Sam Lacey, a former NBA All-Star who made Kansas City his home in recent years after spending most of career with the Kansas City Kings, has died. He was 66.
“He was the heart and soul of the Kansas City Kings,” said former teammate Scott Wedman.
Lacey spent 11 of his 13 NBA seasons with the Kings organization. He was drafted fifth overall by Cincinnati in 1970 and had his best seasons after the franchise relocated to Kansas City in 1972.
He averaged a double-double in his first six years, and in 1975, Lacey, a 6-10 center, was selected to the All-Star team. That season, he averaged 11.5 points, 14.2 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and, as one of the game’s great passing big men, 5.3 assists.
He was with the Kings through their best seasons, including the 1979 team that won the Midwest Division, and the 1981 team that reached the Western Conference finals before losing to Houston. Those Kings finished the regular season 40-42 and were the fifth seed. But they upset fourth-seeded Portland and top-seeded Phoenix to reach the finals.
“Once we got into the playoffs, there were no expectations,” Lacey said in a 2002 interview with The Star. “We just played together, played team ball and won.”
Early in his career, he played with the likes of Nate “Tiny” Archibald, and later in his career teamed with Otis Birdsong, Wedman and Phil Ford.
“He was the team captain during our best run, so that says a lot about him as a leader and teammate,” Wedman said. “He’d take the young guys like me and Phil Ford under his wing. He expected a lot out of you, and you didn’t want to let him down.
“And he was all about winning. A great defensive center. He went up against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Lanier, Dave Cowens, Nate Thurmond and worked his tail off against those guys.”
Lacey was traded from Kansas City to the New Jersey Nets early in the 1981-82 season, and finished his career with one year in Cleveland. When he retired, Lacey had amassed 10,303 career points and 9,687 rebounds, which ranks 42nd on the NBA career list. He also had 999 steals.
Lacey’s No. 44 jersey was retired by the Sacramento Kings, which has honored players from previous franchise stops.
Originally from Mississippi, Lacey was an All-America at New Mexico State and helped the Aggies reach the Final Four in 1970. In 2008, he was inducted into the school’s Ring of Honor.
In his retirement, Lacey worked in real estate, AAU basketball, and broadcasting. In recent years, he ran camps and clinics, gave private basketball lessons in Kansas City, always stressing fundamentals.
“A tremendous blow,” said Bob Kendrick, CEO of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and a close friend of Lacey’s. “He was a good friend of the museum. He was here just last week.”