Jim was a Gem of the Gym (March 2022)

James Ricardo (Jim) Forbes (1952-Jan. 21, 2022)

If you’re a UTEP basketball fan who loves defense and rebounding, you well know the name of a Don Haskins favorite — Jim Forbes. The monument to fundamentals was born in Fort Rucker, Alabama, moved to El Paso with his parents in the late 1950s, and never left.

At UTEP in the early 1970s, Jim Forbes was just beginning an influential career in basketball. (UTEP Dept. of Athletics)

The guy his family called “Jimmy” attended Del Norte Elementary where he started his basketball career. At Ysleta Bel Air, he was a high school all-America. Heavily recruited nationwide, Forbes chose to stay in his home town, and quickly assumed a leadership role under Haskins. 

An El Paso crowd favorite, Forbes played in the 1971 Pan American in Columbia, and chosen to the 1972 U.S. Olympic team. In Munich, Jim was part of what is known as the most infamous game in American hoops history. 

At the final buzzer, the U.S. just edged Russia, 50-49, for the gold medal, or so it seemed. Stunningly, game officials overturned the outcome, and gave the ball back to Russia for a final play. Russia scored to win, 51-50, touching off a riot of joy among Soviets and ever-lasting disgust among Americans. 

When presented with the runner-up silver medal, the U.S. team, with Haskins assisting head coach Hank Iba, never accepted the medal.

Forbes returned UTEP where he battled injuries through the remainder of his college career. Jim was drafted by the Chicago Bulls of the NBA and the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA. His pro basketball career was blunted by injuries. Jim came home and served as an assistant coach under his mentor. Alongside Head Coach Haskins and assistant Tim Floyd (1981-84), the trio made up the highest profile coaching staff in school annals.

The late Jim Forbes became a time-honored coach in the El Paso high school ranks.

Later, Forbes embarked on a teaching/coaching career that left an indelible positive mark on hundreds, maybe thousands, of young El Pasoans. would dedicate himself to teaching history and coaching. Highlights include:

(*) At Riverside High for 20 years, Forbes’ teams won numerous district and regional titles and taking the program to State Final Four in 1995 losing to the eventual State Champ. 

(*) At Andress High, Forbes teams were similarly successful, to include another State Final Four appearance again losing to the eventual state champs. 

All told, Forbes’ teams posted more than 700 victories as Jim became one of the winningest coaches in the City of El Paso and the State of Texas. He also served on the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches.

A leader on the court and off, the late Jim Forbes left an impression on decades of his former players.

Honors for Forbes include having his jersey retired at Bel Air and UTEP. He has been inducted into the El Paso Sports Hall of Fame. At Riverside, the gym has been named “James R. Forbes Gymnasium.” 

Jim is survived by his wife Mary Jane Forbes, his daughter Dana Forbes, two sisters, two brothers, four grandchildren and one great grandchild. His celebration of life was described as one of the most emotional such services in recent memory. 

{Ed. – Contributors include Dru Bonney and Jeff Darby of the UTEP Athletic Department.}

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