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Jim Forbes leaves a legacy of excellence on and off the court

(ANDRESS HIGH SCHOOL -- Jan. 21, 2022) — Legendary Andress High basketball coach Jim Forbes — whose accolades included a silver medal at the 1972 Olympics, more than 600 career wins and a place in UTEP’s Athletic Hall of Fame — died Friday morning.

Coach Forbes’ life and legacy will be honored during the Andress varsity basketball game at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. His players and coaches agreed to play in his honor and basketball games throughout El Paso are expected to observe a moment of silence in his memory.

“Coach Forbes’ love for his students, players, the game and the entire Andress High community will be greatly missed,” said principal Joseph Manago. “He was a great leader and mentor to the entire El Paso community.”

Girls varsity basketball coach Wadrian Wallace called Forbes the “heart of Andress High School.”

“Everyone loved him, and his impact at Andress was unmeasurable,” Wallace said. “He really was a great man and a good friend who was never too busy for anyone. Since I’ve been here at Andress, I can always depend on him for anything. He will always hold a special place in my heart and will truly be missed.”

Forbes’ 38-year career included 18 years at Andress and 20 years at Riverside High School. He also had coaching stints at Austin High and MacArthur PK-8.

“Coach Jim Forbes’ extraordinary career in education will have a long-lasting impact on the lives of the thousands of students he taught and mentored at Andress and throughout El Paso. On and off the court, he set a standard of excellence that will be hard to follow,” El Paso ISD Superintendent Diana Sayavedra said. “The entire EPISD Community joins Andress High School and the family of Coach Forbes is mourning the loss of this outstanding educator. Our prayers are with them.”

EPSD Board President Al Velarde also spoke highly of Coach Forbes and his legacy. 

"Coach Jim Forbes stood up for what was right and what was fair in the world. His legacy will forever be one of a man with integrity and valor,” he said. “Many considered him an outstanding basketball player and others a once-in-a-lifetime coach. He was both of those things. But above all, he was an extraordinary educator and a legendary El Pasoan. On behalf of the board of trustees, our prayers are with the Forbs family and all those who loved him." 

Trustee Israel Irrobali, an Andress alum who now represents the area on the school board, said Forbes' death will leave a void in the Northeast. 

“El Paso lost a legend with the passing of Coach Forbes,” he said. “More than an outstanding educator and a record-breaking basketball coach, he was a mentor to thousands of young men and women who were lucky to know him. His legacy will live forever in the halls and hearts of the Address community."  

Forbes' passing is being felt throughout the city and especially among the coaching community.

“Today is a great loss not only for myself and my family but for the entire city of El Paso,” said Chapin head coach Rodney Lewis, a former assistant coach under Forbes. “Coach Forbes is one of the all-time greats. He was a selfless leader, a legendary guy who would give the sweater off his back to warm someone else.”

Lewis credits Forbes for his own success as a head coach.  He’s grateful to Forbes for giving him the chance to shadow him, and for his mentoring.

“He took chance on me when no one else did,” Lewis said. “I’m going to miss him – miss talking to him about life, going to miss our talks about basketball and our afternoon lunch meetings. He was a true legend in every sense of the word. There will never be another Jim Forbes.”

The path of success for Forbes started in the late 1960s when he played basketball at Bel Air High School. After graduating in 1970, Forbes joined the UTEP basketball team and played in the 1972 Olympics, winning a silver medal in a controversial game against the Soviet Union, a medal he declined to accept because of perceived irregularities in officiating.

Forbes played for legendary Coach Don Haskins at UTEP and in the Olympic team. He was drafted by the Chicago Bulls, but a knee injury kept him benched for a year, and ultimately led him into coaching.

“You have to have a specific personality to be a head coach and while he was very driven, he allowed people around him to work and be successful on a daily basis,” said former Andress assistant coach Eric Weaver.

When Forbes celebrated his 600th career win in February 2017, Weaver made sure the honor didn’t go unnoticed after the game. He describes his mentor and friend as a coach who expected and inspired greatness in his athletes.

"He was a pleasure to work with, a gentle and loving man who cared about others more than himself,” Weaver said. “He gave so many people an opportunity to learn and grow, and I am proud to say I was one of the fortunate ones to be mentored by Coach Forbes."

In 2020, El Paso voted Forbes among the top four names in sports in the city in a project sponsored by the El Paso Times. Forbes spoke humbly about being named to the list, which included Irvin High alum boxer Jennifer Han and another basketball coaching legend, Don Haskins.

“I’m honored to be in the same paragraph as coach Haskins,” Forbes said in the 2020 interview. “Everyone in there, in their own right is a great sportsman and statesman for the City of El Paso.”

Reflecting on his life goals set as a UTEP basketball player in the 1970s, Forbes told EPISD in a 2017 interview that he wanted to play professionally for 10 years then teach and coach high school basketball.

“The professional basketball didn’t pan out because of my knee but I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do. I’m just having fun,” Forbes said. “Coaching young men has always been more of a pleasure than a job.”

Story by Reneé de Santos
Photos by Leonel Monroy