Hall of Famer, former No. 1 pick Bob Lanier dies at age 73

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Bob Lanier, the left-handed big man who muscled up beside the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as one of the NBA’s top players of the 1970s, died Tuesday. He was 73.

The NBA said Lanier died after a short illness. The Hall of Famer had worked for the league as a global ambassador. The Athletic reported in 2019 that Lanier was being treated for bladder cancer.

Lanier played 14 seasons with the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks and averaged 20.1 points and 10.1 rebounds for his career. He is third on the Pistons’ career list in both points and rebounds. Detroit drafted Lanier with the No. 1 overall pick in 1970 after he led St. Bonaventure to the Final Four.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Lanier was among the most talented centers in league history, and added that his accomplishments went far beyond what he did on the court.

“For more than 30 years, Bob served as our global ambassador and as a special assistant to David Stern and then me, traveling the world to teach the game’s values and make a positive impact on young people everywhere,” Silver said in a statement. “It was a labor of love for Bob, who was one of the kindest and most genuine people I have ever been around.”

The Detroit Pistons released this statement:

“The Detroit Pistons organization is deeply saddened by the passing Bob Lanier, a true legend who meant so much to the city of Detroit and to generations of Pistons fans. As fierce and as dominant as Bob was on the court, he was equally kind and impactful in the community. As an ambassador for both the Pistons organization and the NBA, he represented our league, our franchise and our fans with great passion and integrity. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Bob’s family and friends.”

Lanier went into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. But his boat-size shoes got there ahead of him, with a display of his bronzed sneakers in the shrine.

He was known for wearing size 22 shoes, although that was disputed in 1989 by a Converse representative, who told The Atlanta Constitution that Lanier wore size 18 1/2.

“The 22 he was reputed to wear was a Korean size,” shoe rep Gary Stoken said.

Not contested was the abundantly clear fact that his feet were big.

“A lot of people can put both feet into one of my shoes,” Lanier told HOOP magazine.

Born Sept. 10, 1948, in Buffalo, New York, Lanier starred in college at St. Bonaventure, where he averaged 27.6 points and 15.7 rebounds in three seasons. The Bonnies made it all the way to the Final Four in 1970, but Lanier had injured his knee in the regional final, and St. Bonaventure lost in the national semifinals to Jacksonville.

Lanier overcame a litany of orthopedic injuries, dealing with shoulder, back, elbow, hand and toe problems during his career. But that didn’t prevent him from earning his place among the top NBA centers of his era. After being named to the all-rookie team in 1971, he averaged at least 21 points and 11 rebounds for each of the next seven seasons. Lanier was an eight-time All-Star and the MVP of the 1974 All-Star Game.

Lanier could beat opponents from the inside and the outside while ruling the boards. Although Abdul-Jabbar had a more famous hook shot, the sky hook, Lanier’s was very much a weapon.

“Guys didn’t change teams as much, so when you were facing the Bulls or the Bucks or New York, you had all these rivalries,” Lanier told NBA.com in 2018. “Lanier against Jabbar! Jabbar against Willis Reed! And then (Wilt) Chamberlain, and Artis Gilmore, and Bill Walton! You had all these great big men and the game was played from inside out.”

As exceptional as Lanier was, the Pistons won only one playoff series with him. He played 64 games or fewer in each of his last four full seasons with Detroit. In February 1980, he was traded to Milwaukee.

Lanier averaged fewer minutes with the Bucks, but he was part of Milwaukee teams that reached the Eastern Conference finals in 1983 and 1984, the final two seasons of his career.

He also served as president of the players’ union during the final years of his career, with Silver saying that he played “a key role in the negotiation of a game-changing collective bargaining agreement.”

Lanier was Detroit’s career leader in points and rebounds before he was passed by Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer in those categories, and his single-game franchise record of 33 rebounds was topped by Dennis Rodman.

In 1995, Lanier was an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors, then took over as coach on an interim basis after Don Nelson resigned. Lanier went 12-25, and the Warriors found another coach after the season.

Lanier won the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for the 1977-78 season for outstanding community service. Following his playing career, he helped start the NBA’s Stay in School campaign and participated in other outreach for the league.

“There’s so much need out here,” Lanier said. “When you’re traveling around to different cities and different countries, you see there are so many people in dire straits that the NBA can only do so much. We make a vast, vast difference, but there’s always so much more to do.”

Might LeBron play out his contract with Lakers rather than sign extension?

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LeBron James is under contract with the Lakers next season for $44.5 million, the final year of his deal.

This August, the Lakers can — and will — offer him a two-year, $97.1 million extension. The conventional wisdom around the league has long been he would sign it and finish his career a Laker, but that may be shifting. The first eyebrows were raised when LeBron left the door open to a return to Cleveland during the All-Star break — a sentiment shot down by LeBron’s agent Rich Paul, who also met with the Lakers to say the same thing.

Now this week came LeBron’s non-answer answer when asked about signing the extension.

“The conversation hasn’t been talked about,” James said to reporters at his exit interview. “Technically, it’s because the collective bargaining agreement cannot even be discussed until later on in the year. So, you know, I know what’s out there. But we can’t even — myself and Rich — can’t even begin to talk with Rob [Pelinka, Laker GM] or the front office at all, because of the collective bargaining agreement. So we get to that point, we’ll see.”

While LeBron is technically correct that he and the Lakers can’t talk extension yet under the terms of the CBA, we also all know that’s not how the NBA works. In practice, there are back-channel conversations and intentions are laid out. In reality, LeBron knows what is coming. He chose not to talk about retiring a Laker. He chose to leave the door open. As Sam Amick of The Athletic put it:

We’ll see? If that doesn’t show you James is still reading the Lakers room right now, then nothing else will. Then again, can anyone blame him for continuing to reassess a situation that looks as sideways now as it did when Magic Johnson walked off the Staples Center set back on April 10 of 2019?

LeBron’s pattern in Cleveland was to go with short deals that kept the pressure on the organization to put a winning team around him. The threat of leaving was constant.

After a disappointing season, it looks like he is bringing that strategy to Los Angeles. Or at least the threat of it.

Three Things to Know: Nets need Durant-fueled comeback on Knicks to keep No. 8 seed

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA great.

1) Nets need Durant-fueled comeback on Knicks to hold on to No. 8 seed

In Atlanta, Trae Young was doing his thing, dropping 30 on the Wizards and the Hawks won going away.

That meant to hang on to the No. 8 seed in the East, the Brooklyn Nets needed to win as well — the Hawks and Nets entered the night tied for eighth, but Brooklyn has the tiebreaker.

The Nets trailed by as much as 21 to the Knicks in Madison Square Garden, and with less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter the Knicks were up by 18. That’s when Durant started to take over: He played the entire second half scoring 23 points, including eight straight points during one key stretch in the fourth, and he finished the night with 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.

The Nets got the win, 110-98. Kevin Durant has not lost a game to the Knicks in nine years.

Kyrie Irving added 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, and also played the entire second half of this game, a sign the Nets knew how important this win was.

The four teams in the East play-in are set; here is where they stand as of Thursday morning:

7. Cavaliers (43-37)
8. Nets (42-38, 1 game back)
9. Atlanta (42-38, 1 game back)
10. Charlotte (40-39 2.5 games back)

The big game is Friday night when Cleveland comes to Brooklyn — if the Nets win, they will move into the No. 7 seed (and can hold it by beating a tanking Pacers team in the season’s final game). If the Cavaliers win that game, they keep the No. 7 seed and open the door for the Hawks to move past the Nets into the No. 8 slot (Atlanta closes the season at Miami then at Houston).

In the play-in: The No. 7 seed hosts the No. 8 seed for one game, winner enters the playoffs as the No. 7 seed. The No. 9 and No. 10 seeds play and the loser is done for the season, the winner stays alive. Finally, the loser of the 7/8 game plays the winner of the 9/10 game for the right to be the No. 8 seed in the playoffs, the loser is on vacation.

2) Jaylen Brown is on a tear: 10 straight 25+ point games

While Jayson Tatum has been drawing all the “Should he be in the MVP race? Where does he fit in All-NBA?” attention, Jaylen Brown has been tearing it up.

Brown had a game-high 25 points on Wednesday as the Celtics cruised past the Bulls, 117-94.

That is 10 straight games with at least 25 points, going back to before St. Patrick’s Day (the first game of the streak was March 16 at Golden State). Brown is only the fourth Celtics player to reach this mark.

Boston vs. Chicago is one possible first-round playoff matchup (out of many, seedings in the East are not close to set), but it might be the ideal one for the Celtics.

3) Adam Silver says the NBA’s star players still are out too much

It’s one of — if not THE — biggest problem in getting fans interested in the NBA regular season:

The league’s stars sit out a lot of games — this year more due to injuries and COVID, but load management is a thing (teams tend to use that term less and name a bump or bruise a player needs to rest). Two players near the front of the MVP race — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid — will play fewer than 70 games. The same is true for Luka Doncic, while LeBron James and Ja Morant will not get to 60 games.

Injuries are a big part of that, but the trend of teams making sure their star players are well rested is still there — because sports science and math show them players perform better with more rest. It helps lengthen their careers and has them closer to their peak for the playoffs. But it’s not ideal for the NBA from a marketing standpoint, rarely do we see two elite teams play a regular season game at full strength. Especially after Christmas (which is when more casual fans start to pay attention).

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league and the players’ union need to discuss the issue. He spoke after the Board of Governors (read: owners) meeting this week. From the Associated Press:

“I also have said in the past, if we have too many games, that’s something we should look at as well. It’s something, as we sit down and we’re looking at new media deals and looking at a new collective bargaining agreement, we will be studying,” Silver said.

“There wasn’t any banging of the table or anything like that. From my discussions with players, they recognize it’s an issue, too. The style of the game has changed in terms of the impact on their bodies. I think we’ve got to constantly assess and look at a marketplace going forward and say, what’s the best way to present our product and over how long a season?”

There are too many regular season games, but cutting back on them becomes a financial issue. There are no easy answers, but the league needs to look into it, what they are doing now isn’t working.

Highlight of the Night: Luka Doncic is a wizard

How is anyone supposed to stop this? Luka Doncic drives his way into the lane, spins, gets himself in position for a contested but quality shot in the paint, then throws the no-look, backward over-the-head pass to a wide-open Dorian Finney-Smith for the 3.

That man is a wizard.

Yesterday’s scores:

Mavericks 131, Pistons 113
Nets 110, Knicks 98
Hawks 118, Wizards 103
Celtics 117, Bulls 94
Jazz 137, Thunder 101
Clippers 113, Suns 109

Adam Silver says NBA plans to keep next All-Star Game in Utah

2022 NBA All-Star Game
Jeff Haynes/Getty Images
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NEW YORK — The NBA plans to keep its next All-Star Game in Salt Lake City, despite its opposition to Utah’s ban on transgender youth athletes playing on girls teams.

The Utah Jazz are set to host the event next February but there was speculation the NBA could take it away because of what the team called “discriminatory legislation.”

But Commissioner Adam Silver said Wednesday the event will stay put as planned.

“There was no discussion over the past two days about moving the All-Star Game from Salt Lake City, and we do not anticipate moving the game,” Silver said.

The NBA pulled the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte because of its opposition to a North Carolina law known as HB2 that limited anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people. The game was played in New Orleans before the league returned to Charlotte in 2019.

Silver said the circumstances are different this time, adding that the league didn’t want to be in a position where it risked having to keep moving its events as similar laws were becoming more common. When Utah’s GOP lawmakers pushed through their ban last month, it joined 11 other states with similar legislation.

“In the case of HB2 in North Carolina, I think it was our collective view, we working with the Hornets, that we could have an impact on that legislation,” Silver said. “I think in the case of what’s happening in Utah right now, that bill is established.

“At least our initial view, working with the Utah Jazz, is that we’re going to have to find a way to work in that environment and create an inclusive environment for our game, rather than take the position that we have somehow an independent ability to change the minds of the voters of Utah in this.”

Silver spoke after the league’s Board of Governors met in person over two days, which he said was the first time the full board did that in quite some time.

Other news included:

PLAY-IN TOURNAMENT

Now in its third season, the play-in tournament seems likely to return. Teams who finish in the Nos. 7-10 spots in each conference will play next week for the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds, and the league believes it has made the latter stages of the regular season more competitive with clubs either trying to get into it, or rise above it and qualify automatically in the top six spots.

“We’re pleased with it,” Silver said. “There may be a need to tweak it additionally. We’ll see how it goes this year, but I think it’s going to become a fixture in this league.”

PLAYERS PLAYING

Silver remains concerned about the need for top players to appear in more games, saying it’s something both the league and National Basketball Players Association need to address, perhaps by adding more incentives or trimming the 82-game schedule.

“I also have said in the past, if we have too many games, that’s something we should look at as well. It’s something, as we sit down and we’re looking at new media deals and looking at a new collective bargaining agreement, we will be studying,” Silver said.

“There wasn’t any banging of the table or anything like that. From my discussions with players, they recognize it’s an issue, too. The style of the game has changed in terms of the impact on their bodies. I think we’ve got to constantly assess and look at a marketplace going forward and say, what’s the best way to present our product and over how long a season?”

FOUL PLAYS

Silver said the Competition Committee is looking at what’s known as take fouls, where players commit an intentional foul sometimes in the middle of the court to prevent a fast break. He indicated a new rule could be coming, perhaps in July.

“But as we’re seeing sort of a pretty dramatic increase in take fouls, we don’t think it’s a great part of our game,” Silver said. “International basketball has another way of getting at it, but that is something that potentially we’d like to tweak.”

As expected, Ben Simmons reportedly has filed a grievance to recoup $19 million in lost salary

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Ben Simmons told the Philadelphia 76ers he wasn’t mentally ready to play this season. A mental illness that prevents a player from stepping on the court has to be treated the same as a physical injury such as a sore back, but the 76ers fined Simmons more than $19 million for not playing or practicing while he was with them this season.

Of course, as with all things Ben Simmons, it is more complicated than that — Simmons was trying to force a trade as well and his sitting out can be seen as a holdout  — but the mental health argument is at the center of a long-expected grievance Simmons has now filed against the 76ers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski, Ramona Shelburne and Bobby Marks of ESPN.

Philadelphia has repeatedly insisted that Simmons was in breach of his contract under the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and National Basketball Players Association and had the right to recoup the money advanced him before the season…

The 76ers have insisted that Simmons breached his player contract upon failing to show up for the starting of training camp and refusing to play during the preseason and regular season. Simmons arrived in Philadelphia near the end of the preseason, but cited mental health issues for the reason that his participation in team activities was so limited.

The arbitrator will have to sort this sticky situation out, including whether Simmons did or did not take the proper steps to fulfill his contract with the 76ers. One advantage Simmons has on his side is 76ers president/GM Daryl Morey said he believed Simmons about his mental condition.

Simmons was eventually traded to the Nets, although he has yet to set foot on the court for his new team due to a back issue, not his mental conditioning. The Nets are leaving open the possibility that Simmons returns for the playoffs, although after missing an entire season it’s hard to imagine them throwing him straight into such a high leverage situation for his first games.

Simmons did sit on the sidelines and hear boos from the 76ers faithful when Brooklyn played in Philadelphia recently. Simmons’ side may bring up his being at that game as part of the grievance process, although it’s hard to see how that would have much bearing on the case.