Bob Lanier: Milwaukee Bound, 1980

[I’m back from a two-week vacation. While on the road, my blog partner Ray Lebov gave me with some truly unique content that we’ll be rolling out in the coming weeks and months. Be sure to check in early and often. You won’t find this classic print material anywhere else.

While on vacation, like millions of NBA fans, I was saddened by Bob Lanier’s passing. Though I never had the pleasure to speak with Lanier, I wrote about him in the final chapters of my latest book Shake and Bake: The Life and Times of NBA Great Archie Clark. These chapters describe the 1975-76 Detroit Pistons, their dysfunctional front-office, and a still-mysterious midseason coaching switch. More important, these chapters describe how the players rose up and willed their losing team into the NBA playoffs. And it was “Bob-a-Dob, as Lanier was called, who did most of the willing in the Pistons locker room and certainly on the floor. 

This blurb from the book describes how Lanier’s will was truly mind over body. In a late-season game with New Orleans, an inadvertent elbow to the back of Lanier’s neck sent him sprawling to the floor with no sensation on the left side of his body for several minutes:

“Some in the past had questioned Lanier’s dedication to the game, often off the record. Not this season. Lanier had struggled through tendinitis in both knees, a broken bone in his shoulder, a badly inflamed elbow, and now a spine injury. There was no quitting in him. In fact, if not for the team doctor, Lanier would’ve likely returned to the game in the second half, stiff as a board but as always affective.”

Lanier tried to will the Pistons to the playoffs for three more seasons. Then, everything changed with a perfunctory radio interview (Lanier claims it was a newspaper interview) turned truth-telling session. Jerry Green of the Detroit News explained:

A week after Jack McCloskey became general manager [of the Pistons], he was hit with his first controversy. Bob Lanier demanded to be traded. Detroit might have been his team, but he was fed up with waiting for it to become competitive, again.

Bob spilled his gripes to a Philadelphia radio station after the Pistons has been whipped by the 76ers and Dr. J. in the Silverdome. “Ten years is too long to wait,” Lanier said into the mike. “I’m too old to wait.”

Bob was 31, with creaky knees and a huge anger whetted by a sense of déjà vu. That night, the Silverdome audience—just 9,000—had booed the 9-24 hometown team. Lanier said he was mentally distressed by the Pistons’ perpetual state of inertia. “It’ll be two or three years before these kids come around,” Lanier said. “I’m down a lot. I have no oomph at all.”

The next day, McCloskey said, sure, he’d trade Lanier—if the Pistons could get something of value in exchange. 

Midway through the 1979-80 campaign, McCloskey traded Lanier to the Milwaukee Bucks, where Bob-a-Dob would remain for four-and-a-half seasons until his retirement in 1984. He limped away from his Hall-of-Fame career on his notoriously cranky knees at just age 35. In the clips that follow, you can track Lanier’s transition to better times in Milwaukee and the inevitable slew of injuries and tough luck that dogged him in the playoffs. Let’s start with this brief story about the Milwaukee trade from the June 1980 issue of Basketball Digest. It’s written by Dale Hoffman with the Milwaukee Sentinel.

Lanier defending Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

The Milwaukee Bucks sent mixed signals when they introduced their new center at an afternoon press conference. Coach Don Nelson said Bob Lanier made the Bucks a legitimate contender for the NBA title this year, but he also said not to expect too much too soon.

Lanier, who was dealt from Detroit to Milwaukee for center Kent Benson and a 1980 first-round draft choice, officially became a Buck when he passed the team physical. But that doesn’t mean the veteran All-Star was in tip-top shape for his 10th season.

Lanier had to play himself into shape—he was out for six weeks with a broken finger on his left (shooting) hand. And he had to learn the Bucks’ system. “We feel Bob is just exactly what our team needs,” said Nelson. “When you feel you’re close to being a contender, you have to make the move that will make you one. All our other positions are very strong, but we did think we had a slight weakness at the pivot. We have corrected that.”

Nelson went on to liken this deal to the one that brought Oscar Robertson to the Bucks and did, indeed, lead to a league championship. But he added as soon as Lanier joined the team. “I want to caution all of us that it is going to take a while. We’re certainly going to rely on a lot of guys to carry the load in the meantime. I don’t expect 30 minutes out of Bob now. We’re going to start him out slow, and we’ll have to scratch out some wins at home while he gets ready.

“But I believe this makes us a legitimate contender for the whole thing. To win a championship, you have to be very good. And you have to have some luck. We have become one of the top teams in the league, and I’m not just talking about this year. I can see this thing going on for a period of years to come.”

He can if Lanier stays healthy, which has always been a problem for the 6-foot-11 star from St. Bonaventure. Lanier has a history of knee problems, and he acknowledged that every time he has been on a team that has had a good chance at a championship, he’s been hampered by a major injury.

“The only way this trade can fail is if Bob has injury problems,” said Nelson. “We have done our homework. We know his body as well as anybody. We put all that into the computer, and it came out: ‘Do it.’”

Nelson said he discussed the deal with Buck co-captain Brian Winters and Marques Johnson beforehand, and they both favored it. Lanier said he’s talked to Johnson and Junior Bridgeman, and they were “very receptive.” So, no one is expecting Lanier to have any problem blending with the Bucks’ talent. “They have a team concept here, and I don’t see any problems with my ego,” said Lanier. “There are a lot of young legs, and there’s a lot of young talent here, and I’m not going to have to carry the offensive load.”

The main thing Lanier wants to do, though, is be part of a championship team, and he knew that wasn’t very likely in the near future at Detroit. That’s why he wanted to be traded.

The Pistons are a rebuilding team that didn’t figure to be rebuilt during the life of Lanier’s contract, which included the rest of this year—plus two more and an option season—at an estimated $500,000 annually.

“With the situation in Detroit, you could just collect your checks and go on about your business,” said Lanier. “But there is too much inner turmoil in me, and there are a lot of things I want. I’ve never been a very capitalistic.”

Lanier believes the Bucks have the talent to get him—and them—where they want to go. He said “pound for pound,” they have as much talent as anyone in the league. “They can go as far as they want to,” he said.

Lanier said San Antonio and Cleveland were other teams that might have gotten him, and he wouldn’t have minded going to Golden State for Atlanta “strictly because of the weather.”

Nelson set the deal was not firmed up until a few hours prior to the trade. He denied that it had been made once and then was called off when Lanier hurt his finger. “That’s false,” he said. “We tried hard to keep Kent Benson along with Bob and give up more draft choices. But there was no deal without Benson.

“We turned it down at one time because we thought they were asking a little too much. When most of the rumors were floating around, I really didn’t think it was going to happen.”

Nelson said he had tried to acquire center Rich Kelley from New Jersey so that he could send Kelley to Phoenix. The Buck coach acknowledged that the Pistons came down on their price [at the 1980 all-star break], presumably taking one rather than two draft choices along with Benson.

[Everything went oh-so right for Lanier in Milwaukee from the start. Terence Moore, a reporter with the Cincinnati Enquirer who would move on to great stuff at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, filed this story on February 19, 1980 to describe Lanier’s Milwaukee honeymoon.]

Bob Lanier pulled the long, wet sweat socks from his size 22 feet and then philosophized on destiny. “I believe in it. That’s why I’m with the Milwaukee Bucks right now in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” said the articulate, 6-foot-10 center, relaxing by his locker stall the other day after the Bucks’ fourth straight victory since his arrival from the Detroit Pistons.

“Hey, I was taking an airplane trip to New York a few weeks ago, and they accidentally made a ticket out for Milwaukee. Then I was looking at this new car the other day that I really wanted to get. I found out it was made in Milwaukee. Those two incidents, alone, told me that I was definitely going to the right place.”

And the Bucks and the rabid fans have been smiling since. Lanier, a nine-year veteran with the Pistons, joined the Bucks on February 4 in exchange for center Kent Benson and Milwaukee’s first-round draft choice of this spring. Suddenly, the once-floundering Bucks (coming off a 19-26 record after starting the season, 10-1) were making life at the top uncomfortable for the front-running Kansas City Kings of the NBA’s Midwest Division.


Bob Lanier scored points. Bob Lanier grabbed rebounds. Bob Lanier pitched assists. Bob Lanier added spirit. And the second-place Bucks were challenging again, two to three games from the lead. “Oh, there’s no question that he’s made a big difference for us, and he hasn’t even gotten that acquainted with our offense yet,” beamed Bucks’ coach Don Nelson. “I’ve always heard about how intelligent a player Bob Lanier is, but now I’m seeing it for myself. He already has a good grasp on our system in the short time that he’s been here.”

On this night, Lanier and the Bucks met their arch-rivals, the Chicago Bulls, in the packed Milwaukee Arena. It was a classic matchup between two of the league’s premier centers: Lanier and Artis Gilmore, the Bulls’ 7-foot-2 giant in his ninth year out of Jacksonville. Lanier, hustling during his 26 minutes on the court, eventually won the banging and shoving war underneath, forcing Gilmore to foul out with 9:02 left. Gilmore, who had averaged 17 points per game, ended with just six. Lanier finished six points below his game average of 21, but his other skills spurred the Bucks to an easy 111-101 victory.

The former collegiate star from St. Bonaventure fashioned a game-leading six assists, five rebounds, two blocked shots, and played an aggressive bump-and-run defense on Gilmore. The enthusiastic crowd of 10,938 loved it. Lanier received a near standing ovation for just resting beneath the basket during a timeout. “The enthusiasm here is incredible,” Lanier said, shaking his head.

Yes, Milwaukee is a long way from Detroit for Bob Lanier. Not from a distance standpoint, but from the standpoint of the success of the other two cities’ NBA franchises. The Bucks, one of the few organizations in the league to have consistently made money, have played before 97 percent or better capacity crowds since becoming a franchise in 1968. Milwaukee also has had its share of competitive teams, including an NBA championship squad in 1971. The Pistons, on the other hand, have struggled the past decade—at the gate and on the court.

“I think it was a combination of a lot of things,” Lanier said. “Every time the organization would start to get the right combination of players to become a winner, they would make a trade.”

And the Pistons finally made the trade, shipping the unhappy Lanier to Milwaukee for the unhappy Kent Benson, rumored to have been in Nelson’s doghouse. Lanier, however, said there were no ill feelings between himself and the Detroit management.

“No, but I’ll tell you how it all started,” said Lanier of his trade talks, which began after he broke his hand in late December. “A guy from a Philadelphia paper asked me what I would do if I were management and wanted to bring a winner to Detroit. I said that I would trade 31-year-old Bob Lanier for some draft choices. Then, wham! Everybody started saying Bob Lanier wants to be traded.

“Well, really it just comes down to this. I got to the point where I didn’t think I could help the Pistons anymore. I’d go out and score 25 points and get 18 rebounds, and we still would lose by 10 or 20 points.”

Lanier’s supporting cast in Detroit wouldn’t win many (if any) basketball Oscars. But the NBA show here in Milwaukee, with Lanier playing the lead role, could make the league’s version of Broadway—the finals. Quick-moving forwards of Dave Meyers and Marques Johnson join Lanier in the frontcourt and guards Brian Winters and Quinn Buckner run the Bucks’ high-scoring offense. And then there is reserve guard Junior Bridgeman. He’s one of the league’s best sixth men, averaging 17 points per game.

“This team is beginning to look like the old Boston Celtics. That’s what Nellie and I were talking about the other day,” said Lanier, speaking of Bucks’ coach Don Nelson, who played on the perennial Celtic championship teams of the 1960s. “They built their teams through the draft and through good scouting reports. They didn’t just look for athletes with good talent. They also looked for athletes with good personalities. This team is unbelievable, because you don’t have any real (bleeps) around.

“I’m not saying that because I’m here. Something that I’ve always noticed, and it’s something that everybody around the league has noticed. Everybody has his own space here, and there are no hang ups. Like I said, I don’t have anything against the Pistons. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, that’s changed.”

It was destiny.

[Here’s another well-done look at the Lanier trade published on April 4, 1980, or just before the NBA playoffs about turned heated. This story comes Mike O’Brien with the Associated Press in Milwaukee.]

The midseason trade for Bob Lanier has done more than transform the Milwaukee Bucks into instant contenders for the National Basketball Association championship. It’s also been good for Bob Lanier. 

The source of the latter observation is Lanier himself, the 6-foot-11, seven-time NBA all-star who is the main reason the Bucks won 20 of their last 26 regular-season games since they acquired him from the Detroit Pistons. 

“My mind has had blinders on ever since I got here,” he said before the Bucks practiced for the playoffs. “All I’ve been able to do is play and think basketball. I haven’t been able to find my particular niche in this town yet or do much social socializing.

“But from a job standpoint, it’s worked out better than I anticipated,” he said. “I think it’s made me a better player. I’ve been passing the ball a lot, picking and rolling, things I think I’m good at but haven’t been recognized for because, for most of my career, I’ve have to shoulder the scoring load. It’s helped my total game.”

Lanier is a total, multi-faceted person, not just one of the best centers in basketball. He is active in youth work in Detroit’s inner city, and in clinics and camps, and with the March of Dimes. Last summer, he bought 100 Pistons’ season tickets for distribution to youth groups.

A playful sort, he likes to frighten apprehensive strangers with a scowl reminiscent of Sonny Liston, then put them at ease with a laugh and handshake. He signs autographs until each adulating child in the cluster outside the locker room has one. 

But as popular as Lanier is with his fans and teammates, his concern over how he might be accepted by the Bucks was one of the most delicate factors in the trade negotiations. And he said it shouldn’t be hard to understand that a superstar might wear out his welcome quickly in new surroundings. “Look what happened when Bob McAdoo went to Boston or when George McGinnis went to Denver,” he said. “For some reason, they were disruptive. Not that it was anyone’s fault in particular, but the pieces didn’t fit.

“On paper, it looked great, but it didn’t turn out that way,” he said. “The team didn’t fulfill itself. You think about that as a player, with a new team, a new town. I just didn’t want the situation to be negative.

“So I did a lot of talking with (Bucks’ forward) Marques Johnson about how the players would feel about it, and I talked with all the management people,” he said. “And they checked into a lot of history about me. They talked with guys I played with as far back as college. They did their homework.”

Lanier and Bucks’ coach Don Nelson discussed the potential trade at particular length. “The key situation in the talks with Nellie was the time factor,” Lanier said. “He wanted to know how I would react to my playing time going down, about maybe not getting as many shots.

“I said I just wanted to contribute to winning, to helping the team get more W’s than L’s,” he said. “That’s the most-important thing to me at this stage in my career. I was with losing teams for most my career. I wanted to be able to play within the team concept, contribute to winning in other ways.”

The scope of Lanier’s game has been a revelation to his teammates and to Nelson. They knew he was one of the most accurate shooting centers in the league and a strong rebounder. But his passing ability has surprised them, as has his instinct for setting a pick at precisely the right moment. “When you have the kind of shooters this club has, you give them the ball and set picks for them,” Lanier said.

Lanier’s unselfish play and dominating presence along the baseline has his teammates playing with a confidence they had lacked until his arrival. “If we keep playing with this kind of confidence, we can play with anybody,” he said. “You can’t point blank predict who’s going to go all the way. But if we get a few breaks, we can give anyone a run for their money. I think we can be there at the end for all the marbles.”

Lanier chases down Seattle’s Gus Williams

[The Milwaukee Bucks opened the playoffs against the Seattle SuperSonics. The series quickly turned into an all-out war, featuring two overtime thrillers. But seven unforgettable battles later, the Sonics advanced and Lanier’s hard-luck in the playoffs continued. Here’s a quick excerpt from an April 21, 1980 story in the Tacoma News Tribune. Reporter Bill Schey describes how Lanier threw his heart and soul into winning one for his new town of Milwaukee.]

Buck season ended yesterday—and the Sonics were grinning from ear to ear over bagging a four-pointer . . . [in] a seven-game war which, after much gnashing of teeth, finally ended with the Sonics prevailing by a 98-94 margin over Milwaukee in the Seattle Coliseum. 

Les Habegger, Sonics assistant coach, “feared Milwaukee as much as any team” when the series began. He agreed that 1979 title series {Seattle vs. Washington Bullets] was easier. “The Bullets were physical, but this club, in addition to that, has such great enthusiasm. The youthfulness . . . guys like (Dave) Meyers and Marques (Johnson) . . . they just kept coming back at you,” he said. 

“And (Bob) Lanier—I’ve never seen Lanier play that way. Never. I don’t even think Lanier knew he could play that way.”

How Buffalo Bob played was tough, with a capital T—19 points, 15 rebounds, and six assists. He even caught the cat-quick Williams from behind on one court-length dash in the second quarter, wrapping up the little guard’s arms to prevent an open layin. The fans, remembering a scary Lanier-Williams collision in Game 4, booed the big guy loudly the rest of the day . . .

[Then tragedy struck early in the 1980-81 season and turned Lanier’s world upside down. Charlie Vincent, a reporter with the Detroit Free Press, explains Lanier’s heartbreak in this story published on November 12, 1980 ]

Even before he spoke, the pain showed in his eyes. Bob Lanier struggled to fold his 6-foot-10 frame into the child-sized booth of the McDonald’s restaurant behind the Milwaukee Arena. He dropped a cigarette from his package onto the table and looked up slowly.

“More so than at any time in my life, I am drained emotionally. I’ve never been so down,” he said, putting the cigarette into his mouth.

This was to be the year Bob Lanier has awaited all his life. In his first full season with the Milwaukee Bucks, after nine and a half years with the lowly Pistons, he is now part of a team that has a chance to win the National Basketball Association championship. It was to be the fulfillment of his dreams. The pinnacle of his career. The high point in his life.

Instead, a month ago it became a nightmare. His father, a sales representatives in the Detroit area, was killed in Waterford Township. Lanier was at LaGuardia Airport in New York with his Milwaukee teammates when he got the word. Suddenly, winning basketball games was not important.

Why did it happen? How? Who could explain why his father, at 59, was dead?

Those questions twisted and wrenched his mind, squeezing from it everything but thoughts of his father.

“We saw it bothering him in a few games. It’s not hard to see, and we expected some of it. It affected every phase of this game. Driving keys getting over it, as far as on the court goes.”

—Don Nelson, Milwaukee coach

“The body can get ready,” Lanier said softly, “but it’s the mind that controls everything. I haven’t found the answer of how to cope with that yet. I try to think about the time I shared with my father. I’m working on it, but it’s a very trying time for me.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get back to normal. It’s just like running into a brick wall.”

And the anxiety and pain are even more intense when he suits up for games. “My father used to always be around at the games,” Lanier recalled. “You’d see him standing around with people, talking and laughing. He’d always come by the bench and pat me on the back or rub my shoulder just let me know he was there.”

The memories that are most vivid, though, are those of his father after the accident. And that is what preys most insidiously on Lanier’s mind.

“At odd moments at home, he’ll start thinking of this dad. Little things will remind him of him. I just try to listen, if he wants to talk. That’s all I can do. I think he still has a lot of questions in his mind about how it happened.”

–Shirley Lanier, Bob’s wife

“What makes it most difficult for me,” he said, shaking another cigarette from the pack, “is that, besides the shock of the death, I had to identify the body and see him after the autopsy, with that large lump on his head. The funeral director was a good friend of my father’s, and he felt there were some things I should see.

“All of that, seeing him after the autopsy, identifying the body . . . all within three or four days. That’s the last thoughts I have now with my dad. That makes it a little more traumatic than the norm.

“In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t had to deal with that part. I think eventually I could have dealt with my father’s death. But this way, you see the gruesomeness. I don’t guess many people have to deal with that. It’ll take a while to get over.”

There has been an arrest in the case, but Lanier still has many questions. “The way it happened just bothered the hell out of me . . . My dad was stopped for going 55 in a 45-mile-an-hour zone, and his van was impounded because he had an outstanding warrant from 1977. Then the officer said my dad didn’t want to use the phone to call anyone because it was midnight. He didn’t want to disturb anybody. My dad didn’t walk across the street to see if he could get somebody to pick him up . . . It was cold and drizzling. Today, I still don’t know where the hell he was walking to. He was in the middle of never-never land out there.”

 “Bob’s relationship with his father was special. His father followed Bob around like you couldn’t believe, he’s so proud of him. Once he came to our basketball camp, and he asked to speak to the kids. He said: ‘I’m proud of Bob. I’m proud of what he’s accomplished in basketball, but what made me even more proud of him was, after he became a wealthy man, seeing him go back and get his college diploma. I’m proud of him because he’s recognized as a man with a head on the shoulders.’ Bob has got it together, and I think a lot of that came from his father.”

—Dick Vitale, former Piston coach

Wednesday night, Lanier makes his first appearance in the Pontiac Silverdome since the Pistons traded him to Milwaukee late last season. And that, too, is working on his mind.

“It’s a place where I’ve been,” he says. “It’s taken up damn near all my adult life. I’ve been through the whole gamut of emotions there. Pain, hope, anxiety, frustration I’ve shared with those people. I share a bond with people there.”

For Lanier, the Silverdome is filled with memories. Of Vitale. Of the fans who gave him a long standing ovation when he was introduced before the 1979 NBA All-Star game. Of the slow undoing of his career as a Piston, as he watched helplessly while the team deteriorated.

But the most-enduring memory is of his father. Stopping behind the bench to rub his shoulder. Standing in the corner, sipping on a beer. Telling people, proudly, “That’s my son.”

“I’ll be all right eventually,” Lanier said, snuffing out the cigarette. “There are just so many questions, and the only man who can confirm or refute the things that happened that night is someplace else.”

[The Bucks finished the 1980-81 season with a 60-22 record, best in the Central Division. Lanier logged 26 minutes a game, pitching in 14.3 points and six rebounds per game. But the death of his father continued to tear him up on the inside, while the physical toll of another long NBA season ground him down on the outside. The powerful Bucks reached the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, thrusting them into a hotly-awaited showdown with Julius Erving, Mo Cheeks, Bobby Jones, and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist Bill Lyon offers a vivid portrait of Lanier “fighting the clock” and “his tormented odyssey” in the playoffs in this excellent piece from the morning of April 16, 1981, or just before another fateful game seven.]

He is old before his time, creaky-kneed and each trip down the floor is an agony, a painful, shuffling hobble. But Bob Lanier plays on, a man possessed with an obsession to be, one time before he limps up to a cane, on a winner.

He is running out of time. All those years that he would wheel across the lane and roll up that feathered hook, it was joyless because always it was done on a loser. The prime of his playing life, the flower of his skills, they were all wasted in exile in Detroit on a succession of dreary, dreadful teams. The playoffs? Bob Lanier’s team was long gone before they ever began, and he could only watch in frustration.

And now, finally, traded to a contender, for the second-straight spring, he finds himself on the brink of elimination. He was delivered from the Pistons’ prison in February 1980, traded to Milwaukee. The Bucks promptly won 20 of 26 with Lanier in the pivot and reached the playoffs. They were dispatched in a bristling, memorable quarterfinals by Seattle.

“That was a war,” Bob Lanier remembered. “We had two overtime games. The series went the full seven with only six points difference in the total margin. But it sure was nice to be playing instead of spectating.”

Lanier is in the playoffs again this year, but once more, he seems fated for elimination in the quarters, this time by Philadelphia. The Sixers won a ragged, body-splattering brawl last night at the Spectrum to edge ahead in games, 3-2. It has been a crackling series, and it seems destined to go to the limit. But the Bucks will need to win Friday and repeat Sunday, or Bob Lanier’s tormented odyssey will continue.

He was out there again last night, chugging up another steep grade with those floating bone chips in his knees, arm-wrestling, elbow-locking, and posterior-butting with Darryl Dawkins in the rugby scrums that are just another night under the basket in the NBA.

His highest jump of the night came late in the third period when referee Ed Rush whistled him for his fourth foul after he nearly decapitated Bobby Jones with a forearm. Lanier hopped and pirouetted in anguish over the call and, a minute-and-a-half later, walked to the bench, bundling himself in towel and warm-up jacket, disconsolate, knowing that he may never have another chance to play for a champion.

He is 32 now, with the ravaged legs of a 72-year-old. This is his 11th year in the NBA, and five times this season alone, his left knee has locked and left him a virtual cripple. Others jump higher, run faster, shoot better, but the Bucks need him because he is still very much a presence. “He’s to us a lot like Willis Reed was to the Knicks when they won the title,” said Don Nelson, the sleepy-eyed, rumple-faced coach of the Bucks. “He gives us the intangible, the inspiration, that ingredient you need that doesn’t always show up in box scores.” Nelson played for five championship teams in Boston and knows all about intangibles.

It has been an uncommonly tragic year personally for Lanier. Coming back from a road trip last October, he was paged in an airport to learn that his father had been killed, a hit-and-run victim. Three months later, on the road again, he got another long-distance jolt, a call from his wife that she was leaving him and taking their kids.

He has borne it with remarkable resilience. Other Bucks say that he has not become a brooder. They say that they would like to win, not only for themselves, but for the tortured giant who is injured so much.

After all those years when he was the scoring star surrounded by no supporting cast, Lanier quickly adjusted to the role of the good soldier in Milwaukee. He is content to come out on a high post, pass off, set picks, try to lure Dawkins away from the basket.

It didn’t work very well last night. But then, nothing worked well.

“We were out of sync offensively,” Lanier said, “the whole team. Late in the game, we didn’t do anything but shoot bombs. At the end, we looked like a high school team. It was a pivotal game, and we didn’t play well.”

Some apologists suggested that the back spasms suffered by Marques Johnson might have been the turning point. Lanier shrunk himself into a turtleneck sweater and stood up stiffly. “I’ve got back spasms, too,” he said. “But he’s got to play, and I’ve got to play, and that’s it.”

Eleven years of disappointment have made him a realist. They passed out the stat sheet, and Bob Lanier puts his copy on the floor, sat down, laced his size 22-E shoes, and studied it. Dressed, he stood up . . . and placed his huge foot squarely on the stat sheet. He left a large imprint of disgust on the paper.

[Did Lanier get his game seven? Or did his hard-luck in the playoffs continue? Watch the final minutes of game seven.]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: