Bob Lanier: A great career without the greatest prize

Bob Lanier: A great career without the greatest prize

When Bob Lanier ended his basketball career in 1984 after 14 years in the NBA, he joked that he did so only because the Milwaukee Bucks had finally found in Alton Lister another player who literally could fill his sneakers. One of the game’s greatest big men, Lanier was actually preceded into the Hall of Fame by a bronzed pair of his shoes, the biggest the NBA had ever seen.

“A lot of people can put both feet into one of my shoes.”

With a sweeping left-hand hook and a dominating inside presence, Bob Lanier was one of the most feared big men of his era. Opposing centers had to keep a watchful eye on Lanier because he had an equally impressive outside game. His sweet shooting touch from the perimeter placed him in a rarified class of being a true inside/outside force. This ability, combined with his single-minded determination to win, helped Lanier lead tiny St. Bonaventure University to the 1970 NCAA Final Four. Lanier still holds school records for scoring (27.6 PPG) and rebounding (15.7 RPG).

Lanier excelled in an era of outstanding centers such as Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Willis Reed, Dave Cowens, and Bill Walton. In his 14 NBA seasons, Lanier averaged 20.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game while shooting a respectable 51.4 percent from the field. Yet despite Lanier’s Hall of Fame numbers (he was inducted in 1992) with the Pistons and the Bucks, he never realized his greatest aspiration: to put a championship ring on his finger.

“I accomplished most of the individual goals I ever dreamed of in this game,” he said in the Milwaukee Sentinel the year he retired. “But the ultimate reward is to be crowned champions. And if you don’t know what that feeling is, I think it leaves a void.”

He played in eight NBA All-Star Games and was named Most Valuable Player of the 1974 game. He has had his #16 jersey retired by both the Pistons and the Bucks.