PORTLAND - The Portland Trail Blazers paid tribute Thursday night to Maurice Lucas, remembered as much for the warrior he was off the court as he was on it.
Lucas, a fierce power forward who helped lead the Blazers to the 1977 NBA title, died Sunday after a long fight with bladder cancer. He was 58.
The Blazers were on the road when they heard the news about Lucas, who was an assistant coach with the team until cancer forced him to step away last season.
Back at the Rose Garden for a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team held a solemn moment of silence. Afterward, the crowd shouted “Luuuuuuke!” just as it did in his playing days.
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A touching video tribute of the player known as “The Enforcer” prompted a long standing ovation from fans when it was shown with 6:40 left in the first quarter.
The Rose Garden was festooned Thursday night with giant lighted letters that spelled “Enforcer” and Lucas’ No. 20 jersey, which the team retired in 1988, was lit in the rafters by a spotlight. Members of the Lucas family attended the game.
“Great person. Great father. Great friend,” Blazers veteran center Joel Przybilla said simply.
Portland will wear No. 20 on its uniforms this season in Lucas’ memory.
Lucas joined Portland in the 1976 ABA dispersal draft and averaged a team-high 20.2 points and grabbed 11.2 rebounds per game in the 1976-77 championship 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.
Marquette also retired his No. 20 and inducted him into its Hall of Fame. Former Portland teammate Bill Walton named his son Luke, who currently plays for the Lakers, after him.
Lucas was a five-time All-Star.
“We have lost a champion of a man,” Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “Maurice was a great man and a great friend. He battled his illness like the warrior he was on the basketball court.”
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McClatchy news services