Sullivan: Bob Lanier was a Hall of Famer on and off the floor

Sullivan: Bob Lanier was a Corridor of Famer on and off the ground

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Bob Lanier was the best basketball participant ever to come back out of Buffalo. Of that, there ought to be no dispute.

Positive, Clifford Robinson performed extra video games and scored extra factors over an extended, more healthy NBA profession. He performed within the NBA Finals. Christian Laettner had a extra celebrated school profession and was a strong professional.

However Lanier, who died Tuesday night time after a brief sickness, towered over all of them. Lanier, who did not make the Bennett Excessive group as a sophomore, grew to become the No. 1 total decide within the NBA draft in 1970, an eight-time all-star and Basketball Corridor of Famer who averaged 20.1 factors and 10.1 rebounds over a 14-year profession.

Lanier is an everlasting icon at St. Bonaventure, the place the court docket is known as in his honor his. He led the Bonnies to the 1970 NCAA Ultimate 4, and any trustworthy Bona fan would remind you that they might have gained the nationwide championship that 12 months if Lanier had n’t harm his knee his within the regional closing.

Buffalo hoop followers additionally imagine that Lanier would have been a good higher professional if not for the knee damage. He had eight knee surgical procedures in his life. He performed harm as a rookie and was by no means fairly the identical.

Nonetheless, he is one in all three gamers in NBA historical past who averaged 20 factors, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.5 blocks over 500 or video games whereas capturing over 50 %. The others had been Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They did not file blocks in Wilt’s day, however do not inform me he did not block a shot and a half a sport.

Detroit Pistons’ Bob Lanier, left, goes after Kansas Metropolis Kings’ Otis Birdsong, proper, after Birdsong stole the ball away from Lanier throughout Friday’s NBA sport at Kemper Enviornment, Feb. 2, 1979. (AP Picture)

There is a basic scene within the film “Airplane” the place a child named Joey comes into the cockpit and acknowledges Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He tells Kareem his father thinks Abdul-Jabbar does not work onerous on protection or run the court docket very nicely.

Kareem grabs the child and says, “Inform your previous man to tug Walton and Lanier up and down the court docket for 48 minutes.” Buffalo followers needed to love listening to Lanier extolled on movie. I keep in mind a Windfall middle who performed towards Lanier saying he was simply as powerful in school as Jabbar.

However Lanier had an even bigger affect as a human being. He by no means made an NBA Finals, however he was maybe the best humanitarian within the league’s historical past, a person who spent many years touring the globe because the NBA’s World Ambassador underneath commissioners David Stern after which Adam Silver, spreading the gospel of schooling to the youth of American and the world.

“It was a labor of affection for Bob, who was one of many kindest and most real folks I’ve ever been round,” Silver stated in an announcement. “His huge affect his on the NBA was additionally seen in his time his as President of the Nationwide Basketball Gamers Affiliation, the place he performed a key position within the negotiation of a game-changing collective bargaining settlement.

“I realized a lot from Bob by merely watching how he related with folks.”

Buffalo followers take nice satisfaction of their fame for contributing to charitable causes. We have seen it lots recently with the Payments. It ought to be comforting to know town produced a humanitarian of Lanier’s stature, an elite athlete who grew to become equally well-known for his group work his.

In his enjoying days, Lanier was given the NBA’s citizenship award and the YMCA’s Jackie Robinson Award for “service to youth, good citizenship and management.” Later, he acquired the Oscar Robertson Management Award, a Congressional Horizons Management award, the Nationwide Civil Rights Sports activities Legacy Award. That is not even the total record.

Lanier ran the NBA’s ‘Keep in Faculty Program’ from 1989-94. In 1990, he got here to Buffalo to advertise a Three on Three Problem on the Aud to boost funds for the Bob Lanier Heart for Academic, Bodily and Cultural Growth, a program that helps tackle the varied issues of youth in Buffalo’s depressed East Facet.

He was solely 41 on the time, and looking out match sufficient to shoot that clean, left-handed leap shot. However he stated there was no approach. After eight knee operations, his coronary heart his was prepared, however his head he stated, ‘Do n’t be silly.’

Lanier and Assemblyman Arthur Eve did not discuss a lot basketball that day on the previous Buffalo Hilton. They wished to speak about children who had been rising up in powerful circumstances, as Bob did within the metropolis. He felt a robust want to present again, to achieve out to children with comparable backgrounds.

Pistons’ head coach Ray Scott, left, chats with Bob Lanier earlier than a NBA sport at Detroit’s Cobo Corridor, Feb. 1, 1974. (AP Picture)

“Are you obligated to do it? I do not suppose anyone has an obligation,” Lanier stated that day. “However if you happen to got here up like I did, you got here up Black and also you got here up poor. Should you’re delicate to seeing issues round you that occur to individuals who don’t have anything, and the way they’re handled, you need to assist. I have been any individual who had nothing.”

He wished to be remembered as greater than only a participant. Schooling meant the whole lot to Lanier. He informed me as soon as about skipping college as a boy. His father his, Robert Sr., dragged him off a basketball court docket and gave him the whipping of his younger life. He stated the skilled remained with him. He by no means forgot how necessary schooling was in a younger boy’s life.

Bob informed me that story in 1995, after he took over as coach of the Golden State Warriors. He by no means had nice aspirations to educate; he was extra interested by administration. However Don Nelson employed him to educate his large males his. Nellie had a battle with Chris Webber and stop in midseason.

Lanier took over a wounded squad and completed 12-25. That was the top of his teaching profession. However he acquired them to play onerous, and to care, and he felt his work his for the league with troubled American children got here in helpful.

“I really imagine my expertise within the Keep-In-Faculty program for the final 5 years, and my work with younger folks over my lifetime, has helped me on this gig,” he stated that day. “I need to give these younger folks some knowledge for all times, versus simply basketball. I believe that motivation has been extraordinarily efficient in coping with the younger males I’ve to take care of right here.”

Bucks middle Bob Lanier drives towards the basket in a playoff sport towards the Boston Celtics as Robert Parish defends the ring for Boston at Milwaukee, Could 1, 1983. (AP Picture/Steve Pyle)

“All these guys are merchandise of the occasions,” Lanier stated. “Some are disrespectful. Some are irreverent and apathetic. However for essentially the most half, they’re similar to different youth right this moment. Most of them are good folks, striving to make good issues occur of their lives.”

He touched a number of children’ lives over time. Older followers recall him as a participant within the glory days of the late Sixties, when Calvin Murphy was at Niagara and Lanier at Bona and Canisius nonetheless very aggressive.

My good buddy and former editor, Dennis Danheiser, revered Lanier a lot as a child that he developed a left-handed hook shot. Dennis remembers listening to Pistons video games on the radio and retaining stats. You can get 760-AM WJR from Tonawanda again in these days.

“On my tenth birthday in January, I went to a Little Three sport on the Aud,” Danheiser stated. “Laier vs. Calvin Murphy. After the sport, my dad took me right down to the ground and I acquired Lanier’s autograph on a program. Humorous factor, I gave him a golf pencil and he checked out me and laughed as a result of it was so small in his big hand his!”

These two phrases — Little Three — take folks again to a youthful, extra harmless time, when school basketball was the large night time out on the Aud on a Saturday, when children argued about who was higher, Lanier or Murphy. It is powerful when native sports activities heroes move on. Randy Smith. Rick Martin. Dale Hawerchuk. Kent Hull. Every time, you are feeling a little bit older.

Bob Lanier was an envoy for the NBA, but additionally for his hometown. Like Buffalo, he had a giant, giving coronary heart and he shared it with the world. Calling him town’s greatest basketball participant solely begins to explain it.

Jerry Sullivan is an award-winning journalist who joined the Minus Better group in 2020 after three many years as a sports activities columnist at The Buffalo Information. See extra of his work right here.