SBU’s Legend Returns to Campus for Court Dedication, Tributes to his Service

HNP Communications Features

ALLEGANY, N.Y. — NBA Hall-of-Famer Bob Lanier, a 1970 St. Bonaventure University (SBU) graduate, returned to his alma mater here last week for dedication of a new court named for him at the Reilly Center. The event was filled with both nostalgia and dreams for the future, as Lanier and others spoke passionately of their hopes and plans for the university and its basketball team.

Lanier, a standout on the SBU men’s basketball team from 1967-70, leading it to the NCAA Final Four his senior year, spoke to a crowd of approximately 2,000 people on Oct. 12 about his love for SBU. He recalled a caring collegial environment, in which strong relationships were encouraged.

The Importance of Giving Back

Lanier, who is special assistant to the NBA commissioner, also spoke emphatically about the importance of “giving back.”

Devoting much of his time since retirement from the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks to helping children, Lanier launched and chaired the NBA’s Stay in School Program. He is also involved with NBA Cares, a program that supports social responsibility activities.

He has also co-authored a series of children’s books titled “Hey L’il D” that promotes a positive attitude for children in the face of life’s challenges; the books, inspired by Lanier’s childhood, also stress the power of and value of reading and education.  Information about his service work can be found in an interview on SBU’s Web site; see below.

“My guess is that Bob has made more of an impact since he retired from playing,” said Athletic Director Steve Watson.

According to the SBU interview, Lanier routinely visits with students and delivers motivational and educational messages encouraging youth literacy.

The Friday evening program began with prayer by James Vacco, OFM, followed by several speeches praising recent enhancements to the 40-year-old gym. Funding for the Bob Lanier Court came from a group of St. Bonaventure alumni, spearheaded by a $200,000 gift from Lisa and Samuel Molinaro of New York City, SBU classes of 1981 and 1980, respectively.

Men’s basketball head coach Mark Schmidt described Lanier’s significance to St. Bonaventure. “When I was a kid, I thought of this college as Bob Lanier University.”

A Weekend of Dedication and Activities

The court-naming ceremony was one of several events held to honor Lanier that weekend. On Saturday, the Eighth Annual Tip-Off Gala, a fundraiser and celebration of the university’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, was held at Olean’s Premier Banquet Center, at which F. Edward Coughlin, OFM, SBU vice president for Franciscan Mission, gave the invocation.

Sister Margaret Carney, OSF, president of the university, spoke at both the Friday and Saturday events.

Lanier said he admires Sr. Margaret, whom, he called “a spark plug of a woman.” “Who better to be the leader of this university then this little energetic lady who lives and breathes her job?” he asked.

He commended the work of Sr. Margaret and Steve Watson in reaching out to alumni “to help get the school in a new direction.”

Also that weekend, a life-size wooden statue of Lanier was unveiled behind the Reilly Center. The 6-foot, 11-inch Lanier was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992, after a 14-year career and more than 19,000 points.

SBU Unveils Lanier Statue
The statue was carved from the trunk of a 150-year-old maple tree that was among thousands of trees destroyed in the 2006 October snowstorm in Buffalo, Lanier’s hometown. The statue of Lanier is the 31st statue — the number on his retired jersey now hanging in the Reilly Center — made by Carvings for a Cause, an effort to raise money to pay for reforestation of the region.

“This is overwhelming,” said Lanier, as he gazed up at the statue that stands about 15 feet tall. “It’s so unexpected. All I can say is ‘Wow’.”

He added that recent SBU events, as well as contact from SBU administrators, “Make you feel like your school really still cares about you; you want to do whatever you can to help.”

“If somebody cut me, I bleed brown and white. I’m a Brown Indian in my heart.”

— Jocelyn Thomas is the Province’s director of communications and an alumnus of St. Bonaventure University.