SAN FRANCISCO — Nate Thurmond, a tenacious defensive center who played with Wilt Chamberlain and a beloved player in two cities, died Saturday after a short battle with leukemia. He was 74.
The Warriors announced the death of one of their most iconic players less than a month after they lost the NBA Finals to the Cavaliers. Both franchises previously retired the Akron, Ohio, native's No. 42, and he is an iconic figure in both places.
Mr. Thurmond played 11 of his 14 seasons with the Warriors and retired after the 1976-77 season, one year after leading the "Miracle" Cavaliers to an improbable trip to the Eastern Conference final.
"Without a doubt, he is one of the most beloved figures to ever wear a Warriors uniform," Golden State owner Joe Lacob said.
Rick Barry, a longtime Warriors teammate, visited Mr. Thurmond's bedside last weekend to pay his respects. "It was a sad time, obviously. It's never an easy thing to say goodbye to a friend," Barry, 72, said, "but he was at peace with himself."
Current Cavalier and Akron native LeBron James said on Twitter: "Knowing u played in the same rec league as me growing up gave me hope of making it out! Thanks!"
Mr. Thurmond was voted one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history in 1996. "Looking back, he was as ferocious as any player in the history of the game on the court, but one of the kindest and nicest souls in everyday life," former teammate Al Attles said.
Mr. Thurmond, a seven-time All-Star, was an intimidating 6-foot-11, 225-pound force in the era of Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Abdul-Jabbar said Thurmond was the toughest center he ever faced. "When I score on Nate, I know I've done something," Abdul-Jabbar once said. "He sweats, and he wants you to sweat, too."
He recorded the first official quadruple double in NBA history as a Chicago Bull when he had 22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists and 12 blocks against the Hawks in 1974. He is one of only four players to grab more than 40 rebounds in a game.
The Warriors drafted Mr. Thurmond with the third pick in 1963 out of Bowling Green.
Mr. Thurmond apprenticed under Chamberlain until the Warriors traded Chamberlain to the 76ers in the middle of the 1964-65 season. Mr. Thurmond went on to average 15 points and 15 rebounds during his career and still holds the Warriors franchise records for rebounds and minutes played. On Nov. 4, 1967, he became the first player ever to hold Chamberlain scoreless for a game.
The Warriors traded Mr. Thurmond to the Bulls before the 1974-75 season. The Bulls traded him the next season to his hometown Cavaliers.
He played a key role in the Cavs' memorable playoff run his first year in Cleveland, which beat the Washington Bullets in seven games to get to the Eastern final. The Cavs lost to the Celtics in six games, but Thurmond's leadership that season increased his local legend.
Cavaliers teammate Campy Russell said Saturday that "the Cavaliers franchise will always love and respect him as a true Cavalier legend."
RILEY TAKES BLAME: A contrite Pat Riley blames himself for Dwyane Wade's decision to leave the Heat, adding that he wishes he could have done more to keep the three-time champion. Riley, the Heat's president, said if he had the chance, he would have handled Wade's free agency differently. Wade signed a $47 million, two-year deal with the Bulls this month, leaving Miami without its franchise leader in several categories and sparking a rebuilding project. "I didn't make it happen. Dwyane left, so the buck really stops here," Riley said. "I'm not trying to fall on the sword for anybody. I have great regret that I didn't put myself in the middle of it and immerse myself totally in the middle of it, get in a canoe and paddle to the Mediterranean if I had to."