Thursday, March 22, 2012

There was none better than Lacy Banks - RIP

We lost a champion Wednesday when former Chicago Sun-Times writer Reverend Lacy J. Banks died.

Banks, 68, battled prostate cancer, a brain tumor and heart disease over the past few years.

However, nothing could steal his spirit. Not even the fact that few blacks covering sports, particularly major beats, when he hooked up with the Sun-Times in 1972.

He'd greet you - everyone, that is - with a smile that clearly came from the joy in his heart.

Banks was a minister, which separated him immediately from a heathen like myself.

He never attempted to pressure me to look towards his beliefs. He could put down a persuasive argument on any subject, but rarely did he try to work me.

That is, after the first time we met.

That was way back. I'm guessing it was the 1986-87 NBA season. We were in the old Chicago Stadium, the arena that preceded the current-day United Center.

I was covering the Dallas Mavericks while Rev. Banks was covering da Bulls.

I believe it was the third quarter when this young dude - Michael Jordan - goes down with a sprained ankle and writhes around in pain on the floor.

I was on deadline, which rapidly was approaching while MJ flopped on the court.

So I say out loud to anyone who can hear, "Yo, I don't care who this dude is. Either help him on his feet or get him a stretcher and take his ass off the floor."

Immediately, Reverend Banks says across the hockey press box where reporters sat for games, "My brother, my brother," speaking to me although we'd never met.

"That brother laying on the court is the future of the NBA," Banks said of Jordan. "So let him lay there until he's ready to get up."

It didn't make a difference to Banks that he didn't know me. He delivered his message with a smile.

I'd been aware of Jordan's talents since before his freshman year at Carolina, thanks to Mark Gonzales, now covering the Chicago White Sox for the Tribune.

So I knew he was a bad boy long before most, thanks to Gonzales, whom I'm sure remains a Carolina freak.

However, Banks' portrayal of Jordan as "the future of league" couldn't have been more accurate.

Remember, this was four seasons before the Bulls' first championship and long before observers began referring to Jordan as the greatest in NBA history.

I recounted that story long time ago for Boston Herald reporter Steve Bulpett and every time we saw each other, including last Friday, Bulpett would say, 'Give me a little Lacy.' and I'd know what he meant.

Just Tuesday, for some reason, I was telling the story in the company of columnist Scott Howard-Cooper and Memphis Commercial-Appeal beat writer Ron Tillery.

A day later, Brother Banks is gone.

If I had it like that, I'd get a comment from Jordan. I'd love to hear his recollections. Banks actually watched him grow up, whether Jordan would admit or not.

And when you cover a team daily, a reporter gets as close as a player lets him. Jordan used to love talking trash to Banks, perhaps if only to show he didn't just like to go at defenders.

It was all love, if I can speak for MJ.

I've been trying to think of someone who was more loved than Banks.

I'm still thinking.

Jordan's got his championships, but he's no more a champ than Reverend Lacy J. Banks ever was.

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