Obituary: Maurice Lucas / Schenley grad regarded as 'best player to ever come out of Pittsburgh'
Maurice Lucas was known as "The Enforcer" during his 14-year professional basketball career because of his intimidating court presence. But his off-court demeanor was the polar opposite of the persona he cultivated on the court.
Mr. Lucas, a Schenley High School graduate regarded as one of the best basketball players ever to come out of Western Pennsylvania, died Sunday of bladder cancer in Portland, Ore. He was 58.
"Pittsburgh lost a monument," said Sonny Vaccaro, the founder of the Dapper Dan Roundball Classic. "When you take high school, college and the pros into consideration, he was the best player to ever come out of Pittsburgh."
Mr. Lucas won a PIAA championship in 1971 at Schenley High School and won an NBA championship with the Portland Trail Blazers in 1977. Mr. Lucas almost pulled off a rare trifecta of championships. He played for the NCAA championship at Marquette in 1974, but the Golden Eagles lost to North Carolina State in the NCAA title game.
The 1971 Schenley team is regarded as one of the best high school teams in the history of Western Pennsylvania. It also featured Ricky Coleman, Robert "Jeep" Kelley, Tom Thornton and Jeffrey Matthews.
"In all my years, I have never met someone who was so strong," said Mr. Vaccaro. "He was a proud son a gun who knew one day he would get out of the Hill. Of all of those kids on that team, I would have bet that Maurice would be the one to get out and be the most successful. His mindset was different. He wasn't a typical city kid. He did things differently than other kids did back then. The Hill was tough, and it was tough to get out of there. But Maurice, you sort of knew he would get out.
"He was known as The Enforcer, but off the court he wasn't. He measured people. He had goals. Of all of the kids I have ever been around, I knew he would be one of the ones to get through all of the bull. He was one of the toughest, greatest and nicest kids I have ever met in my life. It's a tragic death. He died too young, but at least he was able to get out and make it to the top.
"All these athletes today say they don't want to be role models. Well, Maurice was a role model by his actions. Look at what he accomplished. And he did it without ever having any negatives in his life."
Mr. Lucas was a late bloomer in basketball. He grew 7 inches between his sophomore and junior seasons at Schenley and did not become a star player until his senior season. As a youngster growing up in the Hill District, Mr. Lucas was a competitive swimmer and might have pursued that sport had it not been for his older brother, Wali.
"He was a fantastic swimmer," said his cousin, Orin Jackson. "That's what he was leaning toward doing. But his brother got him involved in basketball, and that put his swimming career on hold."
Mr. Jackson recalled Mr. Lucas participating in the ABC television show "Superstars," which pitted athletes from different sports against one another in different athletic competitions. Mr. Lucas dusted the field in a swimming competition, Mr. Jackson recalled.
By the time he was a senior at Schenley, Mr. Lucas was highly regarded recruit.
Pitt coach Buzz Ridl recruited him, but Mr. Lucas decided to leave the city to attend Marquette, a Catholic school in Milwaukee.
At Marquette, Mr. Lucas earned All-America status. He averaged 15.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game during his two seasons there before leaving after his junior season to pursue a professional career.
Mr. Lucas was selected in the first round of the American Basketball Association and the National Basketball Association drafts in 1974. He was selected by the Chicago Bulls of the NBA and St. Louis Spirits of the ABA, and opted to play in St. Louis.
When the ABA disbanded in 1976, Mr. Lucas was selected by Portland in the ABA dispersal draft. In 1977, Mr. Lucas led the Trail Blazers in scoring and offensive rebounds and teamed with Bill Walton to win the franchise's first NBA title.
Mr. Lucas made such a strong impression on Mr. Walton that Mr. Walton named one of his sons after him; Luke Walton currently plays for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Even though he was known as an NBA tough guy, Mr. Lucas was an accomplished scorer. He finished his professional career with 14,857 points and was a four-time NBA all-star.
Mr. Lucas' No. 20 is retired by the Trail Blazers and Marquette.
Mr. Lucas had been an assistant coach with the Trail Blazers for six seasons before leaving the team last season to receive cancer treatment.
"At one point the cancer was sort of in remission, but it came back and it was more devastating than it was before," Mr. Jackson said. "I spoke to him two weeks ago. He was a fighter. His days were up and down with the type of treatment was he receiving."
Mr. Lucas is survived by his wife, Pamela; two sons, Maurice II and David; a daughter, Kristin; a brother, Wali of Portland; and a sister, Martia Lucas of Philadelphia.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete Monday, but the family was planning a memorial service in Pittsburgh.
First Published November 2, 2010 12:00 am