- Cincinnati Royals 1963 - 1974
A former college and professional basketball great, Jerry Ray Lucas currently serves as an expert for memory education ( Dr. Memory ). Lucas was born in the state of Ohio in the town Middletown. The 6’8” tall Forward-Center was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals while still in high school in 1958. He also played for the San Fransisco ( Golden State ) Warriors, and the New York Knickerbockers. New York won the NBA title with him in 1973.
Lucas was born into ‘ the high school capital of Ohio ‘ as Middletown was known in the 1950s. The town’s support of their local high school was incredible during that era. The town also boasted amazing summer playground at Sunset Park, which attracted college and pro players from all over the region. Lucas also had considerable individual gifts. At age 15, he was already 6’ 7. His large hands were remarkably dextrous and his eye sight was rated 20-10. His ability to shoot was so advanced by that age, that he began to miss shots on purpose on different parts of the rim so that he could see how rebounds came off. Lucas was also very intelligent, and gifted with a now-legendary memory, which made it easy to retain coaching and recall the tendencies of opponents. A genial giant with good looks, Lucas was considered a coach’s dream.
His high school career was so remarkable that some experts still rate Jerry Lucas as the greatest high school player ever. A playground legend before his high school career even started, Lucas soon overwhelmed high school opponents. He was so dominant on the backboards that teamates often did not need to pass to him. Teammates would shoot, and Lucas would simply get the miss, then score. As his high school career continued, Lucas became more involved in the offense and his statistics became staggering. In 32-minute games, it was common for Lucas to score 40, pull down 20 rebounds and hit 60% of his shots in an era when 35% was common. Passing well out of double-teams, he soon also led the team in assists as a center. Media mania soon made Lucas the most famous player in the state by 1957, and then the most famous high school player in the country by 1958. Crowds of 10,000 were common for him in an age with no cable or internet, and little television at all. Middletown, with Lucas, ran off 76 straight victories and won two Ohio state high school championships. Interest was so high that he appeared on ‘ The Steve Allen Show ‘ , the forerunner to Jay Leno, in 1958. When a Middletown-Hamilton high school game was moved to Cincinnati Gardens in January, 1958, over 10,000 showed to see Lucas score 49 points with 34 rebounds. NBA Cincinnati Royals owner Les Harrison was so impressed that he made Lucas a territorial draft choice in 1958.
Lucas was going to college first, however. With some 175 scholarship offers to choose from, Lucas chose Ohio State when freshman coach Fred Taylor agreed to an academic scholarship, not an athletic one. Education, not the mania of his basketball career, was his priority. Lucas would gain his BS degree in Business in just three years with a 3.5 average. His announcement to Ohio state encouraged other Ohio stars to announce there too, including two future Hall Of Famers, John Havlicek and Bobby Knight. Taylor, also later a Hall Of Famer, was promoted to varsity coach after landing Lucas. The Buckeyes went 78-6 in his three varsity seasons for the Buckeyes. Ohio State won the national championship in 1960, had just one loss in 1961, and returned for a third time to the NCAA Finals in 1962. Lucas was clearly the leader of these teams, as the team’s top scorer, rebounder and passer. Lucas led the nation in shooting percentage at over 60% all three years, and in rebounding twice. Focusing again on rebounding and shooting conservatively, he averaged 24 points per game. Lucas was twice named NCAA Player Of The Year.
Lucas was also easily named to the 1960 USA Olympic team for the Rome Games that year. At 6’9, he was the shortest center on the team. But his remarkable passing made the team click, and he was named ahead of future Hall Of Famer Walt Bellamy as starter. The team, which also included Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Terry Dischinger and coach Pete Newell, sailed to a Gold Medal. Newell later called Lucas ‘ the greatest player I ever coached and the most unselfish ‘ . Lucas also impressed in that he had taken the time to memorize paragraphs of Japanese, Italian and Russian to nicely converse with opponents. He made such an impression that Lucas was later invited to tour Russia with an AAU team in 1961, and he also was later named to a team of touring NBA players for games in Europe in 1964.
In 1962, Lucas was finally eligible to play pro ball. But there was little money in the meager National Basketball Association then, and he balked to continue post-graduate business studies. Another circuit, the new American Basketball league, had a Cleveland entry owned by future New York Yankees boss George Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner approached Lucas from a businessman’s standpoint, even offering team stock. Lucas signed with the ABL, sparking a conflict between the two leagues. The NBA wooed Steinbrenner into jumping his Cleveland team to the NBA to regain Lucas, then saddled him with entry fees he could not afford. The ABL sued also. Steinbrenner soon folded amid mounting debts, and Lucas, by nature of his contract, had to sit out the 1962-63 season. The ABL soon folded also. He had never played a game in the ABL.
The following year, Lucas agreed to join Cincinnati’s NBA team. The local former Middletown star was an immediate sensation, and the team set attendance records during his rookie season. Other NBA teams also benefitted from Lucas at their ticket windows as well. With Lucas now on board at a new power forward position, the Royals, which also had future Hall Of Famers Oscar Robertson, Jack Twyman and Wayne Embry, soared to the second-best record in the NBA in 1964. Lucas led the league in shooting accuracy and pulled down 40 rebounds in a single game, among other highlights. He was named 1964 NBA Rookie Of The Year. Lucas was injured in the 1964 playoffs, and the Royals sank without him, losing to rival Boston. Lucas improved during his second season, finishing a close third in rebounds to Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell despite playing further away from the basket as a forward. He was again among the leaders in shooting percentage, with his scoring average passing 20 points per game. Also the team’s backup center in addition to starting power forward, Lucas played an amazing 44-46 minutes per game for Cincinnati. He would stay at this high level throughout his remaining years in Cincinnati, which he left in trade in 1969. Lucas was three times named First Team All-NBA ( 1965,1966, 1968 ). He was also named the 1965 All Star Game’s Most Valuable Player. From 1965-1968, he averaged 19.4 rebounds, and topped Boston’s Bill Russell for a full season in 1968. He remained one of the NBA’s biggest drawing stars of the period as well. With the Royals falling out of contention after 1966, Lucas focused on off-court business and investments, using his fame. A cutting edge corporate athlete, Lucas became a millionaire in 1968 thanks to his ‘ Jerry Lucas Beef-N-Shakes ‘ chain of fast food restaurants. At the time, the NBA had just two other millionaires. In 1969, his investments plumetted and his popularity did with it. Lucas had to later declare bankruptcy. New Royals coach Bob Cousy then traded Lucas out of Ohio, a shock then to many.
The 1969-70 season in San Fransisco was a tough, adjusting one for Lucas. Focusing on basketball again, Lucas returned to All-Star form in 1970-71. He teamed with center Nate Thurmond and guard Jeff Mullins to lead the Warriors back to the playoffs. In 1971, the New York Knickerbockers, looking to return to the NBA Finals, traded for Lucas. He joined big men Dave DeBusschere and Willis Reed and all three would play roughly equal roles in bringing the Knicks back to the NBA Finals in 1972 and 1973. In 1972, with Reed injured, Lucas was named New York’s starting center. He was the team’s leading rebounder and most accurate shooter, and was second in scoring and assists only to guard Walt Frazier. Most impressive of all was the effect Lucas had on opposing defenses. Very accurate as a shooter from 20-25 feet, Lucas lured opposing centers away from the basket to guard him or shot over them again and again. He also passed often to cutting scorers. Defensively, New York had the NBA’s third-best defense with Lucas playing 44 minutes a game at center. In 1973, Reed returned and the deeper Knicks won the NBA title. Lucas became the first American basketball player ever to have played on championship teams at every level — high school, college, Olympics, and the pros. He had been a big factor at each level. One season later, he retired as one of the NBA all-time five best rebounders and percentage shooters at that time. One can only wonder ow dangerous he might have been with a three-point line. The NBA did not yet have one during his career. The 235-pounder also had never lifted a weight. He battled knee issues throughout his career, from high school on, but never missed a beat.
He also had become a media darling all over again in New York. Lucas appeared often on television, performing an assortment of impressive memory feats and magic tricks. He co-wrote ‘ The Memory Book ‘ with Harry Lorayne, a best seller. He also became a born again Christian and wrote ‘ Remember The Word ‘, a guide helping readers to remember and recall Bible passages. Later dubbing himself ‘ Dr. Memory ‘ , Lucas has conducted seminars for corporations and the public to promote image-based education. ‘ Imagine a tree in your mind and you see a picture of a tree ‘, he says. ‘ Now apply the same approach to people, names, places, anything you want to remember ‘. Lucas has since written 30 books on memory education and continues to teach today at age 70.
Post career honors for Lucas include being named one of The 50 Greatest NBA Players in 1996, and being named to Sports Ilustrated’s five-man college Team Of The Century in 1999. Lucas was inducted into the Basketball Hall Of Fame in 1979. Middletown and Ohio State have retired his number in ceremonies.
He lives today in remote Templeton, California.