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Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Bob Lanier, Hall of Famer and NBA Ambassador, Passed Away at Age 73

Bob Lanier, one of the NBA's best centers in the 1970s during an era when the league had several Hall of Fame centers, has passed away after a brief illness. The 73 year old Lanier was just as renowned for being a great person as he was for being a great player. He won the 1978 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship award in recognition of his contributions to the world away from the basketball court. 

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued the following statement shortly after Lanier's death was confirmed:

Bob Lanier was a Hall of Fame player and among the most talented centers in the history of the NBA, but his impact on the league went far beyond what he accomplished on the court. For more than 30 years, Bob served as our global ambassador and as a special assistant to David Stern and then me, traveling the world to teach the game’s values and make a positive impact on young people everywhere. It was a labor of love for Bob, who was one of the kindest and most genuine people I have ever been around. His enormous influence on the NBA was also seen during his time as President of the National Basketball Players Association, where he played a key role in the negotiation of a game-changing collective bargaining agreement.

I learned so much from Bob by simply watching how he connected with people. He was a close friend who I will miss dearly, as will so many of his colleagues across the NBA who were inspired by his generosity. We send our deepest condolences to Bob’s family and friends.

Early in his career, Lanier faced off against older legends who started their careers in the 1960s, including Wilt Chamberlain and Willis Reed. Lanier also battled against great contemporaries, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dave Cowens, Bob McAdoo, Moses Malone, Wes Unseld, and Bill Walton. Lanier twice finished in the top five in regular season MVP voting (third in 1974, fourth in 1977). He won the 1972 ABA-NBA All-Star Game MVP, and he won the 1974 NBA All-Star Game MVP. Lanier ranked in the top 10 in scoring six times, and he finished in the top 10 in rebounding four times. He finished his career as a member of the elite 20-10 club (20.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg).

In 1972, Lanier was crowned as the NBA's one-on-one champion, defeating Jo Jo White in the finals and winning $15,000 plus a fancy trophy:

The NBA on TNT crew just did a nice tribute segment about Lanier, and what Charles Barkley said during that segment echoed what he told me when I interviewed Barkley during the 2006 NBA All-Star Weekend: "I know Bob personally. He lives in Arizona. Obviously, he was a great, great, great player, but the one thing that I'll say about Bob is that Bob is one of the nicest men I've met in my life, period. He's a wonderful person. You can look at his stats and the fact that he's in the Hall of Fame and see that he was a great player. Living in Phoenix, I've gotten to know him really well and he's just a wonderful person."

I interviewed Lanier in person during the 2005 NBA All-Star Weekend, and then in August 2005 I did a more extensive phone interview with him. That second interview provided a lot of the background material for a profile that I wrote about Lanier in 2006.

It was an honor and a treat to interview Lanier, because he was one of the NBA's best players when I first fell in love with the sport, and he was one of the players profiled in one of the first basketball books that I read as a child, Basketball's Biggest Stars by Angelo Resciniti.

The Lanier quote that always resonated the most with me is what he told me during our first interview after I asked him to describe the greatest moment of his NBA career. Lanier replied, "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. (NBA Senior Vice President) Kathy (Behrens) 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."

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:33 AM



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