Nate Thurmond, one of the most respected centers in NBA history, died July 16 after battling with leukemia. He was 74.
Thurmond, a member of the NBA Hall of Fame and a seven-time All Star, played 11 of his 14 seasons with the San Francisco/Golden State Warriors and in 1996 was voted one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players. After retiring, the 6-foot, 11-inch Thurmond served as a Community Ambassador for the Warriors and also worked as an analyst on postgame broadcasts for the Bay Area’s KGO. Thurmond’s health had deteriorated in recent weeks and he had reportedly been calling friends to say his final farewell.
“We lost one of the most iconic figures in the history of not only our organization, but the NBA in general,” said Joe Lacob, Warriors co-owner.
Rick Barry, a teammate of Thurmond and also a member of the NBA Hall of Fame, said, “Nate was one of the greatest centers to ever play the game and I was privileged to call him a teammate and a dear friend.” Al Attles, another teammate of Thurmond’s and former coach of the Warriors, had known the popular center since the early 1960s. He said he was “devastated” by the news of his friend’s passing. “Although I was prepared for this for the past several days, I was heartbroken when I was informed of his death.” Attles said Thurmond was a “ferocious” player as well as a “kind and gentle soul.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a longtime opponent at center, said Thurmond was one of his toughest adversaries. “Nate played me better than anyone else ever had. He was equally good on offense as he was as a defensive specialist.” Another opponent, Jerry West, said Thurmond’s death was especially difficult for him. “Nate Thurmond was, without a doubt, one of the fiercest competitors that I played against during my entire career. Off the court, he was about as caring and loving as they come.” West is a member of the Warriors’ executive board.
In a 2013 NBA.com article, Thurmond said that off-the-court acclaim wasn’t as important as the appreciation from his contemporaries.
“I’m just not a tricky basketball player,” he once told Sport magazine. “Being flashy takes unnecessary effort. Once I got cute and tore up a leg muscle that kept me off the court for four weeks. I suppose I could make a reputation for myself by dunking the ball and other stuff. But what would that get me? The other players that think I’m the best defensive big man in professional basketball, they’re always coming up to me and saying that. I get the same reaction from other players that Bill Russell used to get.”
Thurmond was the third overall pick out of Bowling Green by the then then-San Francisco Warriors in 1963. Wilt Chamberlain was the team’s center in Thurmond’s rookie season and led the team to the 1964 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. Coming off the bench, Thurmond averaged seven points per game (PPG.) and 10.4 rebounds per game (RPG..) and was named to the All Rookie team. When the Warriors began the 1964-65 season at 11-33, Chamberlain was traded to Philadelphia and Thurmond moved to the starting lineup. That year, Thurmond averaged 16.5 PPG. and 18.1 RPG.—the first of 10 consecutive seasons he would average 13 PPG. and 13.8 RPG. In a February 1965 game against the Baltimore Bullets, Thurmond set an NBA record by securing 18 rebounds in one quarter.
Led by Thurmond and Barry, the Warriors in 1967 returned to the NBA finals but lost to Chamberlain and the 76ers in six games. In 1974 with the Chicago Bulls, Thurmond posted the first-ever quadruple-double in NBA history with 22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists and 12 blocks against the Atlanta Hawks. He retired from the Cleveland Cavaliers after the 1976-77 season and his number 42 was the organization’s first number to he retired.
After his playing days, Thurmond co-owned the popular Big Nate’s Barbecue restaurant in San Francisco.