In February 1994 I met Bob Lanier.
At the time, the former NBA superstar, who passed away last week at 73 years of age after a short illness, was in the metro area as president of the NBA Stay in School program. The program was part of the NBA All-Star weekend festivities in Minneapolis leading up to the all-star game.
On that day Lanier was in town to speak to a group of students at EXPO Middle School, where I taught social studies and would eventually coach the boys’ basketball team for the next two years.
As one of the few staff members with a little knowledge of the NBA, I was selected by my principal, Dr. Joan Sorenson, to introduce Lanier to the audience. What an honor, I thought, to have the privilege of introducing an NBA great, a legend.
I didn’t realize the presence of Lanier until he entered the gymnasium standing at 6’11”. As I introduced myself to the soft-spoken gentle giant, he expressed doubt about the person chosen for the introduction.
“Mitchell,” he said inquisitively, “do you really know who I am?”
“Yes, I do,” I said with confidence.
“Do you really?”
My next response made it clear to Lanier that I knew a little more about him than he thought. “I remember you,” I said as he looked at me. “St. Bonaventure College! Graduated 1970! Played in the NBA from 1970-1984! Played for the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks!”
The more I talked, the more he smiled. “You do know who I am,” he said, surprised. I introduced Lanier, and he and his group gave a phenomenal presentation.
When I heard about his passing, I thought it fitting to recall the time a young school teacher got to meet an NBA legend. The one memory that I take with me from that day was not my meeting him, the introduction, or the presentation itself. It was immediately after the presentation when hundreds of students lined up to get his autograph.
He signed every autograph.
What a cool memory.
Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald is a contributing columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.