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NBA Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond, briefly a Bull, dead at 74

Nate Thurmond addresses a crowd about cancer awareness before a Golden State Warriors game Dec. 22, 2002, in Oakland, Calif. | AP photo

Former NBA great Nate Thurmond, a Hall of Fame center and onetime Bulls player, died Saturday of leukemia at 74.

Thurmond was a tenacious defensive center who recorded the first official quadruple double in NBA history while a Bull — with 22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists and 12 blocked shots against the Atlanta Hawks in 1974.

One of just four players in NBA history to ever have more than 40 rebounds in a single game, he was an iconic player in two cities.

In Chicago, though, he was a disappointment, despite the quadruple double. A seven-time All-Star with the Warriors, Thurmond came to Chicago in a trade for Clifford Ray, who ended up beating the championship-contending Bulls on the way to helping the Warriors win the 1975 NBA title.

After averaging just 7.9 points and 11.3 rebounds with the Bulls during the 1974-75 season, when he was 33, he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers just 13 games into the following season.

Thurmond played 11 of his 14 seasons in the National Basketball Association with the Warriors and retired in 1977, a year after leading the Cavaliers to an improbable trip to the Eastern Conference finals. Both franchises retired the No. 42 the Akron, Ohio, native wore through his career.

“Without a doubt, he is one of the most beloved figures to ever wear a Warriors uniform,” Golden State owner Joe Lacob said.

Nate Thurmond (42), then with the Golden State Warriors, faces up against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Milwaukee Bucks during an NBA playoff game March 30, 1973,  in Milwaukee. | AP photo
Nate Thurmond (42), then with the Golden State Warriors, faces up against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Milwaukee Bucks during an NBA playoff game March 30, 1973, in Milwaukee. | AP photo

LeBron James, an Akron native who led the Cavaliers past the Warriors to this year’s NBA championship, wrote this on Twitter of Thurmond: “Knowing u played in the same rec league as me growing up gave me hope of making it out! Thanks!”

The 6-foot, 11-inch Thurmond was voted one of the best 50 players in NBA history and is among the most-dominating centers the game the game has ever seen.

“Nate Thurmond was a giant of his era and one of the greatest players in the history of our game,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said.

Thurmond’s play and numbers weren’t flashy. But he earned the respect of his peers and knowledgeable basketball fans for his consistency, defense and strength.

“He was as ferocious as any player in the history of the game on the court but one of the kindest and nicest souls in his everyday life,” said former Warriors teammate Al Attles.

The Warriors drafted Thurmond with the third overall pick in the 1963 draft, after he graduated from Bowling Green State near Toledo.

Thurmond apprenticed under Chamberlain until the Warriors traded Chamberlain to the Philadelphia 76ers in the middle of the 1964-65 season.

Thurmond (42), then with the Bulls, goes against the Kansas City-Omaha King’s Sam Lacey in 1975. | AP photo
Thurmond (42), then with the Bulls, goes against the Kansas City-Omaha King’s Sam Lacey in 1975. | AP photo

Thurmond went on to average 15 points and 15 rebounds a game during his career and still holds Warriors franchise records for career rebounds and minutes played.

The Warriors traded Thurmond to the Bulls prior to the 1974-75 season. The Bulls traded him 13 games into the following season to his hometown Cavaliers, where he closed out his career in style, playing a key role in the Cavs’ run to the championship his first year in Cleveland. The Cavaliers beat the Washington Bullets in dramatic fashion in seven games to get to the Eastern Conference finals but lost to the Boston Celtics in six games.

“The Cavaliers franchise will always love and respect him as a true Cavalier legend,” Cleveland teammate Campy Russell said Saturday.

After Thurmond retired, he worked for the Warriors as a community liaison and broadcast analyst until his cancer sidelined him earlier this year.