This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 2, 2010 7:43 AM. The previous post in this blog was Tweet of the Night. The next post in this blog is Don't fear the sweeper. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rainy night ruminations

There I was in the meat section of the supermarket last evening, when I noticed that something wasn't right. All the food items were in the refrigerated case where they belonged, but in the back of my mind, it felt vaguely like something was missing.

It took me a second to put my finger on it, but then I figured it out. It was the passing of Maurice Lucas, the legendary member of the Trail Blazers' one and only championship team, the day before. The thought that he wasn't around any more was lingering in the air beneath the boomer music squawking out of the P.A. system.

Why would this sensation come to me in such an unlikely place, and why did it take a while to shake it? Luke hadn't played in the NBA for decades, and his career as an assistant coach for the Blazers had been put on indefinite hold when he took seriously ill. His death was not a shock.

Pushing the cart around the store, I pieced it together. Mo was a steady, reassuring presence around Portland -- a connection to the city's past glories and a contributor to its future as a teacher of the young players on the current Blazer squad. More so than any of his young charges, he symbolized greatness in sports.

I remember the first time I saw him in person. I was new to Portland, but prided myself on having memorized the geography of downtown pretty quickly and thoroughly. One afternoon I was walking on the Sixth Street side of the Hilton Hotel, when up pulls a nice Mercedes sedan. The driver rolls down his window and motions me over. My eyes almost pop out when I see it's him. "Which way is the train station?" Luke asks. It seems he had arrived at the Greyhound station, which used to be catercorner from the Hilton, only to realize that the trains were in another section of downtown. Or maybe he was looking for the Trailways bus, which may have stopped somewhere else -- I can't remember for sure. In any event, he was in the wrong place, and I sent him up to Old Town.

One thing I do remember clearly: In his lap he was cradling an open bottle of Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve beer, which at that time was brewed just up the street. Probably bottling no. 4 or so. No big deal in those days. A regular guy, I thought to myself.

Fast forward 20-plus years, and I wind up working out in the same neighborhood gym at which Luke plays racquetball in his middle age. He's in there all the time -- pretty good at the game, I think, but by no means the champ of the house. What impressed me was what a gentle giant the guy was. When strangers approached to ask him about his basketball life, which didn't happen often, he'd smile and act as though it was no big deal. And he always had a friendly word for the stranger about something in the present.

But perhaps the best thing I ever saw Luke do was at halftime of a Blazer game in the '90s, when he was long retired. There was a shootout contest going on, with a number of former players participating, and whatever the proceeding was, it all boiled down to Luke taking one shot from center court for some number of thousands of dollars for a charity -- I want to say 10 grand for Doernbecher's, but now I'm making stuff up. Anyway, we had seats low in the end zone, and he was shooting in our direction.

And I'll be darned if he didn't hit the shot. It might have banked in, but regardless, the place went quite nuts. I remember nothing else about that night except that wonderful, wonderful three-pointer. The guy still had the shining.

So anyway, it's always been a nice feeling that this hometown hero was still around, and you might bump into him at the gym -- or even at the supermarket. He'd be grabbing his turkey slices right next to yours, and you could crack a joke and the two of you could smile over it. For all the classic basketball moments that people will be recalling over the next several days, it was Maurice Lucas, regular Portland guy, that I'll always remember most fondly. So long, neighbor.

Comments (4)

Thanks, Jack, for the remembrances. I also had a friend years ago who played raquetball at the same club, and would run into big Luke.

And, at Thursday night's Blazer's game, the team will be honoring him. Now, there's a t-shirt or jersey I'd be willing to pay for - especially if some of the proceeds went to his foundation or cancer research.

Well Said Jack , we lost one of the good guys.
The O mentioned a service on monday I believe at the Memorial Coliseum. See you all there.

Hi Jack:
I got to meet the big guy in his kitchen out in Dunthorp. A friend and I were going to get his landscape in order. The wife comes home and hands off their two little guys to Lucas while she unpacks her shopping. He was very gentle with both the boys. The one thing I remember the most is that he held each of them, one per hand/palm as if the boys were small sacks of sugar,... huge hands. He then proceeded to chit chat with us about his garden and give his boys loves and kisses.
The wife fussed around, she was a high maintenace woman, but also nice.

Thanks for this post. Truly a huge loss for us all.

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