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Warriors legend, Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond dies

One of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players had been battling leukemia

POSTED: Jul 16, 2016 2:25 PM ET
UPDATED: Jul 17, 2016 10:49 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper


Thurmond finished his career averaging 15 points and 15 rebounds, including a 3-season run of 21.3, 22 and 19.7 boards.

Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond, a tenacious force on the court as a seven-time All-Star in the 1960s and '70s in contrast to his personality as a gentle giant who would become a community ambassador for the Warriors and a restaurant owner in San Francisco, died Saturday after a battle with leukemia, the team announced. He was 74.

Thurmond played 11 years for the San Francisco and Golden State Warriors, one full season and 13 games of another for the Bulls and parts of two others for the Cavaliers in a homecoming for the Akron, Ohio, native. He retired after 1976-77 in Cleveland as a two-time first-team All-Defense selection, a three-time choice for second-team and with seven top-10 finishes in rebounding.

Remembering Nate Thurmond

The NBA family mourns the loss of one of the giants of the game, Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond, who passed away today at the age of 74.

He is still 10th on the career rebounding list many decades after retiring, a testament to his presence inside even though his name rarely gets mentioned with the great big men of the time, especially Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Thurmond is also, along with Russell, Chamberlain and Jerry Lucas, one of four players in league history to grab 40 rebounds in a game. (Chamberlain did it 15 times, Russell 11.)

"I wasn't a hell of a leaper, but I had good timing," Thurmond told the Los Angeles Times in 2009. "I think I would still average more rebounds than some guys who I won't name."

He finished with career averages of 15 points, once breaking 20 for five years in a row, and 15 rebounds, including a three-season run of 21.3, 22 and 19.7 boards. The third pick in the 1963 draft was also in the top 10 in blocks twice and finished at 2.10 in all, with the important asterisk that the statistic was not kept until the 11th of his 14 seasons.

"I'm just not a tricky basketball player," he told Sport magazine while still playing. "Being flashy takes unnecessary effort. Once I got cute and tore up a leg muscle that kept me off the court for four weeks. I suppose I could make a reputation for myself by dunking the ball and other stuff. But what would it get me?"

The reputation he did make was for rebounding and defense.

"He plays me better than anybody ever has," Abdul-Jabbar told Basketball Digest. "He's tall, has real long arms, and most of all he's agile and strong."

Thurmond was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1985 and named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history in 1996, a tribute that included being honored during All-Star weekend later that season, in February 1997, in Cleveland, about 40 miles from where he grew up and was high school teammates with future All-Star Gus Johnson. The Warriors and Cavaliers both retired Thurmond's No. 42.

I think I would still average more rebounds than some guys who I won't name.

– Nate Thurmond in 2009

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released the following statement:

"Nate Thurmond was a giant of his era and one of the greatest players in the history of our game. A fierce competitor with an incredible array of skills, Nate had a remarkable Hall of Fame career that included the first quadruple-double in NBA history. Nate brought the same passion to his longtime community-relations role with the Golden State Warriors, who benefited from his deep knowledge of the game and warmth and kindness to everyone he encountered for more than 30 years. We are deeply saddened by his loss."

Thurmond became a fixture around the Bay Area beyond basketball, living in a neighborhood overlooking San Francisco, enjoying the nightlife as a stylish dresser and eventually opening a soul-food restaurant that stayed in business eight years. In 1990, he started Big Nate's BBQ and worked out of an upstairs cubby-hole office. He occasionally interacted with customers but preferred a low profile and the approach that customers should come for the food, not an autograph or picture. Thurmond sold Big Nate's in 2010.

His work as a community ambassador for the Warriors included numerous appearances on behalf of the team, along with former player and coach Al Attles and, starting in 2014, former player Adonal Foyle. Thurmond remained popular with fans and always talked about being grateful at being able to be involved in his adopted hometown.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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