Lucas was as tough as they come

FRANK ZICARELLI,QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:56 PM ET

SACRAMENTO — Maurice Lucas put the power in power forward, a no-nonsense player who never took a night off and who would knock a guy senseless if the play demanded it.

To many of today’s generation of ballers, the name Maurice Lucas barely resonates in the basketball consciousness, which is sad but also typical among many.

Raptors assistant coach Alex English was a contemporary of Lucas, a guy who battled against Lucas and one who would occasionally touch base with Lucas during his battle with bladder cancer, a fight that came to an end Sunday.

Maurice Lucas was 58.

Raptors starting point guard Jarrett Jack broke into the NBA with Portland at a time when Lucas was breaking into his new role as an assistant with the Trail Blazers.

“He was one of those guys who was brutal on the floor, but off the floor, Mo was so nice. He was a big baby,’’ recalled English on Monday.

Jack’s father had just placed a call to the point guard just as the Raptors were about to wing their way to Sacramento looking for Lucas’ number.

“The two bonded,’’ Jack said. “I was on the Internet (Sunday) and happened to click on nba.com when I saw that coach Lucas had passed away. It was a sad moment for me.”

Without Maurice Lucas, it’s doubtful Portland would have toppled a superior Philadelphia 76ers team to win the 1977 NBA title.

Without Lucas intimidating opponents, it’s doubtful Bill Walton would have been able to flourish the way he did.

Lucas was anointed the Enforcer, playing a style of basketball that is basically forbidden in today’s game.

As hard and as tough as Reggie Evans plays on every possession, it pales to the way Lucas conducted himself.

“Reggie is tough, but I can’t say the word compared to Mo Lucas,’’ added English.

“When Mo was on the floor, he had that come-to-work demeanour like Reggie. He was tough and rough. We were friends.

“He had a great career and he was a great person. The NBA, the people who knew him, they will always remember him. He was one of the toughest power forwards to play the game.”

According to English, Lucas was also misunderstood.

The enforcer aura Lucas projected belied his off-court personality, his brute mentality overshadowing a man who was always aware of his surroundings, politically, socially and racially.

English and Lucas were part of the first basketball delegation to visit China following the death of Chairman Mao.

“Mo was our group’s vice-president on that trip and I remember how engaging he was with the Chinese culture and how much he knew politically was going on in that country,’’ added English.

“Mo was a smart brute. He’d hit you when the referee wasn’t looking but he wasn’t looking to hurt you. He just wanted you to know that he was there.

“And he wasn’t just a brute because he was an offensive player as well. I think his tough demeanour kind of fooled a lot of people.”

Jack, who turned 27 last week, saw tape of Lucas’ playing days.

“It was one of those basketball DVDs and there was this dude wearing No. 20,’’ said Jack. “He wanted to fight everyone. He was trying to fight Magic Johnson and Magic Johnson is always smiling.”

Jack also saw footage of Game 2 of the 1977 final when the series swung in Portland’s favour after Lucas challenged 76ers big man Darryl Dawkins, the benches emptied and both Dawkins and Lucas were ejected.

“I remember watching that on ESPN Classic,’’ continued Jack. “He was all about winning and all about the team and about the organization.

“They said he was second to none. The way he defended his teammates epitomized what coach Lucas stood for.”

Jack admits Lucas wouldn’t last long in today’s game when players are teed up for making an awkward glance at an official.

“It would have been something to watch him play this season because he’d probably be suspended for a long time.

“Coach Lucas would be in the red.”

When Jack signed with the Raptors last season, one of the first to call was Lucas.

“He was joking around telling me how he needed a loan, but he always told me to keep working hard and you’ll get everything you ask for.

“He was one of the first guys to keep me level-headed when I first came into the league.

“The basketball community has lost a great person and the community in general has lost a great person.”

The Raptors close out their four-game Western road trip in Portland on Sunday.


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