Luckenbills legacy far more than the man who helped Wilt to 100
Posted: 06/28/2012 at 1:15 am
By: Anthony Anderson
Click here to view in a gallery.
He also delivered Chamberlain to Elkhart.
And he sort of delivered Jim Lichtenberger to Valparaiso University.
“I got a basketball scholarship because of having to play every day against Ted Luckenbill,” Lichtenberger said emphatically Wednesday from his Middlebury home as he reflected on his former Elkhart High School basketball teammate.
Luckenbill — best-known for grabbing a pair of last-minute offensive rebounds on Chamberlain misses to set Chamberlain up for the basket that gave the Big Dipper an astonishing 100 points in an NBA game on March 2, 1962 — died Sunday at age 72 in Dallas.
Luckenbill lived most of his adult life in Texas, but was occasionally in contact with some of his former EHS teammates.
“We talked about the 100-point game on Facebook around the time of the (50-year) anniversary,” fellow Blazer and still-Elkhart resident Travis Burleson said Wednesday of Luckenbill, “but that was also the last time we talked. It was quite a shock to read that he died.”
“That 100-point game was very special to him and he was very proud of his part in it,” said Goshen resident Toby Kidder, another ex-teammate. “He enjoyed being a part of that history and didn’t mind a big deal being made of it.”
Kidder graduated with Luckenbill from Elkhart in 1957. Burleson graduated in 1956. Lichtenberger graduated one year behind Luckenbill in 1958, and looked up to him in more ways than one.
“Ted was 6-6 and I was 6-2 and a half, and Coach (Max Bell) would tell me in practice, ‘You can beat on him all you want. Jump on him, hold him, whatever you need to do,’” Lichtenberger said. “Ted pretty much took it, too, but every once in awhile Ted would get mad and he’d send me home all bruised up with one of his elbows, but he really was a great guy, and he took good care of me. I really don’t think I ever would have got to Valpo without him.”
As for Luckenbill collegiately — after leading Elkhart High to the one-class Final Four as a junior and to a 20-5 record with a sectional title that helped earn him an Indiana All-Star nod as a senior — he starred at the University of Houston for Guy Lewis.
“He was thrilled to be able to go to a Division I school,” Kidder said. “At the time, Houston was not really a prime school, but he got there and that was kind of the beginning of their winning teams.”
Luckenbill then played two seasons in the NBA as a backup, after being drafted with the 15th overall pick by the Philadelphia Warriors, but was forced into early retirement in 1963 by testicular cancer.
“He had one testicle removed when he was very young, and then he got cancer and just couldn’t play anymore,” said Lichtenberger, who worked briefly with Luckenbill at Richardson’s Mobile Homes in Elkhart. “He didn’t have a choice. Back then, it was (retire) or risk dying.”
For a while, the outlook was even bleaker than that. Luckenbill told the Houston Chronicle in March that doctors initially informed him he had less than six months to live.
“I was 23 years old then,” Luckenbill told the Chronicle. “I’m 72 now. I’d say I beat the sucker.”
Those 49 extra years suggest he beat it relentlessly, kind of mirroring his play on the court.
“The one word for me that described Ted as a basketball player was relentless,” said Lichtenberger, a former high school coach who went on to a long tenure as Northridge principal. “He never took a play off. Offense, defense, practice, pickup game — it didn’t matter. He was relentless.”
“The first thing I remember about Ted is how hard he worked,” said Kidder, who went on to star in basketball at Grace College and later became Fairfield High’s head football coach. “When we were sophomores, he needed to work on his speed and ball-handling, so we would run drills and make him lead the fast break. He worked very hard at that. He always worked hard, and he was a team player.”
Burleson recalls Luckenbill as “a very gentle person off the court” and a tireless jumper on it who could “raise his elbows nose-high to the rest of us.”
Burleson also recalls the time during the 1961 preseason that Luckenbill, Chamberlain and the rest of the Philadelphia Warriors played an exhibition game at Elkhart’s North Side Gym.
Back then, the NBA was not as wildly popular as it is today and teams would go wherever they might draw a crowd.
The return-home appearance by Luckenbill, coupled with the attraction of his friend Chamberlain, produced a crowd estimated at 5,000 to 6,000.
By comparison, the night that Chamberlain set that runaway single-game scoring record against the New York Knicks at the 7,200-seat Hershey (Pa.) Sports Arena — the Warriors played a handful of regular-season home games there — attendance was 4,124.