Today’s Throwback Thursday focuses on the great Bob Lanier.
The 6-foot-11 center knew he was doing something right when his name was mentioned with the other great centers of the 1970s like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Walton and Willis Reed. But as great of a basketball player that Bob Lanier was, he’s an even better person.
Lanier came from a very humble background. As a young adult, he didn’t even know if he’d be playing basketball past recreationally on the playground. He was cut from his middle school team for his feet being too big — yes, as absurd as that sounds, that was a real reason — and cut from his high school team for lack of skill.
Lanier didn’t let that stop his drive and instead used that as motivation. He joined a Boys Club, worked his butt off, made varsity and led his high school to a state championship.
Having improved leaps and bounds since his freshman year, Lanier was seriously recruited for his basketball ability. He wanted to play for Canisius College in Buffalo, New York (his hometown), but got rejected due to his poor grades. He instead chose to play for St. Bonaventure, determined not to make the same mistake twice, and he graduated St. Bonaventure with a degree in business administration.
How did Lanier do on the hardwood in college? He ended his career averaging 27.1 points and 15.7 rebounds while shattering numerous school records. Unfortunately, he injured his knee his senior year, taking away what seemed like a sure spot in the national championship game.
Injury or no injury, talent like Lanier didn’t come around every year. While he was still recovering, the Detroit Pistons drafted him with the first overall pick in the 1970 NBA Draft. Unfortunately, he later struggled with knee injuries, and they eventually ended his career.
While injury prone, no one could accuse Lanier for milking his injuries. It was the opposite in fact; Lanier’s mindset was to play through injuries and tough it out. While it made him more liable to get injured, it was an admirable show of loyalty to the organization and to the game.
After an impressive rookie season where Lanier averaged 15.6 points and 8.1 rebounds – good enough to make the All-Rookie Team – he got especially comfortable in his second year in the league, averaging 25.7 points and 14.2 rebounds en route to his first All-Star selection.
While Lanier was dominating the paint for the Pistons (averaging 20/10 seasons seven years straight), he couldn’t find himself out of the early rounds of the playoffs. While he put up impressive stats, Lanier simply didn’t have enough talent around him to make a true playoff run. Add in the fact that the organization was constantly going through a new coach (eight different coaches in his 10-year tenure with Detroit), and it was easy to see why the Pistons could never make a deep playoff push.
Four years removed from his first knee injury, Lanier began to suffer from chronic knee issues. Unable to stay on the court like he used to, he still managed to be productive on the sidelines. He funded multiple charities, the most notable being a fund for muscular dystrophy research.
As easy as it would’ve been to scapegoat Lanier for the troubles in Detroit, he only ever said and did the right things on and off the court. Playing hard every night, playing through injuries (admirable, but in the end detrimental), saying the right things to the media, giving back to the community; Lanier was more than just a basketball player to the Detroit fan base, he was a role model.
After nine-plus years of devotion to the franchise and after experiencing the worst record since his second year in the league, Lanier requested a trade so that he could fulfill his life dream of winning an NBA championship.
Lanier joined Don Nelson’s Milwaukee Bucks, a team that won division titles every year that Lanier played with them. Unfortunately, the closest Lanier got to a shot at the NBA championship was the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics in consecutive years.
The years of physical play finally took too much of a toll on Lanier’s knees, forcing him to retire after 14 NBA seasons. He finished his career with averages of 20.1 points and 10.1 rebounds, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992. And again, not only was he a phenomenal basketball player, but he was a great person as well. Enjoy this video of the Detroit Pistons legend: