A Goodbye to LeRoy Ellis – An NBA Great!
As excitement in the sports world grows with the NBA finals, the NHL hunt for that Stanley Cup, NASCAR honoring a man who left the race too soon, and a tiny horse named “I’ll Have Another” that may just make the ultimate headlines this year by winning the Triple Crown – there is also sadness in the air when one of the ‘best of the best’ passes on.
LeRoy Ellis was a star center at St. John’s University and went on to have a long NBA career. He even played for the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers championship team that won a record (still) thirty-three straight games.
Unfortunately, Mr. Ellis passed away on Saturday at the age of seventy-two from a battle with prostate cancer. This six-foot, ten-inch man will be remembered fondly by one and all.
Lou Carnesecca, who is now the St. John’s coach said about Ellis: “For a big guy, he was awfully quick; you could never catch him. He had a soft touch and was a good rebounder. He was a quiet guy; you never knew he was around. But when he was on the court, you always knew.”
And that remained throughout his whole career. Leroy Ellis still holds the St. John’s record for highest rebounding average in a season, as well as most rebounds in one game. He averaged 23.5 points a game as a senior, which is when he accepted the 1962 Haggerty Award as the New York metropolitan area’s best collegiate player.
It was no surprise that he was a first-round draft pick of the Lakers; but they are not the only name in basketball Ellis would play for during his career. Four NBA teams were lucky enough to have this man on their side: four seasons with the Lakers; four for the Baltimore Bullets; the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1970 expansion draft; (back to the Lakers); and then finally with the 76ers.
The Trail Blazers was were Ellis saw his best ‘personal’ year in the NBA, by averaging 15.9 points and 12.3 rebounds, before making that return to the Lakers before the 1971 season began.
This was the man who would play backup to the amazing Wilt Chamberlain on that championship 1972 Lakers team which went down in history by beating the Knicks four games to one in the NBA finals.
Ellis saw it all – every up and every down you can go through when it comes to having a basketball career. Being traded by the Lakers, he was sent to the Philadelphia 76ers, who ended up having a 9-73 record. Ellis stayed with the team for nearly four seasons before retiring in 1976.
Ellis didn’t leave basketball behind after retirement. In fact, he found himself playing into his 60’s with a masters’ basketball team that won many national championships. Overall Ellis would come away from the sport having played in 1,048 games over 14 seasons (1962–1976) in the NBA, but what he remembered most fondly was his season with Wilt Chamberlain.
Leroy Ellis was not the only one – the only great – who gave his all to sports that we have lost this year. In fact, there are many. And, before anyone gets upset, a full memoriam will be given to each and every one of these amazing men and women who proved to the world that they were sights to see – whether on the court, at the track, or on the field.
Just to give a shout-out to a few of those many that have left us behind the first half of this year…we offer a ‘small’ list of both young and old that have said goodbye, representing a variety of sports.
Junior Seau is that 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker that we said goodbye to on May 2nd. He was only forty-three and apparently died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Junior spent nineteen seasons playing for the Chargers, Dolphins and Patriots, and it was truly unfortunate that he couldn’t have chosen to stay with us a little longer.
Moose Skowron – one of THE Yankees in people’s minds – died at age 81. A five-time World Series champion and one of only two players to ever hit three home runs in Game 7s, this is a man who helped everyone’s favorite team (at that time, anyway) – the New York Yankees – win four titles in the 1950s and 1960s and was an eight-time All-Star. You just don’t see better than that
In the scheme of thing, horseracing isn’t very large in the world of sports – except for right now. But jockey, Eusebio “Eddie” Razo Jr., was killed in a garage fire on April 24th at his Chicago-area home. The 46-year-old Razo rode 2,692 winners in his career! It is sad that Fate couldn’t have helped out and shown the world THIS skilled man riding on the back of “I’ll Have Another” come next weekend when he goes for the Triple Crown.
Italian soccer player, Piermario Morosini, is another talent that we had to say goodbye to way too soon. Suffering a heart attack on the pitch, he passed on April 14th at the age of only twenty-five. The hideous happened 31 minutes into a game, and as the huge talent and the determined player he was, he tried unsuccessfully to get up before he was declared gone from our lives forever.
Gary Carter was nicknamed “Kid,” and played nearly two decades (1974-92) with the New York Mets, Montreal Expos, San Francisco Giants and the L.A. Dodgers. This eleven-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove award winner found his way into that Hall of Fame in 2003, and will always and forevermore be remembered for setting the fire that ignited the Mets amazing 10th-inning rally in their classic comeback win over the Boston Red Sox. This was Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, and the image will be eternally ingrained in fans mind’s across the globe.
Don Carter was a ‘bowling giant.’ He had the most unorthodox style anyone could ever imagine, and lived to be the age of eighty-five. Actually known as “Mr. Bowling,” Carter was truly the game’s ‘superstar.’ He took the lead in helping to form the PBA in 1958 and became a charter member of the PBA Hall of Fame in 1975. And even though we all think of ‘million-dollar-contracts’ as gifts only the NBA and the NFL receive, it is so not true. Carter was the first athlete in all of American sports to sign a $1 million marketing endorsement contract with Ebonite (a bowling ball manufacturer) in 1964. As a favorite of my father’s, I can say he will be missed.
Mr. Ellis joins this list of greats and I want to say…thank you for the memories you supplied basketball fans all over the globe. God Bless.
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Until Next Time, Everybody,