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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Interview with Bob Lanier and NBA Senior VP Kathy Behrens

This article was originally published at Suite101.com on March 16, 2005.

Hall of Famer Bob Lanier averaged 20.1 ppg and 10.1 rpg in his 14 year career, making the All-Star team eight times and winning the All-Star Game MVP in 1974 (24 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocked shots). Lanier was also the MVP of the 1972 NBA-ABA All-Star Game, scoring 15 points in the NBA's 106-104 victory over its younger rival. In 1978 he won the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship award, foreshadowing the commitment to community service that has characterized his life since his playing career ended in 1984. Before the 2005 All-Star Saturday Night events, Lanier and NBA Senior Vice President Kathy Behrens shared their thoughts about some of the NBA's community service programs.

Behrens: "I'll just talk a little bit about what we’re doing here in Denver. We started on Monday with our 'Read to Achieve Caravan.' Bob led a group of former players, WNBA players and family members of NBA players out to visit two schools here and had a great time. We had reading rallies in both schools, reading to kids and talking about the importance of education. We did 'basketball and books' clinics the next day with some members of the Junior NBA and Junior WNBA programs. We had a WNBA fitness day on Wednesday. We did a basketball clinic for wheelchair bound kids who are part of the 'Junior Rolling Nuggets' program. On Thursday we visited the Children's Hospital of Denver and brought them books, teddy bears—beautiful visit with them, very emotional, very moving, more for our guys than for anybody else."

Lanier: "Yeah, all of the people who went there got just emotionally choked up. I think that's a good word for it, because there are so many children and families who are going through very difficult times and we went there to lift their spirits and then you see some of these kids who are so passionate about life itself. It makes you just say that it's all worth it. That to me—with the legends, NBA players, WNBA players, wives and all of the people in our NBA family caravan—was probably the most special thing that we can do for this week. We do a lot of great things in the community, as she said, but I don't think that anything could top that—putting a smile on those young people’s faces."

Friedman: "How many schools a year, approximately, do you go to in a year with your program?"

Lanier: "We go to schools, community groups, gymnasiums…"

Behrens: "Thousands, because teams are doing events all the time. One of the great things about the program is that so much of it happens at the local level. Players are going out visiting schools, visiting Boys and Girls clubs, just talking to kids and interacting with them, making the words in the books come to life and stressing to them the importance of not just getting an education but developing a love of reading."

Friedman: "Is the work that you do primarily in NBA and WNBA cities?"

Behrens: "It's all over the world, because obviously our game is global and our players come from all over the world, so we've tried to take the program outside of our own borders. That's been one of the great things that we've been able to do, opening a reading and learning center in Soweto in South Africa and opening one in Brazil. Those are the kinds of things that tell you that no matter where you are, you can still have an impact on people."

Friedman (to Lanier): "What is the single greatest moment that you experienced in your playing career?"

Lanier: "Greatest moment? To me—and I know that this might sound a little trite—the greatest moment is that basketball has enabled me to touch other people's lives. I've always been able to do that. Since day one, being an NBA player and visiting a hospital or going to a senior citizens' home and listening to an elderly person who has much more wisdom than I'll ever have and brightening their day and giving my energy. It's something that is very, very special that the NBA has been able to do. It's terrific for me. Kathy talked about seeing our players making words come to life. That is very special because I see them in gyms and community centers with these kids, bright eyed kids draped all around them. They've got their hands on these books that they almost cover up because their hands are so big. Then, the energy that they have by making the words come to life and then going over to a tech center where they get on these computers. It's funny sometimes, because really the kids know more about how to do online stuff than our players, so they end up teaching our players. It's really, really nice.”

Friedman: "What you are saying, in effect, is that being an NBA player, an NBA legend, has given you a platform that you might otherwise not have had to touch people's lives or to touch more people's lives than you might otherwise have reached."

Lanier: "Without question it has given me a platform to touch people's lives all around the world and that’s the perfect ending to this whole thing."

Since this interview took place at an NBA All-Star Weekend event being held in Denver, an original ABA city, it seemed only fitting to conclude by asking Lanier about his participation in the second of two NBA-ABA All-Star Games. Before the interview, I gave Lanier a copy of an article that I wrote about the NBA-ABA All-Star Games for the September-October 2004 issue of Basketball Digest (a magazine which ceased operations at the end of 2004).

Friedman: "What do you remember most about the NBA-ABA All-Star Game and also about the rivalry between the leagues in general?"

Lanier: "I remember that it was a strong rivalry. The only edge I think that the NBA had at the time was that it had more big people of skill. They (the ABA) really were equal or better at the guard and small forward positions. They had some players that could flat out play the game. It was very competitive playing against them. I was quite lucky to be the MVP that year."

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:02 AM

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