Bob Lanier, NBA force who left big shoes to fill, dies at 73

Bob Lanier, the left-handed big man who muscled alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as one of the best NBA players of the 1970s, died on Tuesday. He was 73 years old.

The NBA said Lanier died after a short illness. The Hall of Famer had worked for the league as a global ambassador. The Athletic reported in 2019 that Lanier was being treated for bladder cancer.

Lanier played 14 seasons with the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks and averaged 20.1 points and 10.1 rebounds for his career. He is third on the Pistons career list in points and rebounds. Detroit drafted Lanier with the first overall pick in 1970 after leading St. Bonaventure to the Final Four.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Lanier was one of the most talented centers in league history and added that his accomplishments go far beyond what he has done on the court. .

“For more than 30 years, Bob has been 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,” Silver said in a statement. communicated. “It was a labor of love for Bob, who was one of the kindest, most genuine people I’ve ever met.”

At 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, Lanier was considered a big man in his day and used that bulk to his advantage.

Lanier entered the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. But his boat-sized shoes beat him to it, with a display of his tan sneakers in the shrine.

He was known to wear size 22 shoes, although this was disputed in 1989 by a Converse representative, who told The Atlanta Constitution that Lanier wore a size 18 1/2.

“The 22 he was known to wear was a Korean size,” footwear rep Gary Stoken said.

The plain fact that his feet were large was not disputed.

“A lot of people can put both feet in one of my shoes,” Lanier told HOOP magazine.

Born September 10, 1948, in Buffalo, New York, Lanier played for St. Bonaventure University, where he averaged 27.6 points and 15.7 rebounds in three seasons. The Bonnies made it to the Final Four in 1970, but Lanier injured his knee in the regional final and St. Bonaventure lost in the national semifinal to Jacksonville.

Lanier has overcome a litany of orthopedic injuries, dealing with shoulder, back, elbow, hand and toe issues during his career. But that didn’t stop him from earning his place among the top NBA centers of his era. After being named to the rookie team in 1971, he averaged at least 21 points and 11 rebounds in each of the next seven seasons. Lanier was an eight-time All-Star and the 1974 All-Star Game MVP.

He remains the Pistons’ franchise-leading 22.7 ppg average, valued in Detroit for his fierceness and friendliness.

“As fierce and dominant as Bob was on the court, he was just as kind and impactful in the community,” the Pistons said. “As an ambassador for the Pistons organization and the NBA, he represented our league, our franchise and our fans with great passion and integrity. We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Bob.

Lanier could beat his opponents inside and out while leading the boards. Although Abdul-Jabbar had a more famous hook shot, the sky hook, Lanier’s was truly a weapon.

“Guys weren’t changing teams as much, so when you played the Bulls or the Bucks or New York, you had all these rivalries,” Lanier told NBA.com in 2018. “Lanier vs. Jabbar! Jabbar vs. Willis Reed And then (Wilt) Chamberlain, and Artis Gilmore, and Bill Walton!You had all these great men and the game was played from within.

As exceptional as Lanier is, the Pistons have only won one playoff series with him. He played 64 or fewer games in each of his last four full seasons with Detroit. In February 1980, he was transferred to Milwaukee.

Lanier averaged fewer minutes with the Bucks, but he was on the Milwaukee teams that reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 1983 and 1984, the final two seasons of his career.

“Even more than his basketball success, which included his All-Star status in 1982, Bob was one of the most popular players with Bucks fans and known throughout the community for his generosity and kindness,” the Bucks said in a statement.

He was also president of the players’ union in the final years of his career, with Silver saying he played “a key role in brokering a groundbreaking collective bargaining agreement”.

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 33 rebounds was surpassed by Dennis Rodman.

In 1995, Lanier was an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors, then took over as interim coach after Don Nelson resigned. Lanier went 12-25, and the Warriors found 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,” Lanier 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.

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