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Dan Devine

Remembering Maurice Lucas

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

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Maurice Lucas, a pivotal member of the 1977 NBA champion Portland Trail Blazers, died Sunday at his home in Portland after a prolonged battle with bladder cancer. He was 58.

The Marquette University product earned the nickname "The Enforcer" for his physical style of play, but the 6-foot-9 power forward was also a gifted offensive player, averaging 14.6 points per game and earning five All-Star selections (one in the ABA, four in the NBA) during a 14-year professional career. Lucas served as an assistant coach for the Blazers from 2005 through the spring of 2009, when he left the bench to undergo surgery aimed at combating the cancer, but he was hospitalized again that fall after the cancer returned.

Many are sharing remembrances of Lucas; we've included some below. Feel free to add yours in the comments.

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"Portland and the NBA lost one of their greats today," said owner Paul Allen in the team's official statement. "Maurice Lucas was an amazing man and I count myself lucky to have known him. We all — players, coaches, the owner and the fans — were made better by having Maurice a part of our team, whether playing on the championship team or, most recently as an assistant coach. He was one of the greatest Blazers ever. I'll miss him. I and the entire Blazer family send our condolences to his wife, Pamela, and their children."


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Portland coach Nate McMillan told Blazers beat writer Jason Quick of the Oregonian that "the chance to hire Maurice Lucas as an assistant coach" was a major factor in his decision to join the Blazers in 2005:

"When I thought about taking Portland's job, part of it was not just an opportunity to come down and coach the Blazers, but the opportunity to come down and coach the Blazers with Luke," McMillan said Sunday night. "We were talking a couple weeks ago, and I was saying if we didn't connect the way we did, I wonder if I would have made that decision. It was the attraction of the job. Portland was attractive to me, but when the job was offered to me, I asked myself 'How can I turn this around?' I'm thinking the effort we would have to put into it, and the first guy who came to mind was Luke."

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Jack Ramsay, the legendary coach who led the '77 Blazers to the NBA championship, called Lucas "the strength of the team" and "the heart of that team." He also told Quick about saying goodbye to Lucas a couple of weeks ago:

"I was so happy that I saw him," Ramsay said. "He sensed then that he wasn't going to make it, you know. So we had a long chat. It was very nice. I really feel blessed that I had that time with him. I'm doing games (on the radio) for ESPN, and we have a game in Portland on Dec. 9. As I was leaving, I told him I was planning on seeing him then.

"He said, 'OK. Let's do that,"' Ramsay recalled on Sunday. "But that's not gonna happen."

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"No disease, no parting, can take away the gift that watching Maurice Lucas gave ... a gift shared with me and I'm sure with Blazer fans across the globe," wrote Dave at Blazersedge. "Cancer can't touch that. The passing of time can't take it away, or at least can't take away the fruits that have grown from it."

Dave also shares a story of meeting Lucas and teammate Bill Walton at an autograph signing session as a kid:

... [W]hen I got to the front of the line and actually saw them, pen and paper clutched in my little hands, I was unable to move. I wasn't scared, although even when they were seated I could tell these guys were huge. I just didn't dare to approach. I might as well have been treading on holy ground, defined by the shadow cast by these two men. They looked at me. I stared at them, frozen, wishing that the moment would last forever.

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They didn't speak to each other. They just shared their laugh and a mutual understanding and then invited me into it. They both reached out their hands and said, "Come here, guy. It's OK." With a slight shove from my sister I walked up to them. I think it was Walton who tousled my hair and Lucas smiled the biggest smile and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Well, duh! I wanted to be a Blazer, like them! They smiled and said they thought I could make it and then they sent me on my way. I glowed all of the way home and for days after.

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"Lucas was a rugged defender and an outstanding rebounder, capable of a sturdy pick and a timely basket on offense," wrote Richard Goldstein in the New York Times. "Possessing a glare that presumably intimidated many an opposing player, he became the prototype power forward when he emerged as a star for the Trail Blazers in the late 1970s."

Goldstein's obit also includes a telling archival quote about Lucas' toughness from Mike Dunleavy Sr., who played on the Philadelphia 76ers squad that played Lucas' Blazers for the 1977 NBA championship, which featured a memorable Game 2 square-off between Lucas and Darryl Dawkins:

Mike Dunleavy Sr., [former] coach of the Los Angeles Clippers and a member of that 76ers team, referred to Lucas as Bogie when both were playing. As Dunleavy told The Los Angeles Times in 1985, "Maurice treats all of us like Bogart treated his women — with the back of his hand."

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In a touching piece, Oregonian sports columnist John Canzano called Lucas' death "the worst news I've ever had to write about."

It's Lucas, not Bill Walton, Clyde Drexler or Roy, who ends up as the guts of the Blazers organization. Those guys are sensational, big-time players. But the contributions of Lucas can't really be quantified any more effectively than you can catch a man's spirit in a pillow case.

That handshake, I will never forget.

He's gone now.

I hate writing those words.

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