The Detroit Pistons and the NBA lost a legend Tuesday night in Hall of Fame center Bob Lanier, who passed away from health complications at the age of 73. It says a lot about Lanier that his eight All-Star Games are a sliver of his size-22 footprint on the NBA.
"One of the kindest and most genuine people I have ever been around," commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement Tuesday night.
Following his 15-year playing career, during which he became the Pistons all-time leader in scoring average (22.7 points per game) after the club drafted him first overall out of St. Bonaventure in 1970, Lanier spent more than three decades as the NBA's global ambassador. His love for the game and everyone within it never shined brighter.
Lanier was 45 and long-retired when Shaquille O'Neal played in his first All-Star Game at the age of 20. When they crossed paths in the arena before the game, Shaq didn't recognize him. Shaq's father quickly set him straight -- and the two big men were friends from that moment on.
"I didn’t become a basketball aficionado until I got to the NBA," O'Neal said on the NBA on TNT on Tuesday night. "My first All-Star Game, I bring my father with me. We’re walking through the tunnel in the back and he goes, 'Man, that’s Bob Lanier.' I’m like, 'Who?' He was kind of upset, (jabbed me), 'Dog, that’s Bob Lanier, one of the greatest big men!' Bob came over, and what always amazed me is that the legends knew my name."
Shaq played in 14 more All-Star Games and saw Lanier at each one of them.
"I can remember one time when he said, 'Man, I like them sneakers, I wear size 22.' I said, 'Bob, I own the company, I got you.' So I used to send him sneakers and dress shoes," said O'Neal.
Charles Barkley said Lanier was "the epitome of gentle giant."
"Always in a good mood, ambassador for the game. Obviously you look at his stats, you’re in the Hall of Fame, everybody knows you’re a great player, but just a wonderful man. He will be missed. Guys like him and Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Vinnie Johnson, just really great older players who were just nice men," Barkley said.
Ernie Johnson said he remembers Lanier fondly in his ambassador role at NBA Cares events.
"You’d be with him and it was just so obvious he got such a joy out of those events, no matter where they were. Could be at a children’s hospital, could be at a school, he was in his element," said Johnson. "He got a lot of joy out of life, and that’s why it hurts us tonight to pass on this news."
The tributes to Lanier continue to pour in on social media: