Jerry Lucas

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Jerry Lucas
Jerry Lucas 1961.jpeg
Lucas in 1961
Personal information
Born (1940-03-30) March 30, 1940 (age 75)
Middletown, Ohio
Nationality American
Listed height 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m)
Listed weight 230 lb (104 kg)
Career information
High school Middletown (Middletown, Ohio)
College Ohio State (1959–1962)
NBA draft 1962 / Pick: Territorial
Selected by the Cincinnati Royals
Pro career 1962–1974
Position Power forward / Center
Number 16, 47, 32
Career history
19631969 Cincinnati Royals
1969–1971 San Francisco Warriors
19711974 New York Knicks
Career highlights and awards
Career statistics
Points 14,053 (17.0 ppg)
Rebounds 12,942 (15.6 rpg)
Assists 2,732 (3.3 apg)
Stats at
Basketball Hall of Fame as player

Jerry Ray Lucas (born March 30, 1940) is an American former basketball player and memory education expert. In 1996, the NBA's 50th anniversary, he was named one of the 50 greatest players in National Basketball Association history.[1] He was named to Sports Illustrated‍ '​s five-man College All-Century Team in 1999. He is also only one of four players, along with Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Nate Thurmond, to grab 40 or more rebounds in one NBA game.

Lucas is an Olympic Gold Medal winner with the 1960 United States men's Olympic basketball team, an NCAA National Champion as a member of the 1959–60 Ohio State Buckeyes men's basketball team, and an NBA Champion as a member of the 1973 New York Knicks. He is also a seven-time NBA All-Star.

Lucas is one of only seven players in history to achieve basketball's "Triple Crown" - winning an NCAA Championship, an NBA Championship, and an Olympic Gold Medal,[2] and for all his accolades became a two-time Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, being inducted in 1980 for his individual career,[3] and in 2010 as a member of the 1960 Olympic team.[4]

Early life[edit]

Lucas was born in Middletown, Ohio, then a community of 30,000+ halfway between Dayton and Cincinnati, that in the 1940s and 1950s boasted one of the most respected high school basketball programs in the United States.[5]

Lucas had become a local playground legend by age 15, in Sunset Park. Sunset Park was then a regional summer hotbed for high school, college and even some pro players. Future Cincinnati Royals teammates Wayne Embry and Oscar Robertson were visitors there. Lucas was already at almost his adult height of 6 ft 8 in (2.06 m) by age 15, outplaying college players.

High school[edit]

In 1956 and 1957, Lucas led Middletown High School to undefeated seasons and back-to-back Ohio state high school championships.[6] Lucas, at first, rarely needed the ball to help his team. He simply focused on offensive rebounds for scoring. By putting back so many misses, Lucas padded scoring and shooting accuracy marks while letting upper-classmen shoot and pass. Meanwhile, his rebounding also often held opponents to one shot at the other end.

As competition increased, Lucas became more important to the team's offense. He learned to help his own game and the team by developing an advanced pivot passing game. Meanwhile, his hook shot became nearly automatic and his shooting eye was strong well past 20 feet, then unusual for a center. His star was born in the 1956 state quarterfinals. Lucas, still weeks from his 16th birthday, burned Cleveland East Tech for 53 points before a crowd of 5,000. He added 44 in the state final for a two-game total of 97, still an Ohio high school record.

Middletown ran its winning streak to an American record 76 consecutive wins and won two Ohio State championships by his senior year.[7] By this point, Middletown's home games were jammed past capacity, with hundreds more listening in their cars in the school parking lot. Coaches and scouts traveled long distances to see Lucas. No Ohio high schooler would approach his level of fame until LeBron James nearly 40 years later.

By 1958, Lucas had drawn crowds of 10,000 to Cleveland Arena and St. John Arena in Columbus. The rivalry Middletown vs. Hamilton high school games then were moved to Cincinnati Gardens due to high interest. When Cincinnati Royals owner Les Harrison heard that Lucas had thrilled a crowd of 12,000 with a 49-point, 34-rebound performance, he made the 18-year-old a territorial draft pick for the NBA team.

Wearing #13 as a senior, Lucas made news by surpassing Wilt Chamberlain's high school scoring mark. College scouts came around in remarkable numbers. Before Lew Alcindor in the mid-1960s, the only high schooler to earn more scholarship offers than Lucas was Chamberlain.

Lucas' Middletown team suffered its only loss in three years at the 1958 Ohio state semifinals to Frank Truitt's undefeated Columbus North team. Losing by one point to the Polar Bears shocked Middletown to such a degree that the school never honored its departing senior star with a ceremony until 50 years later when the oversight was discovered.

Lucas was rated Ohio's top high school player all three varsity years, 1956–1958. He was the first player to be named three-time first-team All-Ohio by the Associated Press and on February 17, 2009 his number 13 was retired at Wade E. Miller gymnasium.

The Ohio State University[edit]

By virtue of the 150+ athletic scholarships he was offered,[8] Lucas had a wide selection from which to choose. Among other recruiters, Ohio State sent then-freshman coach Fred Taylor to meet with Lucas. The two had a good meeting while fishing, and Lucas eventually chose the Buckeyes. Said Lucas at the time, "I wanted to go to school in Ohio, and Ohio State was the only school that talked about academics first. The rest talked about athletics. It was as if my whole future was going to revolve around basketball. It wasn't.".[8] After landing Lucas, Taylor was promoted to be the varsity coach. Lucas's choice of Ohio State directly encouraged Mel Nowell and Bobby Knight to follow suit, and encouraged John Havlicek to choose Ohio State as well, thus creating one of the greatest recruiting classes in college basketball history.

In 1957 and 1958 Lucas was named Mr. Basketball USA. As of 2012, only LeBron James and Lew Alcindor have also been listed twice.[9]

Lucas insisted on an academic scholarship, making his basketball play optional in an effort to control his college career, as he made education a priority over basketball. With the NBA in its financial infancy at this time, he had no thoughts about professional basketball. In 1958-59, the freshmen met the junior varsity several times before Buckeye varsity home games. Lucas and the freshmen drew 10,000 fans to these games. These fans then largely left before the varsity game, sometimes even including football coach Woody Hayes, a noted Lucas fan. In two games against the varsity, Lucas scored a total of 98 points and pulled down over 40 rebounds.

When the three star recruits - Nowell, Havlicek, and Lucas - became sophomores in 1959, they teamed with junior Larry Siegfried and senior Joe Roberts as the starting five for what would become a national championship team. An excellent scorer and rebounder, Lucas orchestrated Ohio State's potent offense while averaging 26.3 points and 16.4 rebounds per game.[10] His ability to distribute the basketball enabled Ohio State's offensive attack to be that much more dynamic and allowed for all five of Ohio State's to average over 10 points per game.[11] That year, Lucas also led the nation in shooting percentage (63.7%) and Ohio State led the nation in scoring offense (90.4 points per game).[11]

Lucas rated behind only University of Cincinnati's Oscar Robertson as 1960 NCAA Player of the Year.

The 1960-61 team went into the NCAA Finals undefeated before losing to Cincinnati in an upset in overtime. During the 1961 NCAA Tournament, Lucas became the only player ever to record a '30-30 ', 33 points and 30 rebounds in a single tournament game, versus Kentucky. A shocked and disappointed Lucas then briefly left school and toured the Soviet Union with an AAU team coached by John McClendon.

The 1961-62 team made it to the NCAA Finals also. Seeing the final against Cincinnati as his last game ever, Lucas tried to play on a badly injured knee, which he had injured in a win over Wake Forest.

Lucas was named Player of the Year in both 1961 and 1962. He was Big Ten Player of the Year all three years, had led the nation in shooting accuracy as a 20-point scorer all three years, and had led the nation in rebounding twice. Sports Illustrated named him "Sportman of the Year" for 1961.[12] The Buckeyes went 78-6 over three years. He was commonly rated the greatest collegian ever upon graduation, to that time.

Lucas also earned his bachelor's degree in three years, and had spent his senior year in post-graduate studies. Ranking in the top 10% of his undergraduate class, he was inducted into the Beta Gamma Sigma International Honor Society for business and management students.

Lucas's #11 became the second uniform number to be retired by Ohio State University, ahead of many of the school's football legends. He is the only player to be Big Ten MVP three times.

1960 Olympics[edit]

In 1960, Lucas was also named to the U.S. Olympic team for the Rome Games that year. He had a mediocre trials, but led in rebounding. The team had four challenging games in the Olympic tournament, two against Italy, one versus the Soviets and one with Brazil. The U.S. team won all its games in the Rome Olympics by wide margins.

Lucas figured strongly in every key win. He tied Robertson for the team scoring lead at 17.0 per game.

The co-top scorer, top rebounder and shooter, U.S. coach Pete Newell later called Lucas "the greatest player I ever coached, and the most unselfish."

Professional basketball[edit]

Cleveland Pipers[edit]

"I never had any special desire to be a professional basketball player", Lucas later said about his pro career. Lucas turned down the Royals to pursue his doctorate in business marketing. But George Steinbrenner, then the owner of the newly formed American Basketball League's Cleveland Pipers, interested the young star with a contract unlike any in sports. The ABL, formed in 1961, played fewer games. They would even delay the start of the season for Lucas to finish his semester. Along with more pay, he also got stock options. Lucas was part of the team ownership before ever playing a pro game. The ABL signing of Lucas shocked the NBA. Soon, commissioner Maury Podoloff had talked Steinbrenner's Pipers into jumping to the NBA. ABL head Abe Saperstein sued. Then the NBA piled entry fees on Steinbrenner. The whole deal collapsed in August 1962 and soon the whole ABL went down as well.[13] Lucas, contracted to Steinbrenner in business deals, would miss the 1962-63 NBA season.


Cincinnati Royals[edit]

Jerry Lucas in 1965

In May 1963 Lucas signed with Warren Hensel, then briefly in process of becoming owner of the NBA's Cincinnati Royals. The local Middletown star and Ohio legend quickly again became a sensation. Lucas was still so popular, that he would boost attendance league-wide that season. He was even a factor, as a then-coveted white star, in the league's new television contract. Lucas would easily be one of the NBA's most popular players throughout the 1960s.

The 1963-64 Royals also included three NBA All-Stars in Oscar Robertson, Wayne Embry and Jack Twyman. With Lucas now added, Cincinnati was quickly named favorites to dethrone the Boston Celtics as NBA champions in Lucas' rookie season.

Moving to forward as a pro, while also playing backup to Embry at center, Lucas focused on rebounding since Cincinnati already had proven scorers, and a main passer in Robertson. He would post several 30-rebound games that season and one of 40 in February, the only one ever for an NBA forward. Cincinnati went 55-25 that season, coming within 2½ games of the Celtics for the Eastern Division lead. With Lucas added, the Royals also won the season series over Boston, 7-5. Boston and Cincinnati emerged with easily the two best records in the league by season's end. Lucas was named the NBA's Rookie of the Year.

The third-place Philadelphia 76ers played Lucas very physically, and he was injured during that season's playoff series. The highly anticipated Boston-Cincinnati playoff that season became anticlimactic as a result.

From 1964–1969, the Royals never contended again quite as closely. Lucas became known for what was then called ' the 20-20 ', compiling averaging twenty points and twenty rebounds. Only Wilt Chamberlain had also consistently averaged 20–20. In an era of high tempo and increased shot attempts, Lucas had plenty of chances for his focus on rebounding. During those six years, only Chamberlain and Boston's Bill Russell out-rebounded Lucas. In 1967-68, Lucas out-rebounded Russell. From 1964 to 1968, Lucas averaged 19.8 rebounds per game.

He was also almost always among the league leaders in field goal percentage, though Lucas often took shots from 20 feet or more and still outshot most inside shooters. He shot 50% for his pro career.

Lucas was named the 1965 NBA All-Star Game MVP, and was named First Team All-NBA in 1965, 1966 and 1968. Three times he averaged more than 20 points per game for a season, while deferring to 30-point scorer Robertson.

Only Chamberlain consistently played more minutes than Lucas, who often logged 44–46 minutes per game, season after season, despite bad knees that often required daily attention.

With the Royals in steady decline, Lucas began to focus more on off-court business opportunities. He became involved in a number of deals, even starting his own fast food chain, Jerry Lucas Beef-N-Shakes. He was a talented magician who knew hundreds of card tricks, which he later published. He also created educational puzzles and games for children. By 1969, he was one of just three millionaires playing in the NBA. He had made most of his money off-court in investments.

San Francisco[edit]

In the summer of 1969, Cincinnati brought in new management, and a new coach in Bob Cousy. Cousy felt the three-time first team All-Pro did not hustle enough. Lucas' knees were so bad, he had considered retirement, and his weight had risen past 250 pounds. Cousy and new Cincinnati general manager Joe Axelson traded Lucas to the San Francisco Warriors for two reserves. One of those reserves, Bill Turner, later joined him in San Francisco that season. Lucas was later injured and distracted during the 1969-70 season with the Warriors. Banks had cancelled the line of credit on his restaurants, and he was forced to declare bankruptcy.

Re-focused on basketball for 1970-71, Lucas returned to All-Pro form and was named the starting power forward for the West All-Star team in the 1971 NBA All-Star Game. Teaming with Nate Thurmond, Clyde Lee, Jeff Mullins, Al Attles and Ron Williams, the Warriors returned to the playoffs.

New York[edit]

By this point, Lucas rated as one of the most accurate shooters and top rebounders in league history. The Warriors, needing a small scoring forward, dealt Lucas to the New York Knickerbockers, who needed a big man to work behind both Willis Reed and Dave DeBusschere. In exchange, the Warriors received Cazzie Russell.

Early in the 1971–72 season, the injury-prone Reed went down for the season. Lucas, not a starting center since college, was pressed into service. Lucas led the Knicks in rebounds and shooting accuracy, and was second in scoring and assists only to Walt Frazier on the club. He was named the team's 1972 Most Valuable Player. Lucas then helped the team past Baltimore and Boston in the playoffs, where his strong outside shooting forced the strong rebounders on those teams away from the basket, and rebounds, to guard him. Lucas helped lead New York into the 1972 NBA Finals, where the Knicks lost in five games.

In 1972–73, Reed had returned, but Lucas played more minutes than Reed at center during that season, helping New York save the injury-prone Reed for the playoffs. Focusing more on passing at center, Lucas averaged five assists per game. His role was crucial for New York's 1973 NBA championship. Lucas had become the first American basketball player to win championships at every level --- high school, college, Olympics, and the pros.

In 1974, the Knicks made a run to repeat as NBA champs, but the team was eliminated in the East finals. Lucas, Reed and DeBusschere, all Hall of Famers, retired as players after that season.

At retirement, Lucas ranked fourth all-time in rebounds per game to Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Bob Pettit.


Lucas was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980 alongside Les Harrison, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. Lucas, West, and Robertson would then become two-time inductees in 2010 as members of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team.

After basketball, Lucas took up a role as an educator and memory education proponent and has written books and produced television programs on the subject.[14] Three of his best sellers are The Memory Book, co-written with Harry Lorayne, his "Ready, Set, Remember", the basis of many of his other writings, and Remember the Word, for memorizing portions of the Bible. In 1977 he published a book called Theomatics: God's Best Kept Secret Revealed, having to do with numerology. His educational programs on image-based memory development are now being used in some Ohio school systems.

Lucas serves as a long-distance Director of Basketball Operations for Indiana Wesleyan University, according to their 2006–2007 media guide, and helps in the nationwide recruiting effort for the Wildcats.[15] Lucas is active today as a public speaker and in celebrity golf tournaments.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ 50 Greatest Players in NBA History
  2. ^ Basketball Triple Crown - The Post
  3. ^ Jerry Lucas - Hoophallcom[
  4. ^ 1960 U.S. Olympic Team -
  5. ^
  6. ^ Yappi. "Yappi Sports Basketball AAA". Retrieved 2007-02-12. 
  7. ^ Augustyn, Adam. "The Britannica Guide to Basketball". pp. 124–126. 
  8. ^ a b ESPN Classic - Lucas had a secret weapon, his mind
  9. ^ Flores, Ronnie (April 13, 2011). "All-time Mr. Basketball USA picks". ESPN. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  10. ^ Jerry Lucas - ESPN Classic
  11. ^ a b 1960OhioState
  12. ^ Amateur basketball's finest player receives the Sports - 01.08.62 - SI Vault
  13. ^ Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, p.42, Bill Madden, Harper Collins Publishing, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-06-169031-0
  14. ^ Jerry Lucas Summary, accessed July 30, 2007.
  15. ^

External links[edit]