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Yet Earl's widow Charlita - in announcing the service - emphasized it would focus on a man "who was much more than a professional basketball player. Her words were on my mind in the weeks before the gathering. Earl and I worked together on his autobiography, " Moonfixer ," published in A few weeks ago, as she planned the ceremony, Charlita asked if I'd join with many friends, relatives and teammates in sharing a few thoughts at the church.

I spent much of Saturday listening to magnificent reflections that - as Charlita hoped - transcended basketball. The beauty of the event: There were tributes from some of basketball's greatest names, and there were tributes from the folks he saw every day, in hamburger stands and grocery stores in Tennessee. When Earl coached the Detroit Pistons in the early s, Lanier - then a brilliant young center - was on the team. Earl never made a big deal about his role in history, Lanier said.

He was a warm, self-effacing guy. Wherever he went, in a nation that routinely tried to exclude him, he saw the way he carried himself as a kind of quiet discipline and strategy. His personality helped him overcome the odds - but it also served as a well-honed life skill that he passed along to others trying to navigate an often-hostile world. In Detroit, Lanier established himself as a big man with a soft touch with the ball. Earl, as his coach, thought he could use some work on defense. So Earl brought in Bill Russell, a basketball legend who'd won 11 titles with the Boston Celtics, to serve as a tutor.

Russell has a commanding presence. Lanier balked at some of the suggestions. He brought those complaints to Earl, whose face portrayed shock as he spoke of Russell, an old friend:. What the hell are you talking about? Many everyday neighbors in Tennessee, some of them weeping about this friend who loved a good milkshake.

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Mannie Jackson, chairman of the Harlem Globetrotters, a guy who rose from struggle into monumental success. Jackson remembered being young, uncertain and new to Detroit when a friend recommended he turn to Earl for advice about finding his way around the town. He went to Earl's house, unsure of what to expect. Earl opened the front door, greeted Jackson And told him the room where he could stay was upstairs, on the left.

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Jim Tucker recalled similar generosity. Tucker, 82, spoke of how Earl helped him cope with the frustration of riding the bench, how he taught Tucker to survive in a league whose players still remained predominately white. This was a time when there were still restaurants that would not serve them, places they could not live, cities that did not want to see them coming. Earl didn't drink; if they were out at a club, Earl was the one who always knew exactly when he and Tucker ought to leave, who realized one mistake in public could mean the quick end to a career.

Within a culture that often projected animosity, he was a voice of strength, of vigilance, around the younger man.

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That friendship continued until the day Earl died. The three surviving members of the championship Nats will reunite in Syracuse on April 10 , the 60th anniversary of their title. It is hard for Tucker to imagine that gathering without Earl, and he used the service to express what he wishes he could tell him one more time, face-to-face:.

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For his old friend, all Tucker has is love and gratitude. The master of ceremonies was Dr. Brian Hemphill, president of West Virginia State, the college Earl described as the most important sanctuary in his life. The mayor of Crossville, the Tennessee town where Earl retired, said some words. Officials with the National Basketball Retired Players Association announced a scholarship, in his honor.

John Doleva, executive director of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, said - with no argument from other Hall of Famers at the service - that Earl's grace and charm made him an especially beloved presence whenever he visited basketball's shrine. The red flowers signified Lloyd's favorite color; he died in February, at How important was Earl to Syracuse? We hold quarterly retreats and we run a mailing list.

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