01 November 2010

Mo' Power To Him

This is mostly a baseball blog, and a World Series champion may be crowned tonight. But Diamondhacks is also about sports generally, and of course, me. So, first things first.

Maurice "Mo" Lucas died yesterday.


If you're forty or older, you may remember he was a fine basketball player, who willed Marquette to the 1974 NCAA championship game, and a few years later led the Trailblazers in scoring on their way to their one and only NBA title.

He was rough and tumble on the court, but also liked jazz.

Towards the end of his career, he played a few seasons with the Suns. In 1984, he was the oldest player on the roster (by two and a half years), seventh in minutes played - and still led the team in rebounds.

That year I was freelancing for a fledging sports weekly that, ultimately, didnt stick around. I was planning a feature interview with one of Luke's teammates, and the guy had stood me up a couple times already, with deadline fast approaching. I had a little reporting experience, in college and back east, but never interacted with, let alone interviewed, pro athletes before - and as a young, impressionable sports fanatic, was nervous as hell.

More nervous than you can imagine. I didnt know the first thing about NBA protocol, had no credentials to speak of, and waited in the lobby of the old Jewish Community Center on West Maryland, where the Suns used to practice, in hopes of intercepting my reluctant subject.

Just then, Coach MacLeod burst through the gym doors for a drink of water and noticed me standing around. At the time, he was the only professional coach in the Valley, in his twelfth year, and although he had obviously never heard of my pathetic publication, was uncommonly gracious and escorted me into a practice closed to the general public.

Adams. Lucas. Walter Davis. Up close. They were older than me and larger than life TV heroes. Maybe that's why I opted to interview one of their younger, less heralded teammates. It was too intimidating otherwise. Practice ended and we all headed for the locker room. I caught up with my subject, introduced myself, and we eventually found a spot to talk. It was still awkward, feeling each other out, until Maurice Lucas walked by. He said something funny, I dont remember exactly what, and put me in a 'playful' bear hug headlock that almost took my feet off the ground. At the time, I was about 180 pounds.

Let's put it this way. After you've escaped a Maurice Lucas headlock, and the blood's returned to your brain, everything else comes pretty easily. I lightened up, my taciturn subject opened up, and the interview went better than expected.

To this day, I dont know why Lucas enveloped a complete stranger like me. Maybe he was a free spirit, just horsing around. Or maybe he sensed a nervous kid in the lair of famous athletes and literally lent a hand. It's just a moment - a wisp of a decision - from twenty five years ago. But it mattered to me. Enough, so that when I heard Luke died Sunday, at 58, I felt like passing it along. During the World Series.

On a baseball blog.

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