By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
By all accounts, the 1971-72 campaign was a banner season for the Florida State Seminoles. The team won a school-record 27 games and advanced to the NCAA Tournament championship, falling to John Wooden and his vaunted UCLA Bruins, 81-76. Led by All-American forward Ron King, the Seminoles eclipsed the 100-point mark seven times that year, including a 134-65 home win over Valdosta State. In the NCAAs, they beat traditional powerhouses Kentucky and North Carolina on their way to the title game against the Bruins.
But they didn’t last 10 minutes with the Hawaii Rainbows.
It was Dec. 18, 1971. The Rainbows were 4-0 to start the season, and were eager to play the nationally ranked visitors from Tallahassee, who were 5-0 when they arrived in Honolulu. That night, a sellout crowd of 7,495 filled the Honolulu International Center (now Neal Blaisdell Arena).
UH head coach Ephraim “Red” Rocha rolled out his quintet of starters. They were, indeed, a “Fabulous Five”: Jerome Freeman and Dwight Holiday formed the backcourt, while the frontline was formed by John Penebacker, Al Davis and future NBA first-round draft pick Bob Nash.
It was a close contest in the game’s early moments. Hawaii led, 9-7. But then the Rainbows scored 13 straight points to go up by 15. A couple of minutes later, the score was 26-10.
Then all hell broke loose.
Seminoles head coach Hugh Durham, already perturbed by the officiating, chased referee Dave Mahukona to center court after his team picked up a foul. Words were exchanged, and Mahukona ejected Durham from the game.
“He called me dirty names and grabbed my arm,” Mahukona told Honolulu Advertiser sports writer Bruce Spinks after the game. Another local official added, “It was something like, ‘You f****** S.O.B.!”
“I did no such thing,” Durham countered.
The game could have continued, but there was one problem: Durham refused to leave the court.
“If I go, I take my players with me,” Durham told Mahukona.
“I wasn’t going to leave my team out there,” he explained afterward. “And they all said if I left, they were going to leave, too.”
And just like that, the game was over. Hawaii was declared the winner via forfeit, 30-10.
Then-UH Athletic Director Hugh Durham (no relation) shook his head. “What really happened, was that we were playing one of the best games we’ve ever played – and [Hugh Durham] just couldn’t take it,” he fumed after the game. “He walked off the floor because he couldn’t take the beating.”
For his part, Hugh Durham said that he initially stormed the court to purposely get whistled for a technical.
“I didn’t go out there to get thrown out. I wanted a technical,” he explained. “I figured we needed one. We needed something to get our kids fired up.
“I don’t know why [Mahukona] threw me out. He had no reason to. I did use obscene language. But it wasn’t directed at him as a person. I hasten to say if a coach was thrown out of a basketball game every time he used profanity, there wouldn’t be many games completed.”
Four nights later, the two teams met again. This time, they played the full 40 minutes. The Rainbows prevailed again, 81-76. Bob Nash led Hawaii with 20 points, and Jerome Freeman chipped in with 18. Backup guard Artie Wilson, who hosts “On Point” show on ESPN Honolulu every Friday morning, contributed a key tip-in in the game’s waning minutes to preserve the Rainbows’ victory.
John Penebacker was jubilant after the second victory.
“They won’t come back to Hawaii for any more vacations,” he told Honolulu Star-Bulletin writer Dick Couch after the game. “Durham can take his forfeit and his loss back to Florida with him.”
POSTSCRIPT: Hawaii would go on to earn a spot in the national polls as well, reaching as high as No. 12. The Rainbows finished the regular season with a 24-2 record and made the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, falling to Weber State. Nash was named an All-American and would later be selected in the first round (ninth pick overall) by the Detroit Pistons in the 1972 NBA Draft. Hugh Durham would continue coaching until his retirement in 2005. He is the only head coach to lead two different schools (Florida State and Georgia) to their first NCAA Final Four appearances. Durham was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.
# # #