The Larry Finch bobblehead; Lorenzen Wright's jersey is hung from the rafters at FedExForum. (Photos: Warren Roseborough/The New Tri-State Defender)
Terry Davis

The basketball-accented lives of a college coach and one of his star players intersected anew when the University of Memphis saluted their legacies at the FedExForum on Saturday afternoon.

To say the names Larry Finch and Lorenzen Wright is to think Memphis. While Wright was born in Oxford, Miss., he essentially was a Memphis native son, as was Finch from the beginning to his last day. Finch died at 60 on April 2, 2011 after a long illness; Wright died tragically at 34 on July 29, 2010.

The Memphis legends were honored as the Tigers hosted the Tulane Green Wave. The first 1,000 fans got a Larry Finch bobblehead. Wright’s jersey joined Finch’s in retirement. Yes, Memphis lost, and, yes, the sting of the defeat was sharpened by it happening on such a special day.

Larry Finch’s family, including his widow, Vicki Finch, and his brother, Ronald Finch, beam during an on-court salute to the legendary of U of M sports figure. (Photo: Warren Roseborough/The New Tri-State Defender)

Before becoming the winningest coach (1986-97) in the history of the Tigers, Finch, who was highly recruited coming out of Melrose High School, starred at then-Memphis State University. A consensus All-American in 1973, he chose to play in Memphis (1970-73) although many Finch fans urged him not to because of fresh memories of the university’s refusal to recruit African-American players.

The Larry Finch bobblehead is one in a series to honor the 1972-73 Final Four team that lost in the NCAA championship game against the Bill Walton-led UCLA Bruins.

“It was a great feeling to see them honor him and the team that way,” said Finch’s brother, Ronald Finch. “I knew everyone was happy and the family was happy.”

Finch’s No. 21 jersey hangs from the rafters, along with those of Win Wilfong (22), John Gunn (44), Ronnie Robinson (33), Keith Lee (24), Elliot Perry (34), Anfernee Hardaway (25), Forest Arnold (13) and Larry Kenon (35).

Now there is Wright’s No. 55.

Lorenzen Wright’s family, including his parents — Deborah Marion and Herb Wright — gaze upward as the No. 55 jersey is hung at FedExForum. (Photo: Warren Roseborough/The New Tri-State Defendeer)

A graduate of Memphis’ Booker T. Washington High School, Wright starred for the Tigers from 1994-1996. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers in 1996 with the seventh pick.  He played 13 seasons in the NBA, including a memorable for the Memphis Grizzlies (2001-06).

A 2009 M Club Hall of Fame inductee, Wright capped his Tigers’ career as one of the most decorated players in program history, earning numerous All-America honors as a sophomore and Freshman All-America honors in his inaugural campaign. He netted over 1,000 points and currently ranks No. 49 on the Tigers’ career scoring list with 1,026 points.

Wright was shot to death and his murder was long a mystery. His ex-wife, Sherra Wright, eventually was convicted of plotting and participating in the shooting with accomplices.

“He was a proud Memphian.  He showed that through the giving of his time and money,” said Tigers head coach Penny Hardaway. “He had a humungous heart. He is definitely gone too soon. Not only is he getting his jersey retired, but never letting those memories leave us. He will live on forever.”

Coach Penny Hardaway receives the basketball that notes his 100th victory from Laird Veatch, vice president and director of Intercollegiate Athletics (Photo: Warren Roseborough/The New Tri-State Defender)

Hardaway said, “We wanted to show the appreciation to his family, for what they have gone through. That is hard to lose a child. We wanted the guys to meet the family.”

He talked with his Tigers about “what Lorenzen meant to the team, and the appreciation that I have, because we were really good friends.”

Wright’s jersey was presented at halftime and now hangs next to Hardaway’s.

“It meant the world,” said Wright’s mother, Deborah Marion, about the retirement of her son’s jersey. “I have been waiting and waiting. It has been 13 years. After they did it, I was happy. It was like a weight lifted for me. (Former Memphis Shelby County Schools Superintendent) Joris Ray, one of Lorenzen’s Kappa Alpha Psi brothers, started the ball rolling for the retirement. Penny picked it up and kept going with it.”

Now, said Marion, “This cleared my mind. I am not as mad as I was because something good has happened. I am elated. This is a family affair today.”