Ernie McCray blogs

Ernie McCray: The big redhead is back from the dead

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 now-defunct and has continued to offer his opinion and insight with McCray also writes blogs for


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I just finished one of those books that fit the category of a book that’s hard to put down: “Back from the Dead” by Bill Walton, one of the truly great basketball players and human beings.

On the cover one reads “Searching for the sound, shining the light, and throwing it down.” That’s Bill, for sure, as I’ve followed him since he was a kid.

I didn’t know until I read his book that he was a musician, but I’ve known for a long time that he’s someone who’s attracted to the sounds of music, that he has been a player in the Grateful Dead scene for decades. I’ve known that he’s a lifelong learner, a man who’s constantly growing and questioning and shining a light on things that need tending to in our world. And his writing details somewhat poetically how he’s “thrown it down,” all out, throughout his life, in spite of forever having to endure an almost unbelievable array of crippling injuries and intense pain.

The last words in his book are a testament to how he’s overcome the overwhelming debilitating health problems he’s faced for so many years: “I am happy again right now,” he says. “Happy to be moving on down the road, looking forward to the next long, hard climb – one more time, with still so much more to do.

“My history tells me that there’s a crash coming soon.

But I know this time will be different.

I’ve got my family and my friends. And I’ve got Cortez (his dog).

I know I can make it through.

I can see clearly now.”

That, from a man who, at times, because of the breaking down of his body and spine and extremities, wanted to just cash it all in. Leave it all on the planet.


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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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I loved reading Bill’s account of the good times in his life: being a dad, finding the perfect woman; all the championships he and his teams have won in high school and college and in the NBA; the many awards he has won for his play; his colorful stories about the great athletes he’s played against and with.

And I could feel the power of the human spirit as he tells how he’s made it back from the dead, from the deep and dark depths of living a life in a body that’s been as much his enemy as a Ralph Sampson or a Kareem Abdul Jabbar on the basketball court.

He writes of how although he’s a fighter and a player in the game of life, “The true champions and heroes in our world are the freedom fighters struggling for truth and justice, the ones who through the ages gave up everything – their limbs, their minds, their freedom, their lives – so that all of us could have a chance to chase our dreams…”


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I like that kind of thinking. I’ve always admired athletes who are more than their sport, intellectual beings who, as Bill has, balance their athletic lives with being active in their world, with helping others do better in their lives.

It would be an understatement to say that Bill knows the drill when it comes to overcoming. The first words of his story are “I can’t do this anymore. It’s just too hard. It hurts too much.”

What a contrast to how the story ends. What’s written between the alpha and the
omega of this sterling memoir is nothing short of inspirational. “Back from the Dead” is a delightful read.

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