Sam Lacey, a leading N.B.A. center of the 1970s who could do just about anything on the court but was often overlooked, playing for mostly lackluster teams, died on Friday at his home in Kansas City, Mo. He was 66. His daughter Gretchen Downey said the cause had not yet been determined. Spending most of his 13 National Basketball Association seasons with the Cincinnati Royals and the Kansas City Kings, the Royals’ successor franchise, Lacey was a rugged rebounder, at 6 feet 10 inches and 235 pounds, and an outstanding shot blocker. He also hit timely baskets and was a fine playmaker.
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“On behalf of the entire Sacramento Kings organization, I want to express our most profound and heartfelt condolences to Sam Lacey’s family and friends over his recent passing,” Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro said in a prepared statement. “One of the finest and longest-tenured players to ever don a Kings uniform, Sam’s prolific legacy is evident throughout franchise lore, where he ranks first in games played, rebounds, blocks and steals. He was also known as a tireless worker and a wonderful teammate. He will be greatly missed and forever remembered for his contributions on the game of basketball and in life.”
Sam Lacey may have never played in Sacramento. However, that doesn’t diminish his legacy as one of the greatest players in Kings franchise history. Lacey passed away last Friday at the age of 66. He spent the majority of his career as a member of the Kings during the franchise’s time in Cincinnati and Kansas City. He posted career averages of 10.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game and is No. 44 jersey is one of just 10 retired numbers to hang up in the rafters of Sleep Train Arena.
“He was the best rebounder I’ve ever seen,” said longtime Aggie basketball fan Bill Harty. “Nothing ever got away from him. He had 27 rebounds in a game. That’s a record that is not going to be broken anytime soon. Those guys in 1970 really measured up with anyone in the country. We haven’t really had a team again of that stature with first-team All-Americans.”
And, then the celebration just stopped. Moments after New Mexico State’s Aggies won the Western Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament, with a 77-55 victory Saturday against the University of Idaho, word came that former Aggie great Sam Lacey died. Lacey was 65. News of Lacey’s death was first reported by the Kansas City Star. Lacey was living in Kansas City at the time of his death. From Indianola, Miss., Lacey was named an All-American at New Mexico State University and helped the Aggies reach the 1970 Final Four. He, along with Jimmy Collins, Charlie Criss, John Burgess and Chito Reyes led the Aggies to what is still considered NMSU’s greatest accomplishment in basketball, a 27-3 record during the 1969-70 season, and NMSU’s only appearance in the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four.