Ernie McCray blogs

Ernie McCray: The Day Nancy and I Got Together

Ernie McCray

Ernie McCray


EDITOR’S NOTE: Former Tucson High School and University of Arizona basketball standout Ernie McCray is a legendary figure to Tucsonans and Wildcat fans. McCray, who holds the Wildcats’ scoring record with 46 points on Feb. 6, 1960, against Cal State-Los Angeles, is the first African-American basketball player to graduate from Arizona. McCray, who now resides in San Diego, earned degrees in physical education and elementary education at Arizona. He is a longtime educator, actor and activist in community affairs in the San Diego-area. He wrote a blog for TucsonCitizen.com before the site ceased current-events operations last year. He agreed to continue offering his opinion and insight with AllSportsTucson.com. McCray also writes blogs for SanDiegoFreePress.org.


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I’ve been thinking about my dearly departed Nancy with August 23rd recently come and gone. It was on that day, in 1975, forty years ago, that I moved in with her, in her little apartment on 24th and Russ, next to Golden Hill Park.

So I find myself celebrating that day, in my thoughts, remembering with a little quiver, what I had to do to start a life with her: Break another woman’s heart, my wife, a woman I loved. If I regret anything in life it’s causing her such misery and pain.

But, especially when I look back on it, I was following my destiny, the dictates of my soul, wherein I knew as instinctively as I breathed, that I had no choice, in the cosmos, but to be with Nancy, that the two of us were soul-mates, destined to be together as the stars are meant to be aligned in the sky.

To society I was but a world-class cad, a despicable prick, a hypocrite, an ass. And I must say that I was not proud of myself. I felt an intense shame – but another part of me, my heart and soul, was feeling more joy than I knew existed in the universe.

I was 37, still actively learning about myself and my place in the world. Before Nancy, I had never really considered what I wanted in a woman.

I mean my first marriage was with my childhood sweetheart and it started crumbling before it began.

My second wife came along and helped me heal the wounds I had suffered in my first go at matrimony. She refreshed me, with her very nice-ness, helping me see that there was some order in the universe, that conversations don’t have to be yelling bouts,
that folks could make a life together without melodrama.

Enter Nancy. We began as friends, tennis on Saturdays, something that had never been a problem before, as I’d played this racquet game with other women. With anyone who wanted to play. Not to mention, I’ve never been a “playa” – in the strictest sense of the word.

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Ernie McCray during his Arizona playing days. His 46 points in a 1960 game remains a school record (University of Arizona photo)

Ernie McCray during his Arizona playing days. His 46 points in a 1960 game remains a school record (University of Arizona photo)

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(Ernie McCray photo)

(Ernie McCray photo)

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Now, hey, I will say, I noticed Nancy, make no mistake about that. She was tall and athletic and excitable and pretty in a handsome way. Loved her thighs to do a little objectifying.

But her personality kept coming through. Her fierce competitive-ness. And she could really play. Had a killer serve that backed me up on many a day. I was thrilled by the way she came after me on the court. She was as much a jock as I happened to be. Every week she swam miles in the sea. Biked. Hiked. Ran. Played basketball with me.

She just crept up on me. Her conversation absolutely captivated me. I would say something about South Africa and she’d reply: “It’s terrible what they’ve done to Mandela, huh?” And we’d talk about apartheid and the State Teachers Retirement System’s investments in businesses that supported such inhumanity, and about how Ian Smith of Rhodesia had to go. We both loved Stephen Biko and we gave our son his last name as a middle name.

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I would mention Angela Davis and she’d chime in with something about the Soledad Brothers, something about how disrespectful Ronald Reagan had been to her when she studied at UCSD.

I would bring up school integration and she’d talk about how they went about it at Pali High in Pacific Palisades, in L.A. where she came from.

We discussed the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley and Cesar Chavez and the Watts Riots which we didn’t see as riots as much as people saying “Enough!”

She introduced me to a topic with which I had no experience: What some fathers do to their daughters. And I remembering saying to myself “I’ll never let anyone ever hurt her again.”

Somewhere in all that we kissed. And she introduced me to lovemaking that was sheer bliss. A few years later and we were raising three beautiful children, twin girls who were bright and shy and an equally smart left-brained-right-brained boy with the energy of the Energizer Bunny who was always whizzing by. And forty years later I sit writing this. Life is a trip.

I give homage to Nancy: for the good times we had; for all the love she gave; for the awesome mother that she was; for having her family’s back unconditionally; for all the animals she tended to and saved; for modeling doing as opposed to talking about doing.

I salute her, especially, for showing me what to look for in a woman after she passed away. She had a lot to do with me being with the wonderful woman who’s in my life today.

Right now she’s resting peacefully somewhere in the Milky Way. Thinking, maybe, that August 23rd, 1975, was a very good day.

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