The video tribute displayed Bob Lanier’s entire offensive repertoire.
Younger fans, who may have only heard of Lanier’s impact on the Detroit Pistons organization, received visual evidence of the feathery shooting touch, the offensive skill and toughness that made Lanier a true Pistons legend and a Hall of Famer.
The video also featured tributes from Pistons greats like Dave Bing and Isiah Thomas.
Following the video and while a spotlight illuminated Lanier’s No. 16 jersey in the LCA rafters, former Pistons greats escorted five Lanier family members to center court where they were presented commemorative glass plates to honor Lanier as a grateful crowd showed its appreciation.
The evening was a high point of the Pistons’ season-long remembrance of Lanier, who played almost 10 seasons for the Pistons. A small No. 16 patch adorns Pistons jerseys this season, and it was fitting the Bucks were the opponent since that’s where Lanier spent the latter years of his playing career.
For the Pistons, the night was a way to show appreciation and gratitude to the giant man nicknamed the Big Dobber.
And while Lanier became famous for his play on the court, his son noted the impact Lanier had off the court through his work in the Detroit community and his work with the NBA to promote education following his retirement.
“My father represented Detroit with his community outreach and by helping those less fortunate,” Robert Lanier III told Pistons.com. “The Pistons recognize his impact so I’m pleased they are honoring him tonight and my family is here to embrace that.”
‘One of the best big men in the league’
Lanier starred at St. Bonaventure University in New York state. He was a three-time All-American and led the Bonnies to the Final Four in 1970. The Pistons used the first pick of the 1970 NBA Draft to select the 6-foot-11, 250-pound center. He went on to make the NBA All-Star Game eight times. He was the Most Valuable Player of the 1974 NBA All-Star Game, and he scored nearly 19,000 points in his career, with more than 9,500 rebounds.
Lanier played during the golden age of big men where he faced all-time greats like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Former Michigan and Clarkston standout Tim McCormick, who is a studio analyst for Bally Sports Detroit, idolized Lanier while growing up.
“He was tough and a little bit mean, but he was the nicest guy in the world,” said McCormick, who met Lanier at a basketball camp when he was in the eighth grade. “I always wanted to be like Bob Lanier. I'll never forget having a chance to play against him for the first time. He knew my name, shook my hand. I couldn't believe it.”
Pistons owner Tom Gores cultivated a relationship with Lanier after he acquired the Pistons in 2011 and spoke for the entire organization when Lanier died.
“As fierce and as dominant as Bob was on the court, he was equally kind and impactful in the community,” Gores said. “As an ambassador for both the Pistons organization and the NBA, he represented our league, our franchise and our fans with great passion and integrity.”
Lanier was traded to the Bucks during the 1980-81 season. It was during that season that Bally Sports Detroit Pistons analyst Greg Kelser, a Pistons rookie that season, got to know Lanier, who could be a demanding teammate.
“Being a rookie on a team with Bob Lanier is not the easiest thing in the world,” Kelser said with a smile. “He was … demanding, but, but fair. And I learned a lot from Bob in the short time I played with him.”
A day to remember a Pistons ‘ambassador’
The Lanier party started the day started with a tour and brunch at the Pistons Performance Center in the New Center area of downtown Detroit. At the PPC, the family met with Pistons general manager Troy Weaver. Before the game, a reception hosted by Pistons Vice Chairman Arn Tellem, Ethan Davidson (the son of former Pistons owner Bill Davidson) and former Pistons standouts was held in a suite at LCA.
The Pistons engraved the commemorative glass plates with Lanier’s No. 16. They are adorned with seven stars to commemorate his seven All-Star Game appearances with the Pistons. Three stars on the plates also commemorate him making the NBA’s All-Rookie team, his All-Star Game MVP and his winning of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award. Tellem and Davidson presented the plates.
“He represented the NBA in a way that you couldn't even put a price on all over the world,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “He’s a man’s man and I know he meant a lot to this organization and this city.”