The last time I was in the same area code as NBA Hall of Famer Bob Lanier, I was a pint-size pre-teen looking on from my seat at the old Spectrum while Lanier and his Detroit Pistons did battle with a 76ers team, who, at that time, featured a young guard out of Illinois State University named Doug Collins.
I’ve grown a bit in the 40 years since I last saw Bob Lanier on a basketball court, but still felt pretty pint-sized standing next to his 6’11” frame this past weekend when JSPH, along with Sanofi US and the American Diabetes Association, hosted a Dribble to Stop Diabetes Fit Clinic on the campus of Thomas Jefferson University.
“Those were battles back in those days,” said Lanier, after listening to me recall one of my earliest memories of attending an NBA game. “They let us play; not like today, where they blow the whistle for every little thing.”
Lanier, a six-time All-Star and 1992 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2004. The disease has been rampant throughout his family. As a Dribble to Stop Diabetes campaign ambassador, he hopes to emphasize the importance of seeing a doctor regularly and taking control of your health.
Lanier’s message was loud and clear to the 60-or-so youngsters who attended Saturday’s Dribble to Stop Diabetes event. “You have to push yourself to exercise and eat right because those are important things that you have to do with diabetes,” he said. “I’m more active now than ever.”
Getting kids and their families to live a more active lifestyle is part of what Dribble to Stop Diabetes is all about. Saturday’s clinic lasted an hour and a half or so. The kids had a blast and probably didn’t even realize that they were getting a pretty good workout while also improving their basketball skills. “Coach Donny” did an amazing job running the clinic, keeping the kids engaged while also slipping in messages about the benefits of eating right and being active.
Bob Lanier got into the act as well, participating in some of the drills, posing for photographs with seemingly anyone and everyone, and generally having a good time. It was great to see him on a basketball court again.
Afterward, he even showed a little of the competitive spirit that served him so well against the likes of Willis Reed, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dave Cowens, and Wes Unseld. “That one kid made three or four shots on me. That made me a little mad.”