Robert “Bobby” Hopson, 48, the leading scorer in Bridgehampton High School basketball history, died at his home in Bridgehampton on April 21. The cause of death has not yet been determined, but Mr. Hopson, who had been a special education teacher in Florida and most recently worked as an aide with East End Disabilities Associates in East Hampton, had struggled with diabetes for more than a decade, his family said.
Mr. Hopson, who graduated in 1990, holds the Killer Bees scoring record of 1,720 points. But when he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in March, he lamented that the teams he played on during his four-year career never won a state championship as nine other Bridgie teams have.
“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,” he said at his Hall of Fame induction, “so I always say I was seven points from going to a state championship.”
“It was heartbreaking for him,” said his brother, Carl Johnson, a former star player and coach for the Killer Bees who served as assistant coach under John Niles when Mr. Hopson played. “But he handled it with class as usual.”
“Bobby inspired me and my entire generation with his killer instinct, his fire, and fearlessness,” said Nick Thomas, a cousin of Mr. Hopson, who helped lead Bridgehampton to a championship in 1996. Mr. Thomas said he wore the number 32 jersey at Bridgehampton because that was the number Mr. Hopson first wore when he starred at Wagner College on Staten Island in the early 1990s.
Jerry Burns, the Wagner assistant coach who recruited Mr. Hopson in 1990 and is now head coach of Monroe Community College in Rochester, said Mr. Hopson brought an intensity to the team. “Bobby was just a tremendous, tremendous competitor,” he said. “He just played hard. It was a given.”
Never was that more apparent than on March 9, 1993, when Wagner faced Rider College in the Northeast Conference championship game for the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament.
Mr. Hopson, who was a junior that season, paced Wagner with 32 points, including a short jumper to give his team a one-point lead with just four seconds remaining, only to have Rider’s Darrick Suber hit a buzz-beater to claim a 65-64 victory for the home team.
“That was one of the most exciting games I’ve ever seen,” said Mr. Johnson, who watched it on television, as did other members of Mr. Hopson’s extended family and a national audience. “You live for that day when you get a chance to go to the big dance. He just played an amazing game.”
A four-year starter who scored 1,568 career points and is second in the record books for his 41.3-shooting percentage on three-point shots, Mr. Hopson was inducted into the Wagner Hall of Fame in 2009.
Mr. Hopson graduated from Wagner in 1994 and later earned a master’s degree in special education from the school. He returned to Bridgehampton and served for two seasons as Mr. Johnson’s assistant at Bridgehampton before moving to Orlando, Florida, in 1997 to work as an elementary school teacher. “He loved teaching, he loved being around kids,” Mr. Johnson said.
When news of Mr. Hopson’s death spread, many of his former teammates at Wagner reached out, Mr. Johnson said. “It was great to hear from former college teammates who told us how much they loved him,” he said. “They loved him as a person. They loved him more off the court than on it.”
Family members said that was true in Bridgehampton as well. “Bobby was a humble person who always cracked jokes, respected everyone and was genuinely real,” said Mr. Thomas. “He was a role model in the community. He inspired us all, he made us Bridgehampton proud.”
“Bobby was always a good, quiet boy who never caused any trouble,” recalled another cousin, Aleta Parker.
Mr. Hopson’s health began to decline about 12 years ago, Mr. Johnson, said, and he was diagnosed with diabetes. He struggled to control the disease and eventually had to leave his teaching job because of it.
Mr. Johnson said his brother struggled to stay employed after that because of his diabetes, which had, at one point, left him in a coma. He returned to Bridgehampton in the fall of 2017 and lived with Mr. Johnson and his wife, Lillian Tyree Johnson, who helped him regain his health. Mr. Johnson said Mr. Hopson was happy to find work as an aide at an East End Disabilities Associates group home in East Hampton.
Mr. Hopson was born at Southampton Hospital on May 30, 1971, to the late John Hopson and Belvadine Bernard. Besides his brother, Mr. Hopson is survived his wife, Nicole Smith, and his 14-year-old daughter, Kaialani Hopson, as well as many nieces, nephews and cousins.
Mr. Hopson was cremated, and Mr. Johnson said with the coronavirus epidemic, the family was unable to hold a funeral service and may wait to hold a memorial until spring 2021, when his ashes will be buried at Edgewood Cemetery in Bridgehampton, next to his parents.
The family has requested that memorial donations be made to either the American Diabetes Association or East End Disabilities Associates.