Warriors legend Nate Thurmond left behind a flood of memories on Saturday morning, when he passed away in San Francisco at 74 years of age. There were the long limbs, hiccup-fast reflexes and fierce determination, which put him on the short list of best defensive centers in NBA history. And that unique stop-at-the-top free throw style, of course.
Yet mostly what separated Nate the Great from many of the others was the grace and dignity with which he went about his life on and off the court. And it remained that way until leukemia claimed him.
“I was with Nate last week, and he knew the time was near,” ex-teammate Rick Barry told Balls. “He was at peace with it. But it was a shame for him to leave us. He took care of himself and led a positive life. He was the same great guy at the end that he had been all those years.”
Said Al Attles, another longtime teammate, “Looking back, 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. He was just a terrific human being who I loved and respected more than words can describe.”
Statistically, Thurmond’s best season was 1972-73, when he helped lead the Warriors to the Western Conference finals. His greatest achievement took place six years earlier, when a young, talented group extended the mighty Philadelphia 76ers to six games in the NBA Finals. Ironically, it wasn’t until the veteran was traded for a young Clifford Ray in a salary dump that the Warriors won it all.
The league didn’t record blocked shots until late in Thurmond’s career. If it had, his numbers would be off the charts.
“Ask any of the all-time great centers — Wilt [Chamberlain], [Bill] Russell, Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] — and they’d tell you that Nate was their most difficult matchup,” Barry said. “He truly was one of the greatest defensive players ever.”
Nate the Great, indeed.