Founder, Maurice Lucas Foundation
Words Justin Fields
Photography Tim Sugden
When it comes to Portland royalty, it’s hard to imagine any lineage more revered, more awe-inspiring, than that of Maurice Lucas, the imposing force that helped propel the 1977 Trailblazers to the franchise’s only NBA Championship. As a power forward and the team’s leading scorer that championship season, his strength and skillful work in the low post is the stuff of legends. But his tireless work helping disadvantaged youth in Portland has proven to be just as impactful. His character and dedication to giving back to his community by coaching and mentoring youth is his most enduring legacy.
After Lucas’ passing in 2010, his son, David Lucas, founded the Maurice Lucas Foundation and has led it since. The organization administers after-school academy programs for children at schools throughout Portland. The younger Lucas is also well-known as the former two-time All-Pac-10 forward for the Oregon State Beavers. After college, Lucas went on to play as a professional for several teams in countries around the world, including Portugal, China and Poland. Much like his father, Lucas found meaning and purpose after pro ball in providing mentorship and guidance to kids in Portland, through sports and academic assistance.
On the hot summer day that I met with Lucas at his office in Tigard, he arrived in a sleek but understated silver SUV (with Blazer plates of course), casually clad in shorts and a t-shirt, and adorned around his neck with the most precious of treasures — his 5-year old daughter, Nahla. He’s casual, affable, generous with his time, and an excellent communicator. His office is filled with amazing memorabilia of both his father’s career and his own, including framed and signed jerseys, and a scrap book of original newspaper clippings from the ’76-’77 Championship season, when his father played with other Blazer legends, like Bill Walton, Lionel Hollins, Bob Gross and Dave Twardzik.
Just like his father, David Lucas is one of this city’s greatest treasures. The ongoing impact of his efforts with youth programs through the Maurice Lucas Foundation has resulted in an ever-expanding base of both corporate and private supporters, leading the Portland Business Journal to select him as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” for 2018. He’s just the kind of guy everyone wants to be around.
What was it like growing up as a kid here in Portland?
My dad really fell in love with Portland, and he knew this is where he wanted to raise his kids, retire and settle down. You can’t beat the Lake Oswego / Dunthorpe area — green grass, great neighbors. It’s beautiful you know? I went to Riverdale and Tigard High School, and then on to Oregon State, so just growing up most of my life here in Oregon was great.
By contrast, my dad grew up in Pittsburgh in the projects and had a rough upbringing, with his mom being present and his dad not being around much. He had a brother and sister with him, and they all grew up in a completely different era than we did. My dad wanted to make sure that we grew up the opposite of how he grew up, because growing up in the projects was very rough.
What’s it like raising your daughter here?
My daughter Nahla is 5 now, and I look forward to raising her here because her upbringing will be like mine — I was almost her age when we moved here. It’s kind of a cool thing to see her going to the same parks that I went to as a kid. We go cruising through the neighborhoods, and I will say to Nahla, “Hey this is where I grew up when I was your age!” or, “This is the house I lived in.” It’s awesome because I remember those moments like they were yesterday. The house, the layouts, all the memories, the neighbors, and all my friends. Everyone knew Maurice Lucas lived right there, so all the kids embraced us, and took us in as family. We were always hanging out at the neighbor’s house growing up. It’s so special to be raising my daughter here.
Did being the son of a legendary enforcer for the Blazers lead your classmates to think that you were a tough guy?
I think they knew right off the bat I was a tough guy. (Laughs) But you know my dad was a tough guy and people didn’t mess with me because they knew my dad was “The Enforcer.” He was 6’9” and was even taller with shoes on. He was just a big guy, so usually no one would mess with us, but when somebody did, my dad would come to the rescue. It was a big deal in our school. My brother was always the tough one. We were one year apart so we kind of grew up together and went to the same schools. We were always together, and two’s better than one. We never really got picked on growing up. He’s a Master Sergeant in the Air Force. In two more years, he will have served 20 years. For the next two years he’s going to be stationed in Florida. He came here for our golf tournament last Thursday, and just drove back a few days ago.
Seems like family is very important to you…
Yeah absolutely. I have one kid, and my brother and sister both have three each. Before my dad passed away my brother had a daughter named Makiya and my sister had her son, Lucas. After my dad passed away five more popped up. He never got a chance to see the other five, but he did enjoy having the first two grandkids.
Did you always know you wanted to play college ball and be a pro athlete?
Not at all. I didn’t play my freshman or sophomore years of high school. I saw the dedication it took for my friends, waking up at 6:00 in the morning in high school and going to the gym and doing all this conditioning and running and sprints. It took a lot mentally and physically, and I didn’t really want to do that. My dad made us get jobs when we were 14 years old. So, I started working instead. I was making money and I either had to work or play basketball. I decided to work my first two years. There was a lot of expectations of me, being Maurice’s kid. My brother wasn’t a big basketball player either. He was a golfer.
Something must have happened that caused you to change course. What was it?
I started growing a lot taller and the coach started hounding me about playing. I started getting a lot of pressure, and people asking why I wasn’t playing. I decided to play my junior year, and I was on JV. All my friends were playing varsity, so it was a big reality check for me. But hey, I didn’t play my first two years in high school, so I had to start somewhere. I worked hard on JV, and eventually I was MVP of the varsity team my senior year. I outdid all those guys who had been varsity for four years. At the end of my senior year I had no recruits, no scholarships, nothing. I was kind of a late bloomer when I decided to play college basketball. I went to Oregon State, and I started growing fast. I went from 6’3” to 6’8” quickly.
What made you decide to go to Oregon State?
I didn’t want to go to Oregon State until my dad was like, “You’re going to Oregon State.” (Laughs) I was originally going to go to Willamette University, smaller school, private, cost a lot of money. Head Coach Gordie James really wanted me to play for him. Marcus Johnson, Steve Johnson’s son, was playing there at the time. That was the main reason why I wanted to go to Willamette – I wanted to play with Marcus. But since he only had a couple years left I decided to go to Oregon State instead.
In terms of basketball playing style, what ways were you and your dad similar and what ways were you different?
I was really crafty around the rim. I had a nice touch. My dad had a nice touch too, but he was a worker. I didn’t want to work harder – I tried to work smarter instead. So, everything I did was unique. I didn’t necessarily try to avoid contact but I tried to use wherever the defender was and be smart about it. I was a pump fake pro. I’d pump fake everybody to death. That’s how I’d get these 7 footers and these 6’10” big athletic guys off the ground and was able to score. Especially at Oregon State. I went from a nobody, to a walk-on, to most improved player my sophomore year, to all Pac-10 my junior and senior year. So, it was a huge leap, and suddenly I was able to get the basket in the hole quick. You know 1-2 moves, boom, boom, basket. I led the entire Pac-10 in scoring my senior year because I was efficient around the rim. My dad was a little bit taller than me. He was very physical and dominant. He could guard the big man and shoot. He had a nice touch.
When you played professional basketball in Europe and China, did you get a different perspective on what the world is like beyond our borders?
It was an eye-opener. Picture me, I’m 21, 22 years old. All I know is Portland and Corvallis. I know nothing about overseas. My dad knows nothing about overseas. So, hiring an agent and deciding where I wanted to go play was very tough. I had a lot of deals on the table, 30+ all over the world: Russia, China, Italy, Spain, France, Tel Aviv. I got offers all over the place because I was All Pac-10. I was the third leading scorer in the Pac-10 my senior year. I decided to go to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. It’s beautiful over there. Then I just wanted to go get the most money I could, so I went to China. They paid almost double of what those other countries were paying. After that, I went to Warsaw, Poland. There was so much history there, it was amazing. Then my dad got sick, so I came home to stay with him. He was diagnosed in 2008 and passed away in 2010.
And now you’re carrying his legacy forward with the Maurice Lucas Foundation. What’s the most rewarding part of operating a foundation that supports kids in our community?
The most rewarding part is making a huge impact in the community and giving back to a lot of kids that need our after-school program. I wake up every day and know I work for a foundation that’s named after my dad, that’s doing great work in our community. I work on a lot of the fundraising and strategic planning and overseeing the programs. I have seen the foundation grow in so many ways, and it’s great to see how the programs are providing so many different services for all these kids. I get to meet them as fifth graders, and pretty soon they’re seniors and they’re about to graduate from high school, and then they’re going on to college. We’re able to help with college money by providing full-ride scholarships. We help with SATs, and ACT testing. We also help with internships and going on different educational field trips, and just being there as an asset to them. If they ever have any questions we’re there to help support them all the way through college. By the end of college, we will have been with them for 11 years, which is half of their life! It’s amazing that we’re going on the seventh year of kids that have gone through our program.
Can you describe to our readers what some of the programs are like?
Our middle school academy starts in sixth grade and it’s a three-year commitment per kid. We see them from sixth grade to eighth grade and we focus on pillars like respect, leadership, integrity, goal-setting, and hard work. We teach it in the classroom, and we teach it in the gym four days a week. We have a curriculum and tutoring program as well. So, the kids are involved with the foundation four days a week for three years. Once they graduate as eighth graders and go to different high schools across the Portland metro area, we’re still there to support them. We have them in nine schools right now. We follow them through high school and give them assistance and help with jobs and internships and scholarships and applying for different universities. Our model is to work deeper with 100 kids or 200 kids or 300 kids versus having thousands of kids in the program and spreading foundation services thin. So, we’re trying to give these kids as much resources as we can.
Is there one success story that really stands out in your memory?
There are tons of success stories! We’re changing each kid that goes through our program in some way, shape, or form. Whether it’s academically or socially or economically helping them with their whole life. They might be struggling at home, they might be struggling at school, they might be struggling socially with their peers, hanging out with the wrong crowds or having behavioral issues in classrooms. We help them stay focused simply by applying a mentor in their life, someone positive that they can look up to and look forward to coming to every day. I think every day is rewarding because you see all these kids with smiles on their face — they love to come to the program. They love to learn and to do the right thing. It’s a wonderful thing to see.
You’ve got so many important people in the community that have volunteered their time. How does that help enhance what the foundation’s goals?
We have a lot of great board members on our Ambassador Board, on our Community Board, and on our new ML2020 board. The support the foundation has is just incredible. When you start building something, it’s so important to have great people in your corner ready to help and give guidance. Karen Barker has been truly amazing in helping with development of the foundation. She was a big part of our vision for our Academy after-school program from the very beginning.
Last year we hired Kenny Burkey, our new Academy Manager. Kenny has taken the middle school academy over and has a fresh take on how to manage the academy and connect with the kids. He relates to all of them, and the kids look up to him and respect him. Every child in the academy comes from different backgrounds and situations, and it takes a special person to be a good leader to all of them. One of my father’s team mates, Bobby Gross, is also on the board, and Bill Walton continues to support the organization as well.
And then there’s my mom Pam, who has been there since the beginning too. She’s given a lot of time and energy, and she’s been at our academy almost every day for the last eight years. It’s amazing how much time that she’s volunteered and given back to the foundation in my father’s name. Our entire family is involved, including my brother, my sister, and the rest. It gives us something to look forward to, knowing we’re serving these kids and making an impact every day.
You host a big annual fundraising event to benefit the Maurice Lucas Foundation. How can your readers get involved or find out more?
The annual Maurice Lucas Celebration Dinner and Benefit Auction and After Party is on September 21st this year. It’s a red-carpet event at the Hilton Downtown, and it’s one of our largest fundraisers of the year. We have a big cocktail hour beforehand where people get to know each other. The Dinner Auction is next, when we get to raise awareness of the foundation and provide information about the programs, then we conclude with a fun after party. I welcome your readers to go onto our website at ML20.org, where they can see all our events, as well as information about how to sponsor a table, or donate an item for our auction. The silent auction is very large, and we hope to raise about $200,000. Overall, the gala event should bring in about $500,000 total, with a goal of raising $1 million in years to come. Donating items is one of the best ways to help raise money to benefit the Maurice Lucas Foundation. We also welcome you to just purchase an individual ticket and be our guest for the evening, or you can come volunteer at our event as well. As a red-carpet event, we will have a lot of celebrities in attendance. The Blazers are a title sponsor, along with Nike and the Jordan brand. Mercedes of Portland and Beaverton are our title car sponsors. We’ll have 40-50 different corporate sponsors supporting the event. Go to ML20.org to get your tickets today.
Any other events coming up our readers should know about?
We also have a fun VIP party coming up called Charities Unite PDX. It’s in an aircraft hangar during the Oregon International Airshow on September 28th. Charities Unite PDX benefits the Maurice Lucas Foundation, the Brian Grant Foundation, Self Enhancement, Inc., and the Oregon International Airshow Foundation.