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Maurice Lucas dies at 58; menacing power forward in the NBA

An icon in Portland, where he helped the Trail Blazers win the NBA title in 1977, the 6-foot-9, 250-pounder loved his nickname, 'the Enforcer,' and the role that went with it.

November 02, 2010|By Mark Heisler, Los Angeles Times

Maurice Lucas, the menacing NBA power forward who was dreaded on the floor and beloved off it, died Sunday of bladder cancer in Portland, Ore. He was 58.

An icon in Portland, Lucas was a four-time NBA All-Star, playing 12 seasons with six teams, including one with the Lakers in 1985-86.

Arriving in Portland from the American Basketball Assn., Lucas formed a menacing tandem with Bill Walton as the Trail Blazers caught lightning in a bottle, winning the 1977 NBA title in their first season together.

Walton named his son, Luke, a current Lakers player, for Lucas, who at 6 feet 9 and 250 pounds loved his nickname, "the Enforcer," and the role that went with it.

In those rougher days, when basketball players fought more frequently on the court, Lucas was renowned for laying out 7-foot-2, 275-pound center Artis Gilmore in the ABA.

Lucas' most famous fight was barely that, as he squared off with the Philadelphia 76ers' 6-foot-11, 275-pound center Darryl Dawkins in the 1977 NBA Finals, although it is remembered in Portland as the series' turning point.

With the 76ers about to go up two games to none in Philadelphia, Dawkins wrestled Portland's 6-foot-5 Bob Gross to the floor in a rebound scuffle, then threw a punch at him.

Roaring up from behind, Lucas elbowed Dawkins in the neck. As both assumed boxing poses, the other players grabbed them.

Ejected, an enraged Dawkins, who had already punched teammate Doug Collins, knocked down the partitions in the bathroom off the 76ers' dressing room.

ABC's Dick Schaap did a remote report from the bathroom, with the wreckage behind him.

Ejected as well, Lucas ran over to Dawkins in introductions before Game 3 in Portland and extended his hand, which a flummoxed Dawkins took.

Whether that had anything to do with it, the Trail Blazers won the next four games and the championship.

"He was a genius at mind games," said Mychal Thompson, a Lakers color commentator who played alongside Lucas in Portland. "He would hit an opponent in the chest with an elbow, just to see how he'd respond....

"He was a very tough guy, but off the court he was a gentleman who'd do anything for you."

If Lucas enjoyed solidarity with his peers, management was something else.

Writer David Halberstam followed the Trail Blazers in more troubled times three years later, with Walton already gone — bitter at the medical treatment he received — and Lucas on his way out.

"If Luke was a presence during a game," Halberstam wrote in "The Breaks of the Game," "he was also a presence among his teammates — sometimes, as in the championship season, an immensely positive presence but sometimes, [GM] Stu Inman believed, more dubious.

"There was, Inman felt, too much dissent, too much ego and too great a test for challenge in Lucas."

Midway through the 1979-80 season, Lucas was traded to New Jersey for Calvin Natt.

A three-time All-Star in Portland, Lucas made his last All-Star appearance as a Phoenix Sun in 1983.

Lucas was born Feb. 18, 1952, in Pittsburgh and played two seasons at Marquette University, reaching the NCAA championship game against North Carolina State in 1974. He played for St. Louis and Kentucky in the ABA, then joined Portland in 1976 after the upstart league disbanded.

For his final season in 1987, at 35, he returned to Portland, which was under new management.

Lucas rejoined the organization as an assistant coach under Nate McMillan in 2005 but wasn't around in recent seasons after becoming ill.

His survivors include his wife, Pamela; his sons, David and Maurice; and a daughter, Kristin.

"He was a great man, and I mean that," McMillan said Sunday. "He was a man."

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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