Bob Lanier. whose glittering career with the Detroit Pistons in the 1970s was hampered by both injuries and his desire for the title, died at 73 after a short illness, the NBA announced Tuesday night.
Lanier, taken No. 1 overall by the Pistons in 1970 from St. Bonaventure, spent 10 seasons with the franchise, averaging 22.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game in 681 games in Detroit. He then played five seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks while chasing a championship that eluded him at the college and pro levels. He finished his NBA career in 1984 with averages of 20.1 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
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Eight-time All-Star, Lanier was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. This came despite at least eight serious knee injuries, including one before he even signed his rookie contract with the Pistons. . A torn ACL sustained in St. Bonaventure’s Elite Eight victory over Villanova on March 14, 1970, kept him out of the NCAA Tournament National Semifinals, which the Bonnies lost days later. The Pistons signed him on March 23, 1970, then reportedly signed him from his hospital bed after knee surgery.
“I’ve always admired him because he comes to play with injuries,” Chris Ford, his Pistons teammate from 1972 to 1979, told the Free Press in 1983. “He’s a guy who would do anything. what to win. He’s never been with a winner, unfortunately, but he’s a winner.
Lanier finished among the NBA’s top 10 MVPs by voting four times during the 1970s, a decade in which he rose to prominence for his midfield battles with the Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers star, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
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His excellence during a turbulent decade for the NBA included a fourth-place finish in 1976-77 and a third-place finish in 1973-74, the season he was named NBA All-Star Game MVP.
That year, he averaged 22.5 points, 13.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists and three blocks per game while leading the Pistons to a 52-30 record, his 50-win first season. franchise history. The Pistons wouldn’t win 50 games in a season again until 1986-87.
The Pistons and owner Tom Gores released a statement on Lanier’s death early Wednesday morning:
“The Detroit Pistons organization is deeply saddened by the passing of Bob Lanier, a true legend who meant so much to the city of Detroit and to generations of Pistons fans. As fierce and as dominant as Bob was on the court, he was just as kind and impactful in the community.”
The Pistons retired Lanier’s No. 16 jersey on January 9, 1993.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver remembered a basketball legend who remained active in the game even after his retirement.
“Bob Lanier was a Hall of Fame player and one of the most talented centers in NBA history, but his impact on the league went far beyond what he accomplished on the court. “, Silver said in a statement Tuesday evening. “For over 30 years, Bob was our global ambassador and special assistant to David Stern and then to me, traveling the world teaching the values of the game and positively impacting young people around the world. It was a job love for Bob, who was one of the nicest, most genuine people I’ve ever met. His enormous influence on the NBA also showed when he was president of the National Basketball Players Association, where he played a key role in the negotiation of a revolutionary collective agreement.
“I learned so much from Bob just by watching how he connected with people. He was a close friend who I will dearly miss, as will many of his NBA colleagues who were inspired by his generosity. deepest condolences to Bob’s family and friends.
A native of Buffalo, New York, Lanier became a star at St. Bonaventure in the late 1960s, leading the small New York State school to the Final Four of the 1970 NCAA Tournament. He finished his career with the Bonnies averaging 27.6 points and 15.7 rebounds per game while shooting 57.6% from the field, understating his senior season, in which he averaged 29.1 points and 16 rebounds while shooting 56.1 percent from the field.
The Pistons, meanwhile, had missed the playoffs in six of the previous seasons. They finished with the third-worst record in the NBA, but last in their division for the 1969-70 season and won the ensuing coin toss with the Houston Rockets.
The addition of Lanier quickly turned the franchise around, as the Pistons went from 31 wins to 45 in 1970-71 — and their first winning record since moving to Detroit from Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1957.
In 9 1/2 seasons, Lanier made seven All-Star teams as a Piston. He averaged a double-double in seven of his nine full seasons with the Pistons, only missing the mark as a rookie — still on the first-team All-Rookie squad — and 1978 -79, when injuries limited him to 53 games.
After playing at least 76 games in each of his first five seasons, Lanier played 64, 64, 63 and 53 games in his last four full seasons in Detroit. Still, he emptied the pain in a central league that included big men such as Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton and Moses Malone.
“I have prejudices because we were together in difficult times, like when I was fired,” former Pistons coach Dick Vitale, who coached Lanier from 1978 to 1980, told the Free Press in 1983. “But if every player had a Bob Lanier attitude, it would be easy for a coach to operate. I was always amazed to see him in the locker room, the agony he was going through. … He was making a hot tub, had his knees bandaged and sat there staring at the floor.
As the Pistons returned to the cellar in the final years of his career, Lanier demanded a trade from a contender. They sent him to the Bucks, where he played his 4½ seasons averaging 13.5 points per game.
The Bucks trade, hammered out at Lanier’s request at the start of the 1979-80 season, ended in bad blood between the star and his former franchise after being delayed for a month when Lanier was snapped a bone in the left hand. Still, Lanier expressed regret at the time for leaving the Motor City.
“Yes, I’m a little relieved, but I’m a little sad too,” he said in the Free Press the following day. “I have many fond memories of Detroit…the warmth of the fans. I will always remember the standing ovation I received at the All-Star Game here last year.
Lanier was Detroit’s career leader in points and rebounds before being passed by Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer in those categories, and his single-game franchise record of 33 rebounds, set in December 1972, n was exceeded only when Dennis Rodman carried 34 boards. in March 1992.
Despite the chance to challenge for a title with the Bucks — Milwaukee has won its division every year with Lanier but has never made it past the conference finals — leaving Detroit wasn’t easy for Lanier.
“When I got on that plane, I cried like a baby,” he told the Free Press in 1993. “I asked for the trade, but my blood and my guts were Pistons. wonderful that it happened with Milwaukee, my heart and soul were Pistons.”
If the trade to the Bucks was a separation for Lanier and the Pistons, his roundhouse punch from Laimbeer on November 1, 1983 was essentially a divorce. Laimbeer called the punch a “cheap hit” and talk of making Lanier’s number the franchise’s second retiree was put on hold for a decade. (Milwaukee retired Lanier’s number shortly after his retirement in 1984.)
But Lanier and Laimbeer made peace in the early 1990s – “We had a very frank conversation,” Lanier told the Free Press in 1993. “What I did was not the right thing. It didn’t no doubt.” — and his number 16 was soon hoisted to the roof of the Palace of Auburn Hills, to rub shoulders with that of his teammate for five seasons (1970-75): Dave Bing.
“We have to be a lot more like brothers than like teammates…we used to sit around all night talking about things,” Bing said of Lanier in 1983. “He’s very smart and he’s gregarious He would make a very good coach.
In 1995, Lanier was an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors, then took over as interim head coach after the resignation of Don Nelson (Lanier’s coach with the Bucks in the 1980s). Lanier went 12-25, and the Warriors hired another coach after the season.
Lanier won the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for the 1977–78 season for outstanding community service. Following his playing career, he helped launch the NBA’s Stay in School campaign and participated in other league outreach.
“There are so many needs here,” he said. “When you travel to different cities and different countries, you see that there are so many people in dire straits that there’s not much the NBA can do. We make a very, very big difference, but there’s always so much more to do.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Ryan Ford at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.
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