SAN ANTONIO — David Rodriguez sat inside Alamo Convocation Center recently with family around him when a tribute video of him was playing.
When it finished, he received an ovation from everyone in the building as he was enshrined in the San Antonio ISD Hall of Fame for his dominance in basketball during the 1940s.
“Being honored is honoring those that came before me and my family. Of course, it’s always a joy to be able to participate in something that they can be there to observe,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez picked up the game of basketball in the 1930s on San Antonio’s West Side in the one of the most impoverished barrios in the country.
“The place we lived there was no water, no facilities inside. There was one toilet for two houses,” Rodriguez said.
The Boys Club became a safe haven for kids like Rodriguez.
“Offered us a lot, a playground, they offered woodworking,” Rodriguez said.
All the children attended what is now known as Sydney Lanier High School, but back then it ran from sixth grade to 11th grade.
That’s when he met Lanier head basketball coach Nemo Herrera.
“Nemo to me was the greatest coach that ever was,” Rodriguez said.
The Lanier squad was historically short except for Rodriguez, who was 6-foot-5.
“He got me from eighth grade on up. He had me rebounding, passing and guarding. He said, ‘Your job will be to guard the lane and anybody breaking in, you will stop them,’” Rodriguez said.
Those Lanier teams won state championships in 1943 and 1945, but the road to these state titles wasn’t easy.
Rodriguez and his teammates had to endure a great deal of racism from opposing players and their fans.
“Even at the state meets they always harassed us, [called us] spicks, stuff like that,” Rodriguez said.
But Herrera kept his players composed.
“You know, if they are talking trash to you, don’t pay attention to it. Just play your game and show you are better than they are,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez served in the Air Force, won a national championship with Tyler and played Division 1 basketball at the University of Houston, where he made the all-conference team, then impacted lives as an educator in El Paso for over 50 years.
“All because coach Nemo taught me how to play basketball,” Rodriguez said.
Most importantly, Rodriguez showed the world that Mexicans could play ball.