NBA

Duke Star Bobby Hurley Almost Died as an NBA Rookie and His Career Never Recovered

For all of Coach K’s success in Durham, the Duke Blue Devils haven’t produced a great deal of NBA stars. While there have been a few notable exceptions, like Zion Williamson, most players have fallen short in the pros. Bobby Hurley, for example, only spent five seasons in the association, averaging less than four points per outing.

Hurley, however, isn’t your prototypical NBA bust. A few months into his professional career, the guard almost died in a tragic car accident; while he managed to return to the hardwood, his game was never the same.

Bobby Hurley’s promising basketball career

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Once he hit the NBA hardwood, Bobby Hurley failed to make too much of an impact. Prior to joining the professional ranks, though, the guard showed plenty of star potential.

Hurley burst onto the scene during high school, playing for his dad’s St. Anthony’s squads. By the time his time in New Jersey came to a close, Bobby Jr. had become a top collegiate recruit and caught the eye of Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke University coaching staff.

Hurley headed to Durham and joined the Blue Devils; there, his star only continued to rise. The guard spent four years on the team, averaging 12.4 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per outing. He also appeared in three Final Fours, won back-to-back NCAA Tournament titles, and made the 1993 First-Team All-American squad.

On the back of that collegiate career, Hurley seemed poised for professional success; the Sacramento Kings apparently agreed, selecting the guard with the seventh overall pick of the 1993 NBA draft.

A near-death experience derailed his NBA career

Heading into the 1993-94 NBA season, Bobby Hurley probably expected that his biggest challenge would be proving himself as a pro. Within a few months, however, the guard would be staring down death.

On December 12, 1993, Hurley was driving home from a game when tragedy struck. As documented in an Associated Press report that ran in the New York Times, the guard was making a left turn when Daniel Wieland’s station wagon plowed into him. Hurley wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and was thrown from the vehicle.

According to an ESPN post about the accident, Hurley “suffered a severed trachea, two collapsed lungs, a fractured left shoulder blade, five broken ribs, a small compression fracture in his back, a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, a fractured right fibula and a sprained wrist.” While a surgeon noted that those injuries would have killed 99 out of 100 people, the guard survived.

Hurley missed the rest of the season, but returned to the court the following year. Although the guard’s playing career never took off—he was never the same player and retired after the 1997-98 campaign with a career average of 3.8 points and 1.1 assists per outing—the fact that he survived, let alone played basketball again, was impressive in its own right.

Bobby Hurley has since found success as a college basketball coach

Bobby Hurley, however, wasn’t exactly thrilled with the prospects of retirement. “I was very frustrated and was not able to retire and leave on my own terms,” the guard told Sean Deveny of Forbes. “When you retire, everything just stops. Everything you’ve done your whole life. I needed some other life experiences. So I had some demons to deal with just by being able to maybe get away.”

And getting away is exactly what he did. After getting involved in horse racing and spending time with his children, Hurley eventually returned to the hardwood. This time, however, he would be coaching, not playing.

Hurley started out at Wagner College, working with his brother Dan. They then moved together to Rhode Island, before Bobby struck out on his own and took over the University of Buffalo squad. He spent two years with the Bulls before accepting a job as the Arizona State head coach.

Coming out of Duke, Bobby Hurley seemed destined to be an NBA star. Cheating death and becoming a successful college coach, however, isn’t a bad Plan B.

Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference and Basketball-Reference