The Greatest Trailblazer Ever Maurice Lucas, 1952-2010
Death Don’t Have No Mercy In This Land
BY BILL WALTON
What do we do now ???
What can you say ???
Now that he’s gone and you realize that nothing’s going to bring him back.
Where do we go from here ???
Maurice Lucas was a proud, fierce and independent man. He lived in a world that did not encourage or value his greatest traits and strengths.
The nicest thing that can ever be said of someone is that they make other people better. No one ever made me better than Big Luke.
He was simply better than perfect on all fronts.
Big Luke was a towering, statuesque pillar of supreme principle where loyalty, commitment and leadership were a way of life---not just words of convenience.
Loyalty—the human attribute that enables people to achieve extraordinary things because we care. Maurice cared—about everything. He cared about right and wrong. He cared about truth and justice. He cared about his family, friends and teammates. And he was always willing to do something about it.
Commitment—the willingness and persistence to stick to what matters most. Maurice was ever so determined to make things come out right; he would do, and ultimately did, anything to ensure our success---at every turn.
Leadership---the ability to do what others can’t, or won’t do, themselves--- by pulling the team together, by defining the terms of the conflict, by leading the relentless offensive attack and by hitting first.
Maurice and I became teammates more than 36 years ago---the summer of 1976. It was in Portland, Oregon, for an NBA expansion franchise that had never done anything.
In our first meeting he told me we were going to win the NBA Championship—that season. He was right. He was always right.
In our very first game together, an NBA exhibition game in Portland against the Lakers of Kareem, Lucius Allen, Don Chaney, Kermit Washington and Coach Jerry West, with the game and everything else on the line--- the ball, our dreams and chances were rolling towards the out of bounds corner on the way to the Blazer locker room. With the clock ticking down, Maurice fought his way through countlessplayers—from both sides. After shaking everybody off and now with ball in hand and in complete control but with scant time to close the deal, Maurice drove the ball straight to the rim along the right baseline. The mighty Kareem came over to deny Maurice. They both rose higher than humanly possible and Kareem had all visible angles covered perfectly. But somehow, someway Maurice was able to contort his body around Kareem, glide under the basket and surface on the far side while still ascending. Big Luke threw down the most incredible reverse slam dunk right in Kareem’s face for the game winner at the buzzer. Maurice flung both arms and clenched fists in the air in the classic Muhammad Ali victory pose. And things were never the same again.
That night a tradition started in Portland. Whenever Big Luke was alternating between dominating and decimating, the always ready Blazermaniacs would roar LUUUUUUUUUUUUUKE as Maurice would destroy yet another hapless and helpless foe.
As healthy basketball teammates we never lost again.
The Portland Trail Blazers became the youngest team to ever win the NBA Championship—a mark that stands to this very day.
Big Luke was so important in my life that I named our next born son after him.
On the day when Little Luke was born, Maurice brought over to the house an autographed action shot of himself in full rage and glory. In the photo Big Luke was going for and after it all—like no one else ever could.
Maurice signed the picture to our son that day. It said, “To Little Luke, to make it in this world you’ve got to be tough, Big Luke”.
That special piece of art, inspiration and instruction hung over Little Luke’s bed his entire life until he left for college.
When Little Luke went on to chase his own dreams at the University of Arizona, we would go to his games as supportive parents. Our first time there in Tucson, Little Luke starts rolling and the Wildcat fans start their own LUUUUUUUUUUUUUKE chant.
Stunned and with more than the tears of a proud dad streaming down my cheeks, I immediately called Big Luke on my phone and said, “You’ve got to hear this”, as I held the phone up to the roar of the crowd.
Maurice was always there for all of us. He had our back, no matter what. When things got rough, as they invariably do in life, Maurice would always push his way to the front of the fray, muttering under his breath as he elbowed us to safety, “I’ll take care of this”.
Big Luke’s second son, David, a terrific young player on his own played at Oregon State. Whenthose Beavers made their way down to the southern sands of the Sonoran Desert to play Little Luke, Big Luke was there—he always was. Just to make sure that things turned out right.
There never has been anyone like Big Luke, with the rarest combination of intelligence,compassion, skill, touch, power, tenacity, toughness and the remarkable willingness to “take care of this”.
Maurice was as unique and indomitable a spirit, soul, force and talent as I have ever known. Hot as a pistol but cool inside.
It was a staggeringly endless list of people that he knew, places that he’d been, and things that he had done.
When the Blazers celebrated the 20th Anniversary of The NBA Championship---The Championship that Maurice had predicted and delivered---we were all there, now old and in the way, congregated at a current Blazer game having a great laugh of days gone by.
They needed some halftime entertainment to keep the restless Blazermaniacs occupied. They had a half court shot attempt promotion for a big prize that has become somewhat commonplace in the NBA these days. We’re all mulling around and in that special moment before the moment of truth, Maurice steps forward and mutters one more time, “I’ll take care of this”.
Dressed immaculately in a sharp-as-can-be suit and tie, and matched with the hardest and most uncomfortable looking shoes imaginable, Maurice walks out to center court to the roar of the crowd.
The guy hadn’t been able to play ball in years. He took the ball and swished the shot from mid-court. As if there was ever any doubt.
Big Luke finally met a scenario he could not take care of. He is only the latest to prove that these games of life are about a lot more than just hard work anddetermination.
He’s gone now--- leaving an un-fill-able void.
Maurice always breathed life into everything and everybody. He was life. He was light.
And in one final yet simple twist of fate and surreal harmonic convergence all the way to the last station on the line, Maurice passed away on the day that our oldest and youngest children both celebrate their birthdays, Halloween. The call came in from Little Luke—from the Laker locker room. At exactly the moment of Big Luke’s passing, our angelic daughter-in-law went into labor. Precisely 12 hours later, only a half a day gone by, we have our first grandchild. If I had myway, she would be named Luke. Five days later, we were there to help bury Big Luke-- on my own birthday.
And now he’s gone, and nothing’s going to bring him back.
And that’s the problem with being the best; with being the greatest trailblazer ever.
Because when you’re that guy, like Maurice Lucas always was, there’s never anyone else who can step to the front and say, “I’ll take care of this”.