Portland home to two great sports legends
Maurice Lucas Remembered
Maurice Lucas, the fierce power forward known as “The Enforcer” who helped lead the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA title, is being remembered after his death Sunday from bladder cancer. He was 58.
Lucas joined Portland in the 1976 ABA dispersal draft and averaged a team-high 20.2 points and grabbbed 11.2 rebounds per game in the 1976-77 championship season. His No. 20 was retired by the Blazers in 1988.
At public appearances, fans often greeted Lucas with cries of “Luuuuuuke!” His competitive demeanor on the court was in contrast to his gentle nature off it.
“We have lost a champion of a man,” Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan said in a statement. “Maurice was a great man and a great friend. He battled his illness like the warrior he was on the basketball court.”
Lucas served as an assistant coach with the Blazers for six seasons, but last year he left the team to undergo surgery before suffering a setback last November. He did not return to coaching this season.
The former Marquette player averaged 14.4 points and 8.8 rebounds in 12 NBA seasons with Portland, New Jersey, New York, Phoenix, the Los Angeles Lakers and Seattle. In two seasons in the ABA with St. Louis and Kentucky, he averaged 15.2 points and 10.8 rebounds.
He was a five-time All-Star.
Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen also praised Lucas in a statement released late Sunday night.
“Maurice Lucas was an amazing man and I count myself lucky to have known him. We all — players, coaches, the owner and the fans — were made better by having Maurice a part of our team, whether playing on the championship team or, most recently as an assistant coach.
“He was one of the greatest Blazers ever.”
Prior to last season, an interview with Lucas was posted on the Trail Blazers’ official website, covering topics including his health, his work with center Greg Oden and the team’s 40th anniversary.
“The one thing that I’m finding is an issue for me is learning patience, being patient with myself. I’m trying to understand what this process is all about. It takes a little longer amount of time than I’d like it to take in order to recover,” Lucas said. “But it is what it is and I’m not in charge of it. I’ve just got to play my role, be patient, feed myself well, take the right meds and see if I can get back on track.”
Lucas led Marquette to the 1974 NCAA title game against North Carolina State and was selected to the All-Final Four team along with future Portland teammate Bill Walton. The 6-foot-9 former Pittsburgh high school star averaged 15.8 points and 10.6 rebounds as a junior that season.
Marquette also retired his No. 20 and inducted him into its Hall of Fame, and Walton named his son Luke, who currently plays for the Lakers, after him.
“I hadn’t seen him as much lately, but he and my dad still talked all the time,” Luke Walton said. “From what I heard, he had been in some pain for a while. It’s tough. He’s a great guy.”
The Trail Blazers were in the midst of a four-game trip, with a game against the Chicago Bulls on Monday night.
“We were so fortunate to have his influence on the young men on this team. He was my mentor, my big brother, and I always knew he had my back. He has left us far too soon,” McMillan said.
Lucas is survived by wife Pamela, sons David and Maurice II and daughter Kristin.
There will be a public memorial on Monday at noon at Memorial Coliseum. Doors will open at 11 a.m.
Negro Leagues All-Star Made Portland Home
By Benjamin Hill
Artie Wilson, a legend of the Negro American and Pacific Coast Leagues, including the Portland Beavers, died Sunday in Portland where he was a longtime resident. Wilson was 90.
Wilson’s long and winding professional baseball career spanned the better part of two decades and was peppered throughout with notable accomplishments. He is considered the last baseball player to hit .400 in a premier professional league, having accomplished the feat as a member of the 1948 Birmingham Black Barons. The fleet-footed Wilson hit .402 that season, reaching base at a prodigious clip while also serving as a mentor to 17-year-old Willie Mays.
“He was one of the guys that made sure I didn’t get in any trouble,” Mays told The Oregonian. “I owe a lot of debt to him.”
Wilson was a native of Birmingham, and 1948 was his fifth and final season as a member of the hometown Black Barons. The slap-hitting shortstop went to the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks in 1949, in the process becoming the club’s first full-time black player. He led the PCL with a .349 average, teaming up with future Yankees legend Billy Martin to form one of the circuit’s best double-play combinations. The two became fast friends, on and off the field.
“When I got [to Oakland], they said they didn’t have a room for me,” Wilson told MiLB.com’s Kevin Czerwinski in 2007. “But Billy Martin stepped up and said that he’s got a roommate — I’m his roommate. I got to know Billy quite well, and there were no problems anywhere after that.”
Baseball’s unspoken but rigidly enforced segregationist policies denied Wilson the opportunity to compete in the Majors for many years, but he finally got the chance in 1951 (at the age of 30). He opened the season with the New York Giants, but he accumulated just 22 at-bats before being demoted in May. Ironically, the player who took his place on the roster was none other than his former teammate Willie Mays.
Undaunted, Wilson returned to the PCL and continued to put up stellar numbers while suiting up for the Oaks, San Diego Padres, Seattle Rainiers and Portland Beavers. This was prior to MLB’s westward expansion, when the PCL was often referred to as a “third Major League.”
“[The PCL] was tough,” recalled Wilson in 2007. “We had guys who couldn’t hit .250 or .260 but hit .300 in the Major Leagues. That’s how tough it was. It wasn’t easy.”
Wilson finished his baseball career as a member of the Beavers, and he remained in Portland for the rest of his life. He worked as a salesman at a local car dealership until the age of 85, and he was elected to the PCL Hall of Fame in 2003.
“All I wanted to do was play baseball,” he said in 2007. “I got to play in Japan and Cuba, too. So I’ve had a good life.”
Wilson is survived by his wife, Dorothy, daughters Jean and Zoe, son Artie II, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A memorial service for Wilson will be announced at a later date.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com.