EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Jim Forbes, one of the greatest figures in the history of El Paso sports, died early Friday morning due to complications from COVID-19. Forbes was 69 years old.
Not only is Forbes one of the greatest basketball players to emerge from the Sun City, but Forbes is also one of the greatest coaches in the history of Texas high school basketball, amassing over 700 wins.
Born in 1952 in Fort Rucker, Alabama, Forbes attended Bel Air High School in El Paso, where he was one of the best prep basketball players in the city’s history, being named an All-American in 1970. His number 50 was retired in 2012 in a ceremony at Bel Air.
Forbes was talented enough to play for UTEP under the direction of Don Haskins, starring for The Bear from 1971-1974. Injuries hampered his career at times with the Miners, but his jersey still hangs in the rafters at the Don Haskins Center as an Honored Jersey, an achievement saved for only the best players in UTEP history.
The El Pasoan’s biggest claim to fame as a basketball player came in 1972, when Forbes was one of 12 players selected to play on the United States National Team at the Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany.
In an interview with KTSM in 2021, Forbes called the experience “one of the joys of my life as an athlete.”
Forbes joined Coach Haskins at the Olympics and became a part of one of the most infamous games in Olympic history. In the gold medal match between the United States and the Soviet Union, the USSR was given three different opportunities to win the game by the officiating crew.
Eventually, Forbes and his USA teammates lost the game 51-50 but protested the defeat by refusing to accept their silver medals.
Forbes stood by his and his teammates’ decision nearly 50 years later when KTSM asked him about it in 2021.
“We didn’t earn a silver medal; we earned a gold medal. We won that gold medal in regulation time, and that’s just it,” Forbes said in February of 2021. “Here’s the irony of it. It gets talked about a lot but had we won the game, no one would ever talk about the 1972 Olympic team again.”
Forbes was taken in the fourth round of the 1974 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls, but injuries forced him to retire without ever playing in the NBA. Then, for 38 consecutive seasons, he became one of the most successful high school basketball coaches the city of El Paso, and the state of Texas has ever seen.
Initially getting his start as an assistant under Haskins from 1981-1984, Forbes then transitioned to the high school game in 1984 as the head coach at Riverside High School.
It was a life-long dream for Forbes to coach and teach history. “I’m doing exactly what I said I wanted to do in 1973,” Forbes said in 2021.
As a head coach at both Riverside High School from 1984-2004 and then Andress High School in 2004, Forbes won over 700 games, eclipsing the 700-win mark in November of 2021.
He led the 1995 Riverside team to the Texas 5A Final Four; 20 years later, in 2015, he took Andress to the 5A Final Four, too. He also led both the Eagles and Rangers to multiple Sweet 16s and Elite 8s while in charge of the respective programs. Riverside renamed its gym after Forbes in 2018.
Forbes’ life and legacy are known worldwide, not just in El Paso. He has helped countless players and coaches in the Sun City get their starts and push them forward. A selfless individual quick to give credit to everyone but himself, Forbes would routinely allow his assistant coaches to coach on the sidelines so that they could earn valuable experience.
“I’m really proud of him. To get in the classroom and be a great teacher and role model for these young people, I’m just so happy he’s carved out a great niche in life,” said former NBA player, coach, and broadcaster Doug Collins last year.
Collins played with Forbes on the 1972 Olympic team and spoke reverentially about Forbes as a man and teammate.
Forbes will go down as arguably the most important figure to the basketball scene in El Paso. Chapin boys basketball coach Rodney Lewis coached under Forbes at Andress for years and in 2021 said of Forbes, “When it’s all said and done, Jim Forbes should be on the Mount Rushmore of most important figures in El Paso.”
An El Paso legend, Jim Forbes is survived by his wife, Mary Jane; one daughter; four grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.