Bob Lanier, the huge left-handed man alongside the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as one of the NBA’s best players of the ’70s, passed away on Tuesday. He was 73 years old.
The National Basketball Association said Lanier died after a short illness. The Hall of Famer who was briefly interim coach for the Warriors in 1995 has recently served in the league as a global ambassador. The Athletic reported in 2019 that Lanier was being treated for bladder cancer.
Lanier played 14 seasons with the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks and averaged 20.1 points and 10.1 rebounds during his career. He ranks third on the Pistons career roster in both points and balls. She drafted Detroit Lanier with the #1 overall pick in 1970 after driving St. Bonaventure to Final Four.
Lanier was assistant coach of the Warriors under Don Nelson in 1994, then took up temporary coaching in 1995 after Nelson’s resignation. Lanier went 12-25, and the Warriors hired Rick Adelman as their new coach after the season.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Lanier was among the most talented positions in league history, and added that his accomplishments far exceeded what he did on the field.
“For more than 30 years, Bob has served as a global ambassador and special assistant to David Stern and then Lee, traveling the world teaching the values of the game and making a positive impact on young people everywhere,” Silver said in a statement. “It was a labor of love for Bob, who was one of the kindest and most authentic people I have ever had.”
Lanier went into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. But his boat-size shoes were right there in front of him, with his bronze sneakers on display at the shrine.
He was known to wear a size 22 shoe, although that was disputed in 1989 by a Converse representative, who told the Atlanta Constitution that Lanier was wearing a size 18 1/2.
“The size 22 he was famous for wearing was a Korean size,” said shoe representative Gary Stocken.
The quite obvious fact was that his feet were huge and were unobtrusive.
“A lot of people can put both feet in one of my shoes,” Lanier told HOOP.
Born on September 10, 1948, in Buffalo, New York, Lanier starred in college at St. Bonaventure, averaging 27.6 points and 15.7 rebounds in three seasons. Bonnie reached the fourth final in 1970, but Lanier injured his knee in the regional final, and Saint Bonaventure lost in the national semifinals to Jacksonville.
Lanier overcame a string of orthopedic injuries, dealing with shoulder, back, elbow, hand and toe issues throughout his career. But this did not prevent him from taking his place among the best NBA positions of his time. After being named to the junior team in 1971, he averaged at least 21 points and 11 rebounds for each of the following seven seasons. Lanier was an eight-time All-Star and MVP in the 1974 All-Star Game.
He remains the Pistons franchise leader at 22.7 points per game, and is beloved in Detroit for his ferocity and kindness.
“As fierce and dominant on the court, as much as Bob was kind and socially influential,” Pistons said. “As an ambassador for both the Pistons and the NBA, he has represented our league, our franchise, and our fans with great passion and integrity. We offer our heartfelt condolences to Bob’s family and friends.”
Lanier can defeat opponents from inside and outside while ruling councils. Although Abdul-Jabbar had a more famous hook shot, Lanier’s hook was a great weapon.
“The guys didn’t change teams that much, so when you were up against the Bulls or the Bucks or the New Yorkers, you had all these competitions,” Lanier told NBA.com in 2018. “Lanner vs. Mighty! Mighty vs. Willis Reed! Then (Wilt) Chamberlain, Artis Gilmore, Bill Walton! You had all these big guys and the match was played from the inside out.”
As exceptional as Lanier was, the Pistons only won one playoff series with him. He played 64 games or fewer in each of his last four seasons with Detroit. In February 1980, it was traded in Milwaukee.
Lanier averaged fewer minutes with the Bucks, but was part of the Milwaukee teams that reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 1983 and 1984, the last two seasons of his career.
He also served as president of the players’ union during the later years of his career, with Silver saying he played a “key role in negotiating a game-changing collective bargaining agreement”.
Lanier was Detroit’s career leader in points and rebounds before was surpassed by Isaiah Thomas and Bill Laimbere in those categories, and Dennis Rodman topped his one-game franchise record of 33 rebounds.
Lanier won the J. Walter Kennedy NBA Citizenship Award for the 1977-78 season for Outstanding Community Service. Following his playing career, he helped start the stay in school campaign in the NBA and was involved in other outreach activities for the league.
“There’s a great need here,” Lanier said. “When you travel to different cities and different countries, you see that there are so many people in such dire straits that the NBA can’t do much. We make a big, vast difference, but there is always so much to do.”