Bob Boozer dies at 75

OMAHA, Neb. -- Bob Boozer was a star in college, an Olympic gold medalist and an 11-year professional who finished his playing career with an NBA championship.

His friends and family remember him more for his humility and service to others.

Boozer died of a brain aneurysm Saturday at an Omaha hospital. Ella Boozer, his wife of 46 years, said Sunday that he had become ill Friday night while visiting friends. He was 75.

"Bob always said that he got everything you could have ever gotten from playing basketball," she said.

Boozer was the No. 1 pick in the 1959 NBA draft after he earned All-America honors his junior and senior seasons at Kansas State. The 6-foot-8 forward retired after winning the 1971 NBA title with the Milwaukee Bucks.

One of his great joys was playing with Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas on the gold medal-winning 1960 Olympic team. He went on to average 14.8 points and 8.1 rebounds for six professional teams.

Boozer and his teammates on the 1960 Olympic team were inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. The star-studded squad won eight games by an average of 42.4 points, and 10 of the players reached the NBA. Boozer was a reserve who played mostly a defensive role.

"We had so many shooters on the Olympic team that he didn't get to shoot it like he did in college," Robertson said. "Bob never ever complained."

The Olympic experience forged a half-century friendship between Boozer and Robertson. The two spoke the day before Boozer died about projects Boozer had planned.

"Bob was a nice guy who wasn't too talkative, and neither was I," Robertson said. "We came from the same type of background and just hit it off. He was just a pleasure to be around."

Boozer rarely spoke about his basketball exploits unless asked. If he used his celebrity, it was to help him give back to his hometown, particularly helping inner-city youth in North Omaha.

"Bob wasn't just a great individual for himself, but also for the city of Omaha and state of Nebraska," Robertson said.

Born and raised in Omaha, Boozer became one of the greatest players ever at Kansas State. He averaged 21.9 points for his career, and his 25.2 points a game as a senior is second in school history to Michael Beasley's 26.2 points in 2007-08. Boozer led the Wildcats to the Final Four as a junior, and as a senior he helped K-State to a No. 1 ranking in the final regular-season poll.

Boozer delayed entering the NBA for a year so he could retain his amateur status for the Olympics. He averaged 6.8 points for the American team that beat Brazil 90-63 for the gold medal in Rome.

Ella Boozer said her husband took delight in good-natured arguments about whether the 1960 Olympic team was better than the 1992 "Dream Team," which included Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley. She said Bird joked with Boozer about how the 1960 Olympians had to swim across the Atlantic Ocean to get to Rome and had to live on a dollar day.

The Chicago Bulls selected Boozer in the 1966 expansion draft, and he averaged 20.4 points and 8.7 rebounds in three seasons with the team. He made his only All-Star appearance in 1968 while with the Bulls. He played with Robertson and Lew Alcindor while winning the 1971 title with the Bucks.

Bulls teammate Bob Love said he remembered Boozer for the running hook shots he took as he crossed the lane.

"You couldn't block his shot," Love said. "He had those long arms and wide body. He couldn't jump real high, but he had a quick shot. He'd get his shot off and get back under the hoop and put the ball back in the hole."

Off the court, Love said, Boozer was a caring individual who was quick with a smile.

"We would call each other and go on trips together with the retired players association," Love said. "He was always so concerned about the other players and how they were doing."

Boozer returned to Omaha after his playing days and worked as an executive for the telephone company. He was appointed to the Nebraska Parole Board in the 1990s and volunteered at Boys Town, the home for troubled youth.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman said Boozer was one of the state's great ambassadors. Boozer worked on a number of educational programs with Heineman's wife, Sally Ganem. He was particularly interested in helping young African-Americans achieve their goals, Heineman said.

"He never forgot where he came from," the governor said.

Ella Boozer said her husband had been in good health before he fell ill while having dinner with friends Friday evening. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where the aneurysm was discovered. Ella Boozer said she and her son decided to take him off life support Saturday afternoon.

Funeral arrangements were pending.