August 7th of the year 1972. That’s the day Lacy J. Banks, a baptist preacher from Lyon, Mississippi began writing for the Chicago Sun-Times.
He didn’t resign that post, not until death pried it away from him.
That’s just the surface layer of the kind of person Lacy Banks was. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Banks numerous times since I began covering the Bulls, and I’m still torn as to which is more interesting to write about.
The Bulls became historic and legendary in the 90′s, but Lacy was always a legend. When we are forced to look back on someone’s life who has passed, we usually fall into sappy traps that romanticize their time on this Earth. But there is no sap when referring to Lacy, there is only him, the legend and the extraordinary human being.
Lacy did more then cover sports for the Chicago Sun-Times for the last half of his life, he preached it — something only fitting given his background. Lacy balanced his writing with coverage everyone can do and blended in the relationships and bonds he formed with those he covered like only Lacy could.
His best years, at least according to him, were what Lacy bragged were the days “they pay me to watch Micheal Jordan”. Although his time on the beat began in the mid-80′s, Lacy forever held the Jordan era close to his heart as some of the best years of his life.
‘‘In those glorious days, I could brag, ‘They pay me to watch Michael Jordan.’” Lacy said. “Yeah, they fly me around the country — even flew me to Paris once — book me in the best hotels, give me courtside seats and then pay me to watch Jordan.’’
Being a student of sports and absorbing everything I could, naturally Lacy saw a regular rotation in my readings. I would always read Lacy’s articles first and then read them again after I read everything else so that I could see first how things should be done, read everything else and then come back to Lacy.
The man knew how to capture you. You weren’t reading about the Bulls, you were reading a man of God preach about the miracles he was seeing. And you enjoyed every minute of it as much as he did, he made damn sure of that.
‘‘Lacy was one of the true pioneers in the basketball reporting business,’’ said long time colleague of Lacy and fellow Bulls writer Sam Smith. ‘‘I traveled thousands of miles with Lacy on the NBA and boxing beats over two decades. He always asked the question most were afraid to ask and which the public most wanted to know.’’
But Lacy was more then just a sports guy who made you love the Bulls without even having to see them, he was a pioneer. Lacy was the first African-American sportswriter at the Chicago-Sun Times and helped pave the way for not only African-American sports journalists but journalists of all colors, shapes and sizes.
He covered seven world championships, six with the Bulls. He served in the Vietnam War where he was a naval officer for three years. Banks was an author, a reverend, a husband a father and even majored in French at the University of Kansas.
You name it, Lacy Banks mastered it.
‘‘Every time I walked into a press room and saw Lacy, I’d smile,’’ Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander said. ‘‘The first thing I’d say was, ‘What’s up, Reverend?’ And he always had something nice and wonderful to say.”
Lacy’s reach went beyond sports, and into his community as well.
As Isiah Thomas remembers, “Our conversations weren’t always even about the NBA or basketball. We were young men coming into tremendous wealth and fame, and not only was he a reporter, but he was a mentor. He was a leader in the journalism profession but also a leader in the community.”
Lacy began to chronicle his battle with prostate cancer and heart disease, keeping him a paid member of the Chicago Sun-Times until this morning when he died at the age of 68, surrounded by his family.
Lacy’s career is amazing, and that’s understating it. The list of athletes he saw come and go, rise and fall is endless. Micheal Jordan, Sammy Sosa, Walter Payton, Ryne Sandberg, the list goes on.
When Lacy started his career at the Sun-Times, Ernie Banks was one year into retirement, Micheal Jordan was 9 and Derrick Rose was 16 years away from even being conceived.
His career spanned not only Micheal Jordan to Derrick Rose, but the rise of Chicago from the dark city it was during the Civil Rights Movement to the quasi-eutopia it is today, with bustling streets, cool lake breeze and people reading about the Bulls as they travel to work.
That’s the world Lacy wanted, he envisioned this. He was more then a sportswriter, more then a regular husband and father or war veteran or college graduate.
Lacy J. Banks is, was and forever will be a human legend.