REMEMBERING A LEGEND

Edward Williams

L.B. Jordan High School basketball Phenom James Hardy who help lead the USF Dandy Dons to a 29-1 record in the late 1970s and No. 11 selection of 1978 NBA Draft by the New Orleans Jazz, passed.


LONG BEACH — How many basketball players have you ever witnessed elevate a basketball above the square for an earth-quaking dunk while having to duck his head to avoid hitting the back of a backboard during a game?

Well, it really happened folks. The story isn’t a myth.   James Percivell Hardy did it.  And he wasn’t playing a game of horse.  In the basketball archive at the University of San Francisco, there is a vintage black and white photo of the 2017 USF Athletic Hall-of-Fame inductee posterizing Santa Clara players during a West Coast Athletic Conference game. Hardy, who died from a heart attack at age 64 on Dec. 29, gave basketball fans in San Francisco, Long Beach, and around the world a plethora of unforgettable highlights for generations of fans to talk about.

The things he did on the hardwood are legendary.    In the early to mid-1970s, he was truly a star-child. His heroics on the hardwood at Jordan High had UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian and Long Beach State Lute Olson, both Hall-of-Fame coaches, in hot pursuit of his services.  However, USF coach Bob Gaillard landed the 1975 First-team Parade All-American who stood 6-foot-8 with a huge wingspan. There, he teamed with Bill Cartwright and Winford Boynes, also Parade All-Americans, to form one of the greatest teams in USF’s history, a squad Sports Illustrated dubbed “The Dandy Dons.’’    Gaillard said: “James Hardy was the most talented athletic high school player in the nation. He was simple poetry in motion and an invaluable asset to what became the number No. 1 team in college basketball.  Apart from his athletic prowess, James was an exceptionally intelligent and insightful young man.”  Cartwright, who went on to win championships with the Chicago Bulls, said: “We won a lot of games together and climbed to No. 1 in the nation but everyone would always remember that one spectacular play James made every game that you might not see again.  “We all wished we were as gifted as he was,”   Cartwright continued in an interview with a USF sports reporter in 2017.  In 1977, James Percivell Hardy helped lead the Dons to 29 consecutive victories, a WCAC Championship, and a No. 1 ranking in the AP Poll before Notre Dame upset them, 93-82, on the final game of the regular season. UFS fell, 121-95, to UNLV in the first round of the NCAA Division I playoffs. The team finished 29-2.    James Percivell Hardy averaged 14.4 ppg. and 10.9 rpg. during the incredible run.        The next season, he tallied 15.7 ppg. and 8.9 rpg. to lead the Dons (12-2,23-6) to the WCAC title,  and to a, 68-64, victory against North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. However, Cal State Fullerton defeated the Dons, 75-72, in the second round.       

James Percivell Hardy finished his career with the Dons as the 10th all-time leading scorer (1,075 points), and seventh leading rebounder (772) in school’s history.  He recorded 99 blocks.  The junior power forward entered the 1978 NBA Draft. The New Orleans Jazz (now Utah) made him a lottery pick by selecting him 11th overall in the first round. He played four seasons with them before embarking on a successful career overseas. Unfortunately his game wasn’t a fit in former Jazz coach, Elgin Baylor’s system, said David Oliver, a close family friend, and high school teammate.  Hardy was a hybrid player who could handle the ball like a guard and was a deadly outside shooter. His game suffered playing with his back to the basket. He only averaged 5.7 ppg., 0.9 bpg., and 5.3 rpg.  He played with the Jazz four years before embarking on a long career playing overseas, competing with seven professional sports teams.    Years later, James Percivell Hardy returned to Jordan and spoke to athletes about his glory days on the court.            

     “James Hardy was essentially the purest basketball talent to ever emerge out of the Moore League and city of Long Beach,’’ said Gerald Harris, a former Panther great who played at Eastern Washington. “His battles with David Greenwood were of epic proportions, to say the least.  He literally extended the ball well over the square on the backboard. I’ve seen him do it on many occasions.     

“He was the quintessential ‘man among boys’ of his era,” Harris continued. “His physical attributes have been virtually unseen or matched by anyone since he left the courts of Long Beach.’’ 

    In 1974, during the non-league competition, Jordan High rolled to a 13-0 overall record and had received a No. 2 ranking in the CIF Southern Section Poll and No. 5 ranking nationally, Oliver said. Verbum Dei, a perennial national powerhouse and ranked No. 1 in CIF-SS, underestimated the Panthers during their game at the West Covina holiday tournament.  That team featured Greenwood and Roy Hamilton, both Parade All-Americans and UCLA signees.    Jordan possessed a plethora of NCAA Div.  I-caliber talent, including Hardy who high jumped 6 feet, 7 inches the first time he ever competed in track and field, and finished second behind Oliver (same mark with fewer attempts) at the Moore League championship.    

After Jordan won, people had high expectations for the Panthers.  Larry Hudson, a 6-foot-6 small forward and prolific scorer, tallied 44 points against the Eagles while Hardy outplayed Greenwood, players said.  Many thought they would eventually meet in the CIF Div. I Finals. Verbum Dei wanted revenge.  However, intra-squad strife derailed the season. The Panthers went 6-4 during league play and finished 19-10 overall.  Hudson, who signed at Long Beach State, said he would have gladly let Hardy or other teammates be first options.  “James was the best basketball player to ever come out of Long Beach,’’ said Hudson, a Prep 10 Top 100 All-American who once saw Hardy touch his index finger above the clock inside the looker room at Millikan High.     

“James could do whatever he wanted to do on the floor,’’ Oliver said. “He could score at will,  rebound at will, block shots at will.  He was just a gifted guy.  He was before his time. He could handle the rock like a guard. He was Kevin Durant before Kevin Durant.”      

Mark Tennis, the editor of Cal High Sports, said Hardy was a part of the 1975 class that is considered the best ever in the history of CIF.  Hardy, Greenwood, Hamilton, Bill Laimbeer (Palo Verdes Estate, Notre Dame), Brad Holland (Crescenta Valley, UCLA) and Cartwright (Elk Grove), were all Parade All-Americans. They completed on the first Cal All-Stars vs. the world all-star team.     Paul Moseki,  a 7-2 center (Crespi Carmelite High, Kansas), was also a part of that exceptional class and all-star team.

​ “James could have averaged 50 points and 10 rebounds. He had that skill set,’’ Hudson said. “He was a phenomenal talent, man!’’