Nate Thurmond, the Hall of Fame center for the Golden State Warriors who became one of the National Basketball Association’s most dominant defensive players and rebounders while battling some of the leading big men in league history, died on Saturday in San Francisco. He was 74.
The cause was leukemia, his wife, Marci, said.
Thurmond, who was named one of the N.B.A.’s 50 greatest players in 1996 when it celebrated its 50th anniversary, played mostly for the Warriors in the 1960s and ’70s. He averaged 15 points a game, displaying a fine outside shooting touch, along with 15 rebounds. He played 11 seasons for the San Francisco and Golden State Warriors and his final three seasons with the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was a seven-time All-Star and was selected for the N.B.A.’s first or second all-defensive team five times.
He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., in 1985.
Thurmond, at 6 feet 11 inches, vied with the likes of Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Willis Reed and Wilt Chamberlain, his onetime teammate.
“The toughest center for me to play against is Nate Thurmond,” Abdul-Jabbar once remarked.
“He played with unbelievable intensity and was simply a man among boys on most nights, especially on the defensive end,” Jerry West, the Hall of Fame guard for the Los Angeles Lakers and a member of the Warriors’ executive board, said in a statement posted on Saturday on the team’s website.
LeBron James, Thurmond’s fellow Akron, Ohio, native, wrote on Twitter: “Knowing u played in the same rec league as me growing up gave me hope of making it out! Thanks!”
Thurmond became the first player to record an official quadruple-double when he made his debut with the Bulls, scoring 22 points along with 14 rebounds, 13 assists and 12 blocks against the Atlanta Hawks on Oct. 18, 1974.
In November 1965, he hauled down 42 rebounds against the Detroit Pistons, the best single-game rebounding effort of his career. He had set an N.B.A. one-quarter rebounding record with 18 against the Baltimore Bullets that February.
The Warriors retired Thurmond’s No. 42, and the Cavaliers also retired the No. 42 jersey he wore with them.
He persevered through operations on both of his knees, and he was often overshadowed by the other brilliant centers of his time.
“I’m just not a tricky basketball player,” he once told Sport magazine. “Being flashy takes unnecessary effort. Once I got cute and tore up a leg muscle that kept me off the court for four weeks. I suppose I could make a reputation for myself by dunking the ball and other stuff. But what would it get me?”
Nathaniel Thurmond was born on July 25, 1941, and played high school basketball in Akron. He spent three seasons playing for Bowling Green, averaging 17.8 points and 17 rebounds over his college career, and he received all-American mention as a senior.
Thurmond was selected by the Warriors as the third overall pick in the 1963N.B.A. draft and was named to the league’s all-rookie team in his first season, when he played at power forward, alongside Chamberlain. He emerged as a star after Chamberlain was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers during the 1964-65 season.
Thurmond’s Warriors went to the N.B.A. finals twice, losing to the Boston Celtics in 1964 and to the 76ers in 1967, when the Warriors were also led by the scoring of Rick Barry.
Thurmond was traded to the Bulls before the 1974-75 season and was dealt by them to the Cavaliers early in the next season. He helped take the Cavaliers to a berth in the 1976 Eastern Conference finals, in what became known as their “miracle” season, but they were ousted by the Celtics.
Thurmond retired after the 1976-77 season with 14,437 points and 14,464 rebounds.
In addition to his wife, Thurmond is survived by a son, Adam, from a previous relationship.
Thurmond was a longtime community relations ambassador for the Warriors and had owned a barbecue restaurant in San Francisco, where he lived.
“Night in and night out you can depend on him doing his job,” his Warriors teammate Walt Hazzard was quoted by NBA.com as having said. “His statistics aren’t overwhelming, but his presence on the court is unbelievable. As for blocking shots, I’ve seen guys get offensive rebounds and then go back 15 feet to make sure they can get a shot off. They know Nate is there.”
During the Cavaliers’ 1976 playoff series against the Celtics, Thurmond told The New York Times: “I’m not near the player on offense that I once was, I can’t jump as high. But on defense, I’ve still got a lot left. My instincts and my experience help make up for my age.
“And,” he added, “blocking shots still turns me on. I wish they were counting blocked shots in my big years. They started keeping track of them too late for me.”
Thurmond was capable of ruining many an evening for the big man he was facing.
“It’s double demoralizing to a guy if you score on him at one end and shove him out at the other end,” he said. “I could look in a guy’s eyes and know he’s demoralized.”