Nathan E. “Nate” Harris, who coached Booker T. Washington High School to its greatest basketball successes of the past 70 years, has died.
Harris, 72, died at about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hillcrest Medical Center, according to his middle son, Nathan Harris III.
Cause of death is undetermined, Nathan Harris said, adding, “We’ll probably know more tomorrow.”
Harris guided Booker T. Washington to 10 state basketball championships, two state runner-up finishes and 23 state tournament appearances over 25 seasons (1982-2002).
Only Oklahoma City Millwood’s Varryl Franklin coached more teams to Oklahoma state championships. He had 13.
More than Harris’ coaching success, he is remembered as someone who loved his high school alma mater more than life itself.
“He bled black and orange. Booker T. Washington was his first baby, before me and my brothers were there,” Nathan Harris III said. “Everything he learned, he poured into making that school even better. And he was all about his players. The players meant the most to him.”
Among the NBA players he coached at B.T. Washington were Etan Thomas, Ryan Humphrey and Richard Dumas. Many others went on to college careers.
“He was one of the most competitive coaches we ever faced,” said the Rev. William Tisdale, a member of the Hornets’ 1981 state championship team, coached by Mike Mims.
Harris was Edison’s head coach at the time and the Hornets and Eagles had memorable battles. When Mims left to become a University of Oklahoma assistant coach after the 1982 season, Harris was hired to succeed him and picked up the mettle.
The Hornets finished runner-up for the state title in Harris’ inaugural season (1982-83) and went on to win the next four state tournaments, led by the likes of Melvin Gilliam, Arthur Thomas, Jamal West and Dumas, to name a few.
“Everybody said he had talented players, but you had to be able to coach to take that talent and win state championships,” Tisdale said. “It was amazing what he accomplished.”
Harris also coached in Tulsa Public Schools system at Mason. His overall record was 632-239.
A 1965 Hornets All-State basketball player, Harris then played at Oral Roberts University, where he averaged 13.9 points in the school’s inaugural season of 1965-66. After three years in military service, he played two more seasons at ORU.
He was honored when B.T. Washington’s new fieldhouse was named in his honor when it opened in 2012. He was inducted into the TPS Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016 and was one of the first 16 inductees to the Washington Ring of Honor in February.
Fred Jones was a guard on Mims’ 1981-82 Hornets team, but he and Harris became good friends when Jones returned to Tulsa after playing college basketball.
“Coach Harris was instrumental in encouraging me to participate in alumni events. He must have been persuasive, because here I am now, serving (on) the Ring of Honor committee,” Jones said.
Jones said Harris will be honored with a moment of silence before the annual B.T. Washington-McLain alumni game at 5 p.m. Saturday. The game will be played in the Hornets’ gym, “in the building that has (Harris’) name on it,” Jones said.
Lawrence “Night Train” Lane, the Hornets’ longtime football PA announcer and longtime basketball official, said he was “deeply saddened” by the news.
“We kind of grew up together,” Lane said. “When (Harris) was coaching at Mason, I was the first official who ever gave him a technical foul and he never forgot it. Years later, he would remind me of that. He was a great guy, one of my all-time favorite people.”
Harris is survived by his wife, Sandra, and three sons, Eric, Nathan III and Nicholas. Funeral arrangements are pending with Jack’s Memory Chapel.