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Warriors legend Nate Thurmond loses battle with Leukemia

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Warriors great Big Nate Thurmond died at age 74 of leukemia, and what you can do about it.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

I'm old, by GSoM staff standards. I started breathing before seat belts were required to be installed in cars. I'm pretty sure the doctors were smoking in my delivery room. I saw Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in theaters. My once dark hair is speckled with frost, seemingly infected by the arctic bristles of my beard. The soldier's physique I once wore has been replaced with a heavier step and about 30 extra pounds, and the lines that once appeared when I smiled or laughed never leave my countenance anymore, permanently etched into my visage as ever-deepening ravines.

When you're the old guy, you get to play historian. I can tell you whippersnappers about Jordan trying to isolate Timbug in the all star game, and Timmy running away with Jordan's lunch. I can remind the petulant youth of when Manute Bol beat the hell out of Jawann Oldham , who must not have realized that Manute had already killed a lion with a spear to protect his village's cattle. I can vividly recall Isiah's 25 point quarter in the Finals against the Lakers, hopping on one leg, falling down on seemingly every play. Jordan's flu game. I can tell you guys about a lot of NBA basketball over the last 35 years or so.

But this is the internet, where "old" can mean "happened a few hours ago", and I'm not nearly old enough to have watched Nate Thurmond play.

I went to his rib joint in San Francisco back when I was in high school. I've seen a lot of video highlights, and even a game or two on ESPN Classic. And I've poured over his statistics and accomplishments.

Nate Thurmond played in the era of centers, matching up against other all time greats like Wilt Chamberlain, Artis Gilmore, Willis Reed, Walt Bellamy, Jerry Lucas, Wes Unseld, Dave Cowens, Bob Lanier, and Bill Russell, making his impact even more remarkable.

I was able to carve out a career that was admirable, and more importantly, I was able to carve out a situation where people respected me and liked the type of person that I was. -Nate Thurmond


Nate the Great recorded the first quadruple-double in league history, with an inscrutable 22 point, 14 rebound, 13 assist, 12 block night against the Hawks back in fall of 1974. He pulled down a record 18 rebounds in a single quarter, and 42 in a game. He made 7 all star games for the San Francisco and Golden State Warriors, and was the backbone of the team when it moved to Oakland from the City. He made the All Rookie team and five All Defensive teams. He's currently ranked 5th all time in rebounds per game, and 10th all time in total rebounds despite ranking 59th in career minutes. He's a career 15/15 guy, with a 1968 season that averaged 20/20. That's perfect vision, but even better basketball.

Kareem said, "The toughest center for me to play against is Nate Thurmond".

Long after they've forgotten the last hook shot or blocked shot, if you're a good person, to me, that's the most important thing. -Nate Thurmond


Wilt Chamberlain claimed, "Nate Thurmond was an incredible defensive basketball player. He played me as well as Bill Russell."

After retirement as a player, Nate devoted his attention to his restaurant, where countless Warriors fans found out just how approachable and warm the legend was, and how much he appreciated the Bay and his fans. He was named the Warriors Legend and Ambassador, an official title, and he wore it with a graceful elegance that belied both his surgically replaced knee and his "jealous" knee on the other leg.

He continued to do charity work throughout his life, being active with Glide Memorial Methodist Church, the Providence Baptist Church Foundation, the Good Tidings Foundation, and a golf tournament in Cleveland (where his number is also retired) in honor of his late brother Ben Thurmond.

Now I want to mention something different, because I think that's what Big Nate would have wanted. I want to talk to you for a moment about leukemia. It's more important than basketball.

Leukemia is actually a group of cancers of the blood cells. At one time, a leukemia diagnosis was a guaranteed death sentence, but now that's not always the case. Chemo and radiation can push leukemia into remission, but cannot cure the disease. Today, transplantation of healthy stem cells and bone marrow donated by related and unrelated volunteer donors offer a great deal of hope for patients, doctors, and families fighting this affliction. Advances in transplantation have made this procedure a reality for thousands of people who are alive today because of the kindness of strangers.

I've lost friends to leukemia, and so have many of you, I'm sure. And I have a friend who's life was saved by a bone marrow donation. Please, take a moment to visit Swab a Cheek, Save a Life and sign up to be a donor (especially if you have a big mix of ethnicity). It's so easy to do, and can make all the difference in the world for a family in pain. Here's a link to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. If you can afford to make a donation towards research, please do. You have an opportunity to make a real difference in someone's life.