Current Brooklyn Nets analyst Tim Capstraw said Bridgehampton graduate Robert “Bobby” Hopson “was not only a Hall of Fame athlete, but he was also a Hall of Fame person.”
The news of Hopson’s April 21 death at age 48 after a long battle with diabetes shook his former Wagner College head coach.
“Bobby was incredibly well-liked and respected among all he encountered,” said Capstraw, who coached Hopson from 1990 to 1994. “My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this time.”
Hopson was inducted into the Wagner College Hall of Fame in 2009, and into Bridgehampton’s 10 years later.
A 1990 Killer Bees graduate, he still holds the record for the most points scored in school history — 1720.
“Bobby was exceptional in every facet of the game of basketball,” his induction plaque reads. “In addition to his scoring prowess, Hopson was also regarded as a tremendous defensive player and rebounder.”
His high-level performances earned him a spot on the First Team All-New York State and All-Long Island team his junior and senior years. Hopson collected three All-League nods, and ended his senior season scoring over 700 points.
“On behalf of our school community, we are saddened by this loss,” Bridgehampton Athletic Director Michael DeRosa said. “The Hopson family has a long history in our district and community and Bobby’s death is very personal to many of us. His achievements while a student here . . . and his accomplishments throughout his adult life are forever enshrined in our school’s Hall of Fame. As he was a determined and inspiring presence in our school community, we can only be more grateful and mindful of his character, the contributions he made to society, and his positive influence on our staff, alumni, athletes, and many Bridgehampton students.”
Hopson was unfortunately not a member of any of the famed state-winning championship teams, although he came close several times. He said during his Bridgehampton induction speech it was tough not winning the title, but “the luck of the draw.”
“The hardest thing for me was living up to this person next to me,” he said at the 2019 ceremony, referring to his half-brother Carl Johnson, who introduced him, before laughing and reiterating the fact that “it was very difficult — trust me. Growing up, I remember going to state championship games and I had three opportunities to go myself, but in those three games we lost by a total of six points, so I always say I was seven points from going to a state championship.”
But he did assist Johnson during his first year as head coach of the Killer Bees, and Johnson said he was grateful to have his brother by his side.
“I could sit him down at the other end of the court and not worry,” Johnson said, before adding jokingly: “He’s accomplished a lot, but he’s never beaten me in a one-on-one.”
Johnson agreed as fierce as Hopson was on the court, he was even greater than that off the court.
“No matter who he came across, people loved and respected him,” he said. “No one who knew him had one bad thing to say about him — even his opponents had much respect for Bobby on and off the court. He was a great guy, just unbelievable.”
The gritty 6-0 guard scored 1568 career points to rank fifth all-time at Wagner at the time of his graduation.
Hopson was a member of the Northeast Conference All-Newcomer team as a freshman after averaging 10.8 points per game while shooting 43.5 percent from the field and over 80 percent from the free-throw line in just 13 games. He registered nearly 18 points per game as a sophomore while converting 46 percent of his chances from the floor in 26 games en route to earning First Team All-NEC honors, which he also garnered as a junior while averaging 16 points per game. The Seahawks’ most valuable player as a junior was also a member of the NEC All-Tournament team in each of his final two seasons. In his senior year on Grymes Hill, Hopson suited up in 27 contests and was named second-team All-NEC after averaging 17.9 points per game. He was named to the Metropolitan Writers Association Second-Team after that final campaign. With a career scoring average of 16.3 points per game, he currently holds spots in the top 10 in no less than nine major career statistical categories.
“Bobby was a charismatic person who was liked by all,” said Wagner Director of Athletics Walt Hameline. “The Wagner community is deeply saddened by the news.”
Hopson’s 511 career field goals are good for 10th all-time. As part of his repertoire, he had the ability to score big from three-point range, netting 192 career threes, which ranks fifth on the all-time career three-point list. Even more impressive, his career 41.3 percent three-point conversion rate is second all-time in Wagner history.
After college, Hopson became a special education teacher, working in the Bridgehampton school district for two years before moving down to Florida to teach.
“He was a pied piper,” Johnson said. “He just had a way with children. He loved kids. Of course, his dream was to play in the NBA, but once he knew that wasn’t going to happen, his dream was to try to be the best teacher he could possibly be.”
What Wagner called one of Hopson’s finest performances was the then-junior’s 32-point outing in a pulsating 65-64 Northeast Conference title game loss to Rider University that thrilled a nationwide audience on ESPN.
With just 11 seconds remaining, he drew a foul with the Seahawks trailing by two. He hit the first shot, but missed the second, and after teammate Quincy Lewis grabbed an offensive rebound, Hopson wound up with the ball again before hitting a foul-line jumper to put Wagner ahead, 64-63. Although it was short-lived, with Rider’s Darrick Suber hitting a jumper of his own for the game-winner, the ESPN commentator can be heard during Hopson’s shot shouting: “What a player.” And fans and Hameline were seen jumping to their feet.
“But it’s not always about championships,” Hopson said during his Bridgehampton Hall of Fame induction ceremony. “I truly had a great time, and there were other things besides basketball I got to experience in life.”
Hopson is survived by his 14-year-old daughter Kaialani Hopson, who Johnson said his brother “loved more than anything;” three nieces; and one nephew. Johnson asked in lieu of flowers that donations be made in Hopson’s name to the American Diabetes Association or Diabetes Foundation.