PORTLAND, Ore. (AP)—Former Schenley great and Hill District native Maurice Lucas, the fierce power forward known as “The Enforcer” who helped lead the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA title, has died after a long fight with bladder cancer. He was 58.
Lucas, who in later years was an assistant coach with the Blazers, died Sunday at his home in Portland, the team said.
|BATTLE OF THE BIG MEN—This May 29, 1977 file photo shows Maurice Lucas of the Trail Blazers hauling down a rebound as Philadelphia’s Darryl Dawkins battles for position during their NBA championship game in Portland. (AP Photo/JV, File)
The 1971 Schenley team with Lucas, Rickey Coleman, and Jeep Kelly is widely regarded as one of the best high school teams to play in Pennsylvania basketball history. That team, representing District 8 and the City League, defeated Norristown for the AAA Championship 77-60.
Lucas joined Portland in the 1976 ABA dispersal draft and averaged a team-high 20.2 points and grabbbed 11.2 rebounds per game in the 1976-77 championship season. His No. 20 was retired by the Blazers in 1988.
At public appearances, fans often greeted Lucas with cries of “Luuuuuuke!” His competitive demeanor on the court was in contrast to his gentle nature off it.
“We have lost a champion of a man,” Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan said in a statement. “Maurice was a great man and a great friend. He battled his illness like the warrior he was on the basketball court.”
Lucas served as an assistant coach with the Blazers for six seasons, but last year he left the team to undergo surgery before suffering a setback last November. He did not return to coaching this season.
The former Marquette player averaged 14.4 points and 8.8 rebounds in 12 NBA seasons with Portland, New Jersey, New York, Phoenix, the Los Angeles Lakers and Seattle. In two seasons in the ABA with St. Louis and Kentucky, he averaged 15.2 points and 10.8 rebounds.
He was a five-time All-Star.
Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen also praised Lucas in a statement released late Sunday night.
“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.”
Prior to last season, an interview with Lucas was posted on the Trail Blazers’ official website, covering topics including his health, his work with center Greg Oden and the team’s 40th anniversary.
“The one thing that I’m finding is an issue for me is learning patience, being patient with myself. I’m trying to understand what this process is all about. It takes a little longer amount of time than I’d like it to take in order to recover,” Lucas said. “But it is what it is and I’m not in charge of it. I’ve just got to play my role, be patient, feed myself well, take the right meds and see if I can get back on track.”
Lucas led Marquette to the 1974 NCAA title game against North Carolina State and was selected to the All-Final Four team along with future Portland teammate Bill Walton. The 6-foot-9 former Pittsburgh high school star averaged 15.8 points and 10.6 rebounds as a junior that season.
Marquette also retired his No. 20 and inducted him into its Hall of Fame, and Walton named his son Luke, who currently plays for the Lakers, after him.
“I hadn’t seen him as much lately, but he and my dad still talked all the time,” Luke Walton said. “From what I heard, he had been in some pain for a while. It’s tough. He’s a great guy.”
The Trail Blazers were in the midst of a four-game trip, with a game against the Chicago Bulls on Monday night. The Bulls held a moment of silence for the former Blazers’ star.
“We were so fortunate to have his influence on the young men on this team. He was my mentor, my big brother, and I always knew he had my back. He has left us far too soon,” McMillan said.
Lucas is survived by wife Pamela, sons David and Maurice II and daughter Kristin. Funeral arrangements were yet to be determined but the family is planning a memorial service in Pittsburgh.