ASU coach Bobby Hurley recalls facing Barkley, Suns after near-fatal accident

Posted at 11:04 PM, Mar 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-04 01:10:07-05

On Dec. 12, 1993, then-Sacramento Kings point guard Bobby Hurley nearly lost his life in a severe auto accident. He suffered two collapsed lungs, a ruptured trachea, broken ribs, a compression fracture in his back, and an injury to his wrist.

Less than a year later, the future Arizona State men's basketball coach made his way back on an NBA court doing what he loves, against a team that plays its home games less than 15 miles from ASU's Wells Fargo Arena.

On that day in 1993, Hurley's parked SUV was hit by a station wagon going at least 50 miles per hour. Hurley was ejected from his vehicle and landed in a ditch over 70 feet away.

Afterwards, Hurley was rushed to a local hospital in critical condition. He was in surgery for eight hours as doctors worked to save his life.

"I hope that I do have that chance to someday play again, but that's really not the most important thing to me because I knew what it was like to be so close to losing my life. Now that I have it, I just really want to be thankful for that alone -- just that each day I'm going to wake up and be alive," Hurley said 10 days after the accident, according to ESPN's E:60 documentary on Hurley's life.

Still, Hurley, who won two national championships at Duke and remains the NCAA's all-time leader in assists, was determined to play in the NBA again, and he put in months of painstaking rehab in order to make that happen.

Remarkably, he returned to the Kings' lineup for their regular-season opener on Nov. 4, 1994 -- less than 11 months after he nearly lost his life. That game happened to be against Charles Barkley and the visiting Phoenix Suns.

During a Facebook Live interview with ABC15 on Wednesday -- three days before his Sun Devils were set to face archrival Arizona in their regular-season finale -- Hurley was asked what he remembers about his return that night.

"Just the emotion of it, what I had been through. Weeks in the hospital, months of rehabilitation, the unknown of whether I'd get back to the level of where I was once at, or just even live a normal life. And I felt lucky," he said.

Hurley was an instant contributor in his return. He recorded 11 points and five assists in 23 minutes off the bench as he helped guide the Kings to a 107-89 victory over the favored Suns.

"I played well," Hurley said. "It was one of our best wins of the season against a very good Suns team."  

Hurley recalled the Suns' loss didn't stop Barkley from taking a shot at the Kings after the game.

"I remember Charles Barkley saying after that game, 'Give the Kings a few weeks to figure out that they're not any good,'" Hurley said with a smile. (Barkley's prediction proved to be somewhat accurate, as the Kings finished the season below .500.)

Hurley also recalled receiving an unlikely gift from the Suns after the game.

"I do remember I was on Suns TV with (late Suns coach and broadcaster) Cotton Fitzsimmons after that game, too, and was given a small TV for being on the show," he said. "I couldn't believe this. I had just gotten out of college. We never got TVs for doing a television interview." 

After that game, Hurley continued to take full advantage of his second chance at life. He went on to play 68 games for the Kings that season and he spent three additional seasons in the NBA. He has already experienced success as a head college basketball coach at Buffalo, and he's working hard to replicate that success in Tempe.

Hurley and his family have fully embraced life in Arizona. He and his wife love to go hiking together, such as on a recent trek to Tom's Thumb Trailhead in Scottsdale. And his fiery demeanor on the bench has already endeared himself to many Sun Devil fans.

But Hurley completed his improbable journey back to the game he loves when he and the Kings took on the Suns over 22 years ago -- and the 45-year-old ASU coach can still recall the gratitude he felt when he stepped on the court to do something he thought he might never be able to do again.

"The fact that when I first went in that game, I just felt blessed," Hurley said about what he remembers most about that night. "That what I had been through, a lot of people don't even walk away from, and now I'm back out here again doing what I love to do."