NEW ORLEANS - After his job took him to North Carolina from Niagara Falls, N.Y., for 3 years, Hank Nichols' father refereed high school basketball games there.
"After a couple of years, he was talking about people chasing him down the mountain in cars, and the state police had to get between him [and some fans]," Nichols remembered.
His father told him: "If the coaches get mad at you, they don't want you back anymore, you don't get an assignment. I figure there's 500 other schools to work. If they don't want me back, that's too bad. I'm going to do it the way it's supposed to be done."
Which is exactly how Nichols did it when he became an official. He did it so right for so long that he officiated 10 Final Fours and six national championship games. He worked 13 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament finals. When he retired at 48, he became the NCAA's first coordinator of officials. He oversaw the rules and the officials for 22 years before stepping down in 2008.
When he worked games, Nichols was one of the best. When he oversaw the officials, he wanted what was best for the game. For all that, it was announced here Monday that Nichols would be a member of the 2012 Class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Induction ceremonies will be Sept. 7 in Springfield, Mass.
Nichols got the call last Wednesday while he was golfing at Horsham Valley. His next shot from the fairway went 50 yards over the green.
"It's unbelievable," Nichols said.
Nichols, a 1958 Villanova graduate, came to the Main Line to play baseball. After graduation, he played in the New York-Penn League for a year, spent 2 years in the Marine Corps, played 2 more years in the Western Carolina League, then went back to Villanova to get his masters and help coach the baseball team.
He went back to Niagara Falls and taught high school English for several years, then went to Duke to get his doctorate. On a trip back home, he showed his wife the Villanova campus. He met up with an old professor who told him, "We need a guy like you."
Dr. Henry Nichols never got back to Niagara Falls. He became the chairman of the Education and Human Services Department at Villanova. He retired from Villanova a few years before he retired from the NCAA.
When he wasn't working his day job, he was working his night job at arenas all over the East Coast and, during the NCAA Tournament, all over the country. The two best players he saw were North Carolina State's David Thompson and North Carolina's Phil Ford.
Nichols was one of the officials for the legendary 1974 NC State-Maryland ACC championship game when just one team from each conference made the NCAA Tournament. NC State won it in overtime and went on to win the national championship.
"I just remember getting out of everybody's way," Nichols said. "Those players were so good. We just kind of watched them. It was a magnificent game."
When the NCAA approached him about being the national coordinator, Nichols was still one of America's best officials. He had a decision to make. He chose to make the game better.
"There was not consistent officiating across the country," Nichols said.
It was done one way in the East, others in the South, Midwest and West.
"Teams could not go on the road and be comfortable and win games," Nichols said. "My job was to try to solidify that and make refereeing the same every night no matter where you're playing. That was my task. I said, 'It would be good for the game and I can't referee forever,' so I took the job."
The officiating is now better. It is more consistent from place to place. It is not perfect. Nor will it ever be.
"I made a decision after 22 years of being in charge of bad calls that that was more than any human being should have to endure," Nichols said.
Nichols now evaluates major league baseball umpires. Last year, he saw 108 games. He will have to miss a few games in early September. He has a ceremony to attend.
The Hall class
Hank Nichols will be joined in Springfield by fellow inductees Reggie Miller, Ralph Sampson, Don Nelson, Jamaal Wilkes, Katrina McClain and a representative of the All-American Red Heads, the first women's professional basketball team.
Finalists this year but not elected were Sixers great Maurice Cheeks, Rick Pitino, Bill Fitch, Bernard King and Dick Motta.
It was announced at NBA All-Star weekend in Orlando that Chet Walker, seven-time NBA All-Star and prototype small forward (before the term was invented) for the 1966-67 champion 76ers, and Mel Daniels, one of the ABA's best for the Indiana Pacers, were elected from the Veterans Committee and ABA Committee, respectively.
Contact Dick Jerardi at firstname.lastname@example.org