The loss of Maurice Lucas made several large men get weepy on Monday.
But their recollections of the former Portland Trail Blazers power forward also made them smile at the public memorial service for Lucas on Nov. 8 at the Memorial Coliseum. They recalled Lucas, who died Oct. 31 at age 58 after a battle with cancer, as a tough guy on the floor but one who was a well-rounded, fun-loving and generous friend off the court.
“Gone too soon,” said a visibly upset Nate McMillan, who both played with Lucas in Seattle and had him as an assistant coach in Portland.
Atypical of most memorials, many of the several hundred mourners wore Blazers caps and jerseys. But befitting the fact that 33 years have passed since Lucas averaged 20.4 points and 11.4 rebounds per game for Portland’s only NBA championship team, many of the mourners were older, walking gingerly up and down the stairs of the team’s former home.
Speakers shared the stage with the banner of Lucas’ retired No. 20 that normally hangs from the Rose Garden. A large screen showed photos and footage of Lucas with family and friends, playing at Marquette University, and then pro ball as the mustachioed, mutton-chopped enforcer in the now-defunct American Basketball Association with the Spirits of St. Louis.
And, of course, there were photos of Lucas with Portland in the NBA: shooting his trademark jumper over Los Angeles Laker Don Ford and celebrating the title with teammate Bill Walton—such a good friend that Walton named a son Luke after Lucas.
Lucas averaged 14.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in a career that began in 1974 in the ABA and ended with Portland in the 1987-88 season. But it was on the Blazers championship team that Lucas is most remembered. “He was the heart of that team,” said Jack Ramsay, who coached the title team.
Ramsay recalled meeting Lucas after the Blazers acquired him in the ABA dispersal draft. Ramsay liked the idea the Blazers were adding a tough guy, since he thought the team was soft. He told Lucas it was OK to get in fights, because the Blazers would pay any fines the league might assess.
“As I described that,” Ramsay said, “his smile got broader and there was a twinkle in his eyes. He said, ‘I think I can do that.’”
But Ramsay talked about more than Lucas’ toughness—he recalled Lucas’ confidence in asking for the ball in the low post and his skills as a rebounder who’d throw half-court outlet passes with the style and accuracy of a baseball pitcher.
A shaken McMillan had a tough time getting through his recollections of Lucas, one of which was from McMillan’s rookie year as a player in Seattle. McMillan recalled when a 7-foot teammate tried to bully McMillan into fetching him a soda.
“Luke said, ‘Don’t mess with my rook,’” McMillan recalled. “He was that type of guy. He bullied the bullies.”