Sorry to be the bearer of sad news in the glow of the Bucks’ thrilling come-from-behind win in Boston last night, but we would be remiss here at Brew Hoop if we did not acknowledge the too-early death of franchise legend Bob Lanier and pay our respects. News of his death broke late Tuesday evening after Lanier succumbed to a brief illness, per the NBA:
The following was released by the NBA. pic.twitter.com/Y3VXJJzcrD— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) May 11, 2022
Drafted first overall in the 1970 NBA draft by Detroit after a huge collegiate career at St. Bonaventure—where he averaged 27.6 PPG over four years, including 30 as a freshman plus a cinderella Final Four run as a senior—Lanier played nearly ten full seasons as a Piston. There he made 7 of his 8 All-Star appearances before a mid-season trade to Milwaukee in 1980. Detroit only made the playoffs in four of those seasons and never made a conference finals, then fell out of contention completely once Lanier lost his fellow Hall of Fame running mate Dave Bing, Still, Lanier averaged at least 21.3 PPG and 11.3 RPG every year after his rookie campaign, cementing himself as one of the NBA’s premier big men of the 1970s.
At age 31, Milwaukee acquired him for former first overall pick Kent Benson and a future first-round pick in a splashy move that heralded the Bucks’ return among the NBA’s top teams during the 1979–80 season. After a 10-1 start, that year’s team struggled into the new decade going 19-26 from then on, good for a disappointing 29-27 record at the All-Star break. That’s when the trade went down, and from there the Bucks finished the season on a 20-6 tear, clinching a first-round playoff bye and nearly defeating the defending champion Sonics in seven games in the West (this was their last year before moving to the Eastern Conference) Semis.
While The Dobber didn’t approach his Detroit statistical production with fewer minutes and aging knees, he did make one All-Star game as a Buck in 1982. Moreover, he teamed with other franchise legends Marques Johnson and Sidney Moncrief on those famed Don Nelson squads that won the Midwest Division (back then, those titles meant a bit more with only two per conference) for five consecutive years. Lanier was jazzed, welcoming the trade and noting “I got to Milwaukee... and the people gave me a standing ovation and really made me feel welcome. It was the start of a positive change. I just wish I had played with that kind of talent around me when I was young. But if I had had Marques [Johnson] and Sidney [Moncrief] and all of them around me? Damn.” Speaking of those two...
2 great friends and teammates. RIP BOBBER DOBBER… pic.twitter.com/MJJiTuaXrw— Elder Marques Johnson (@olskool888) May 11, 2022
Into his mid-30s, Lanier’s knee woes kept sidelining him (in fact, he continued having knee surgeries until 2017) and he played just 39 games in 1982–83. After one more relatively healthy year of 72 games in 1983–84, Lanier hung it up at age 36 after four-plus seasons in Milwaukee. He retired with averages of 20.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, and 1.5 BPG. Those numbers plus his long stretch of stardom were more than enough to get him into Springfield, and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inducted him in 1992. In 2006, the College Basketball Hall of Fame followed suit. Both his franchises retired his number 16 in 1984 (Milwaukee) and 1993 (Detroit). The court at his alma mater is named in his honor, where his number also hangs in the rafters.
As NBA Commissioner Adam Silver notes in his statement, Lanier’s contributions to the game only deepened after retiring. He briefly joined his former coach’s staff in Golden State as an assistant in 1994–95, even becoming the interim coach after Nellie resigned. That’s not even the start of what he did post-playing career, though. As the NBA Cares Global Ambassador, Lanier worked with youth programs that support education, youth development, and health causes. This was a continuation of his efforts as a player: he received the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 1978 and the YMCA’s Jackie Robinson Award, both for outstanding community service. He received further recognition from the National Civil Rights Museum (Sports Legacy Award), the Naismith Hall (Mannie Jackson Basketball’s Human Spirit Award), and as a recipient of the Congressional Horizon & Leadership Award, presented by the United States Congress. Lanier also chaired the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund and held two honorary doctorates, one from St. Bonaventure. Talk about a set of honors, my goodness!
Though I am too young to remember Lanier as a player by a few years, I’ll always remember the first time I heard about him from my dad, who likes to tell a story about the time he saw him in a Chicago at a rib joint. This would have been in the mid-80s just after his retirement. My dad and his younger brother had each just finished a half-rack when the waitress said “that guy had two full racks!” They turned to look and it was The Dobber himself! Listed at 6’11” and 250 pounds, the big man was naturally hard to miss, so my dad likes to add that “he was uuuge!”
We here at Brew Hoop extend our condolences to Lanier’s family, friends, and the thousands of people around the game he impacted. It’s clear that Mr. Lanier made both the NBA and basketball better through his presence, yet that influence extended well beyond the game. R.I.P. Dobber.