Jerry Lucas was born in Middletown, Ohio on March 30, 1940 and it didn’t take long for many to realize that he was special. Not just on the basketball court, but in ways truly unique to all humans. A champion on almost every level in his career, Lucas would start by winning an Ohio State Basketball Championship at Middletown High School his sophomore season. He scored an outlandish 53 and 44 points respectively in consecutive games that sophomore year in the state tournament. His high school playing days left him touted as one of the best players ever to come out of the state of Ohio and his accolades are impressive. He was a three-year varsity letter winner, named to the All-State team in 1956, 1957, and 1958, two-time Ohio State player of the year in 1957 and 1958, and he would be rewarded with a scholarship to the Ohio State University following his graduation from Middletown.
While at OSU, Jerry Lucas continued to achieve greatness. Under the guidance of Hall of Fame coach Fred Taylor, Lucas would be an instrumental part of one of the greatest collegiate runs in history. While Lucas was with the Buckeyes, OSU recorded an amazing 78-6 record! With John Havlicek and Bob Knight, Lucas would help lead the Buckeyes to three straight NCAA championship game appearances and three straight Big 10 championships from 1960-62. Only capturing the NCAA crown in their first appearance against Cal in 1960, Lucas didn’t leave much else to be accomplished. His collegiate resume reads long and extraordinary. Jerry Lucas was a three-time letter winner at OSU, two-time Sporting News Player of the Year in 1961 and ‘62, three-time consensus All-American in 1960, ‘61, and ‘62, was named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 1962, named to the All-Big 10 first team in 1960-’62, named All-Big 10 MVP in 1960-’62, scored 1,900 total points in his 82 games for an average of 24.3, (Third All-Time in OSU history), shot an amazing 62.4% from the field in a Buckeye uniform, holds the OSU All-Time records for rebounding totals, (1,411), and average, (17.2), had 17 games with 20 rebounds or more, and recorded 30 rebounds in a game on three separate occasions. If this were the final chapter in Jerry Lucas’s basketball journey it would have been a legendary career, but the sick thing is that this is merely a blip on his career accomplishments.
During these years Jerry Lucas was also the youngest member of an Olympic amateur team that won gold in the 1960 games in Rome. Lucas was teamed up with future stars Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, and Walt Bellamy to bring home the gold for the USA. He tied Oscar Robertson for the highest scoring average with 17.0 points per game.
In 1962 Jerry Lucas was selected second overall in the territorial draft by the Cincinnati Royals. Lucas would forgo that initial contract and sign with the Cleveland Pipers of the ABA. Following a contract fizzle out with the Pipers, Lucas would have to sit out the 1962 season, but would return with the original Royals in the 1963-64 season.
Once on the hardwood, Lucas would pick right back up where he had left off. He would capture Rookie of the Year honors by posting the third best rebounding totals in the league at 17.4 boards per game, (only bested by the best rebounding duo ever in Chamberlain and Russell), and scored at a rock solid pace of 17.7 points per game. These types of numbers were going to become the staple of Lucas’s game for many years to come. The following two years in Cincinnati, Lucas would do something only accomplished by Nate Thurmond and Wilt Chamberlain in the history of the NBA. Lucas joined two of the most dominating men in the history of the game in a club so exclusive that no other player since has been granted membership. That club my friends is the 20/20 club. All it takes is averages of 20 rebounds and 20 points for a season to be initiated and Lucas did just that in back-to-back years. In 1964, Lucas posted averages of 21.4 points and 20 rebounds. He followed up that season with an encore performance of 21.5 points and 21.1 rebounds a game. Jerry’s averages would dip slightly over the remaining course of his career, but this feat alone solidifies him with the All-Time greats.
He was traded to the San Francisco Warriors in 1969 where he only played one full season with the club before being again traded to his final destination with the New York Knicks in 1971. Having won championships in high school, college, and the Olympics. Jerry Lucas would finally taste the sweet nectar of the NBA championship with New York in 1973. Teaming up with Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, and Phil Jackson, (That’s right, the Zen master himself), the New York Knicks proved to be an overwhelming match up for the Los Angeles Lakers. With Lucas filling in for the injured Willis Reed at center, the Lakers avoided the sweep, but could only win one game against the Knicks on their run to the crown. Jerry Lucas was now a winner on every level he had ever played on.
His cumulative basketball honors are so lengthy that I will now only recap what he accomplished as a NBA player, but even those are extensive. As a player in the NBA, Jerry Lucas was an All-NBA First Team selection three times in 1965, ‘66, and again in ‘68. He was All-NBA Second Team twice in 1964 and in ‘67, a NBA All-Star in 1964, ‘65, ‘66, ‘67, ‘68, ‘69, and ‘71, All-Star game MVP in 1965, NBA Rookie of the Year in 1964, All-NBA Rookie team in the same year, and was enshrined to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979. Jerry Lucas was also included in the list of the 50 greatest NBA players of All-Time back in 1996.
Typically this is where my installment would stop, but I mentioned previously in this article that Jerry Lucas was not only a unique basketball talent ,but also a unique human being. Now I will explain what I meant. Jerry Lucas was not the biggest, strongest, or able to jump the highest while playing basketball at any level throughout his career. What Jerry Lucas did have however was a superior mind that was capable of figuring out any of his opponent’s weaknesses and exploiting them. If Jerry wasn’t able to score in the post, he would use a deadly outside shot. If he was quicker than his opponent he would out fox them around the basket. Using his wit, and pure desire, Jerry Lucas dominated the game in a fashion that left many a player dumbfounded. He also used his extraordinary mind to memorize things and master mnemonic devices. Jerry used a mind truly one in a million as he demonstrated on national television in the 1970’s what he was intellectually capable of. Lucas, armed only with his mind, memorized the first 500 pages of the Manhattan phone book! A consummate entertainer, Jerry Lucas entertained kids and adults throughout the next couple of decades with magic and charisma. He even has a best-selling memory book published and also has helped author 30 other books on memory with his Lucas Learning publishing company. All of this, plus a pretty impressive basketball resume is why Jerry Lucas is this installment of Historical Glimpses. Enjoy hoop fans, I certainly did!