letter of appreciation is humbling and beautiful.


Dale March 19, 2021 at 7:40 am

I agree with above comment…a truly beautiful, inspiring piece by Ernie. As a U of A alum, I wish to welcome Ernie to the ring of honor, and many thanks for your contributions to the Wildcat basketball legacy. I would have love to have seen you play, but it was prior to my arrival in Tucson. I bet that I would have repeated many Wow’s as well, with stars of excitement and glistening in my eyes as were expressed by your students. Congratations on a life well lived through following your dreams.


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