by Mike Magers
Sam Lacey was a 6’10” center in the NBA for 13 seasons. He played most of his career with the Kansas City Kings, now located in Sacramento, California. After a successful college career at New Mexico State University, he was drafted 5th overall by the Cincinnati Royals in 1970. This is the same franchise that evolved into the Kansas City-Omaha Kings in 1972-73, later changing the name to the Kansas City Kings, as they existed all of Lacey’s career with the club.
Lacey was born in Indianola, Mississippi in 1948 and attended Gentry High School in the Mississippi Delta town. When he signed his first five year professional contract with the Cincinnati club in May of 1970, Indianola declared a certain day “Sam Lacey Day” held a celebration for him including with a parade down Main Street from downtown to his old high school. It was estimated that there were between 6,000 and 7,000 in attendance for the parade. The ceremonies continued at his high school football field where he was presented with a plaque. He was honored by his high school coach Andrew Brown, the mayor of Indianola, the president of the Indianola Chamber of Commerce, along with representatives from the Royals and New Mexico State (represented by Hubert Middleton, Jr., teammate Jimmy Collins and Indianola’s most recent NMSU recruit Coolidge Ball). Coach Henson was lecturing in California and sent a note of regret. Mayor D. L. Cole’s remarks included his congratulations and a commendation that Lacey had been a model citizen of Indianola, never even having received as much as a traffic ticket.
Sam signed his Cincinnati Royals contract for over 1.4 million dollars. Lacey said that he had been advised some weeks earlier that he would probably be among the first 10 players chosen in the NBA draft. However, he learned that he had been taken at number 5 from his NMSU coach Lou Henson.
Lacey had started playing basketball in the ninth grade and credited Andrew Brown, his Gentry high school coach for the last two years, with teaching him the fundamentals of shooting and defense. Lacey also gave Brown credit for instilling in him a competitive attitude that he had carried with him ever since. By the time Sam had completed his college career, both of his parents had died, leaving his older sister to raise their three youngest siblings. While at Indianola for the ceremonies, Lacey vowed to use part of his signing bonus to build a home for his sister and their siblings.
While at NMSU and playing under Coach Henson, the Aggies won 74 games against only 14 losses. Lacey and guard Jimmy Collins are credited with taking the NMSU team to its only final four appearance in the 1969-1970 season. On the road to the final four, they defeated Rice, Kansas State and Drake before falling 93-77 to the eventual champion UCLA (led by starters that included such future NBA players as Sidney Wicks and Henry Bibby) and finishing the year at 23-7. For his efforts, Lacey was named a first team All-American by Baskeball News. He was also named to the Midwest Regional All-Tournament Team in the NCAA Tournament.
In the NBA, Lacey played in 1,002 games, averaging 31.8 minutes played. He accumulated 9,687 rebounds, 3,754 assists, 999 steals, 1,160 blocked shots and scored 10,303 points despite facing some of the finest players in the history of the NBA. His teams reached the NBA playoffs four times. Lacey was named to the NBA All-Star team in 1975. Only four other players in the NBA have recorded 100 blocked shots and 100 steals in six consecutive seasons.
After his retirement, Sam worked in real estate, was involved in AAU basketball, did some broadcasting, ran clinics and camps and was active in the Kansas City area. Lacey died at the age of 65 on March 4, 2014 and was interred in his home town of Indianola, Mississippi a few weeks later. He was described by former teammate Scott Wedman as being the “heart and soul” of the Kings during his career. In addition to his many other honors, Lacey was inducted into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame in its 2015 class.