Lanier, who played for 14 years in the NBA, died after a short illness, surrounded by family, the NBA said in a statement
“Bob Lanier was a Hall of Fame player and among the most talented centers in the history of the NBA, but his impact on the league went far beyond what he accomplished on the court,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in the statement.
“His enormous influence on the NBA was also seen during his time as President of the National Basketball Players Association, where he played a key role in the negotiation of a game-changing collective bargaining agreement.”
Lanier also served as the league’s global ambassador for more than 30 years, “traveling the world to teach the game’s values and make a positive impact on young people everywhere,” Silver said.
“We send our deepest condolences to Bob’s family and friends,” Silver added.
The NBA legend played center with “fluid” movements, despite his 6-foot-11 frame, according to his NBA biography
. He retired in 1984 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.
The Detroit Pistons drafted Lanier out of St. Bonaventure in the 1970 draft with the first overall pick, according to the biography. He was named to the NBA All-Rookie Team for 1970-71 and averaged 15.6 points that season.
Lanier eventually joined the Milwaukee Bucks and led them to five consecutive division titles in the regular season.
“I learned so much from Bob by simply watching how he connected with people. He was a close friend who I will miss dearly, as will so many of his colleagues across the NBA who were inspired by his generosity,” Silver said.