Belmont Abbey’s brush with greatness: Late Basketball Hall of Famer Bob Lanier once played a game against Crusaders in 1970

By Richard Walker

Iconic Basketball Hall of Famer Bob Lanier died after a brief illness on Tuesday at 73.

Bob Lanier during his St. Bonaventure career.

Not only was Lanier a basketball legend who was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1970 NBA draft, he once played a game against Belmont Abbey.

It came on Feb. 3, 1970 when the nationally-ranked Bonnies hosted Belmont Abbey.

A St. Bonaventure team that would finish No. 3 in the final poll and advance to the school’s one and only Final Four appearance, rolled to a 131-64 victory over the Crusaders that set records for both schools; It was the highest scoring game in St. Bonaventure history and the most points Belmont Abbey had ever allowed.

The Bonnies entered the game with a 13-1 record and No. 4 national ranking after losing at Villanova six days earlier.

Predictably, St. Bonaventure rolled from the start in front of a crowd of 4,986 at the school’s Reilly Center, with head coach Larry Weise substituting freely in a first half that ended with the Bonnies ahead 64-30.

Belmont Abbey, which was on its way to then-school-worst 4-21, record, entered with a 3-12 record under head coach Louie O’Gorman.

Phil Robinson drew the Crusaders’ task of playing opposite Lanier and jumped center against the eventual 14-year NBA veteran, eight-time NBA All-Star, 1992 Basketball Hall of Famer and 2006 College Basketball Hall of Famer.

“Yeah, I’m 6-foot-4 and a half and I’m jumping center against a 7-footer who would go on to be a Hall of Famer,” Robinson told The Gaston Gazette eight years ago. “He (Lanier) looked at me and said to no one in particular, ‘I’m going to score 50 tonight.’”

Lanier didn’t score 50 as he finished with 28 points and 19 rebounds while playing much of the first half and only briefly in the second half. And Robinson, a 1968 graduate of old Belmont High School, scored 27 points to lead the Abbey.

O’Gorman raved about Lanier after the game to reporters, saying “Lanier is the biggest human being I have ever seen.”

St. Bonaventure, an independent at the time, would gain a NCAA tournament and beat Southern Conference champion Davidson and ACC champion N.C. State in an East Regional played in Columbia, S.C.

But Lanier suffered an injury against Villanova in the regional final and wasn’t able to play in the Final Four in a loss to a Jacksonville team that featured former Gardner-Webb Junior College star Artis Gilmore; Jacksonville would lose to UCLA in the 1970 NCAA title game.

A member of a star-studded college All-American team that included Kentucky’s Dan Issel, LSU’s Pete Maravich, Purdue’s Rick Mount and Niagara’s Calvin Murphy, Lanier was the No. 1 overall pick of the NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons that was held on March 23, 1970 in New York City.

He spent his first 10 NBA seasons with the Pistons before being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks in 1980 where he played the final four seasons of his career.

Later a coach for one season for the Golden State Warriors, Lanier became a NBA ambassador in the later years of his life.