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NBA 75 Series :#65 Jerry Lucas

Updated: Jan 10, 2022

Ranked #65 in my 75 Greatest NBA Players of All Time is one of the greatest rebounders and one of the best shooting forwards ever in Jerry Ray Lucas. Lucas was born on March 30, 1940 in Middletown, Ohio to his mother Jean, who worked on an assembly line in a box factory, and his father Mark who was a pressman in a paper mill.

Lucas was tall, ambidextrous, and an intelligent player who could go out and get you a double-double every game. He was an incredible natural shooter and was one of the first elite stretch forwards. At 6-foot-8 he led Middletown High School to 76 consecutive wins, two Ohio State high school championships, Parade All-American honors, and scored a state record 2,466 career points. In 1959 he would enroll at Ohio State University after one of the greatest high school careers of all time and had over 150 scholarship offers from various colleges.

He accepted an academic scholarship instead of an athletic one, so if he wanted to quit the team he could have that option to do so. While at Ohio State he played for future legendary coach Bob Knight, Larry Siegfried, Mel Nowell, and another NBA Legend in John Havlicek.

During Lucas’s time there the Buckeyes had a total win-loss record of 78–6 during Lucas’s three years on the varsity basketball squad while appearing in three National Championship games and winning the championship in 1960. He would lead the NCAA in field goal percentage all three years, rebounding twice, and won back-to-back National Player of the Year Awards (1961-62). He would also star on the 1960 Olympic gold medal-winning U.S. basketball team in Rome where he would team up with other future NBA stars in Jerry West and Oscar Robertson where they would defeat Brazil 90-63 in the medal clinching game.

After an illustrious college career that also included him winning the Big Ten Player of the Year award three times, Lucas entered the 1962 NBA Draft and was drafted as a territorial pick by the Cincinnati Royals (now Sacramento Kings). However, Lucas would sign with the American Basketball League (ABL) Cleveland Pipers after the team offered him $10,000 less than what the Royals offered him, which was $40,000. The Pipers would drop out of the ABL and this led Lucas to not suit up for the NBA until 1963.

Despite the late start, Lucas got off the ground running by winning Rookie of the Year and second team All-NBA honors in 1963-64, averaging 17.7 ppg and 17.4 rpg while leading the league in field goal percentage (52.7%). He is the only player other than Wilt Chamberlain (10 seasons) to average at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in multiple seasons, doing so in his second and third seasons in the NBA: 21.4 and 20.0 in 1964-65 and 21.5 and 21.1 in 1965-66.

He was traded to the New York Knicks on May 7, 1971 in a blockbuster trade involving Cazzie Russell. He played his final three seasons in New York, where he reached The Finals twice and won the 1973 NBA championship backing up Willis Reed at center. Lucas was a seven-time All-Star and the 1965 All-Star Game MVP. His five All-NBA selections include three years on the First Team: 1964-65, '65-66 and '67-68.

A winner at every level and one of the best rebounders of all time. Not the tallest, standing just 6-foot-8, nor the greatest leaper, Jerry Lucas still found a way to haul in 12,943 career rebounds for a career average of 15.6 per game (4th all-time). He was what we would call today a modern four with his elite shooting ability, with that one-hand push shot of his, and a solid defender.

He also was a two-time All-NBA second team member and was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1980. He’s a member of the NBA’s 50th and 75th anniversary teams.


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