You’re going to read a lot better tributes to Luke than I can give you. While a lot of people, by now, believe I covered the 1977 championship team, fact is, I was still covering high school sports back in those days. I got to write a sidebar on Game 6 of the Finals, but never had much contact with those players.
I’ve gotten to know a good many of them over the years, Luke included, but don’t feel like an expert on his talents or personality. I will say this, as a player, I never thought of him as “The Enforcer.” I always thought of him as a “policeman” in the old hockey sense.
Now days, hockey tough guys are most often known affectionately as “Goons.” But in the old days the really tough guys were policemen — in the sense that they kept the peace without having to resort to force. Like the old-fashioned beat cop, a policeman in hockey didn’t often have to actually fight — everyone knew how tough he was and his mere presence was enough to discourage any trouble.
Luke was like that. He didn’t have to fight. As long as he was around, nobody much messed with any other Blazers. Except Darryl Dawkins, in Game 2 of the 1977 Finals, getting involved with Bobby Gross in a famous little scrum. It’s interesting, because when the story is retold, it’s said that Lucas somehow decked Dawkins or coldcocked him and that the Sixer ran from him after that. But that’s really not what happened.
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Lucas actually hit him from behind and barely even rocked Dawkins, who stood in there pretty good after that before it was broken up — particularly because he was a 20-year-old kid barely wet behind his NBA ears. Here’s a look at what happened in that incident.
It’s interesting to think about this incident in light of today’s rules. You understand, I hope, why the league now has strict rules about leaving the bench and about fighting. This thing very nearly turned into a full-scale riot — largely because fans were on the floor attempting to participate. And a lot of cheap shots were taken in the scrum.
It was a nasty mess. But as you can see, Lucas was always willing to step up and take care of his teammates. In my experiences with him, he was always a gentleman — kind, generous, thoughtful and intelligent. My best wishes and prayers go out to his wonderful family.