Lacy Banks and His WNBA Legacy

Lacy Banks and His WNBA Legacy
Sun-Times basketball columnist Lacy J. Banks was a pioneering sports reporter and columnist, but "The Reverend" will be remembered for his example of faith, joy and grace under pressure (WGN-TV photo)

The WNBA’s draft day is April 16 this year.  I cover Draft Day as often as possible, given that I have several jobs and none of them have much to do with each other.  The Chicago Sky hosts the media gathered at their Kinzie Street offices annually, providing a very nice lunch and full access to their administrative and team staff.

There was one person I especially looked forward to seeing on Draft Day. One person I especially enjoyed talking to, because, like me, he juggled a lot of jobs that sometimes clashed like cymbals in balancing our personal and professional lives. He was a Reverend/Sportswriter/Community Activist.  I was a Radio Reporter/Show Host/Fundraiser. We used to talk about juggling our schedules, making time for our families, focusing on what was really important in our lives.

The eminent Chicago Sun-Times columnist, Reverend Lacy J. Banks did all of that on a failing heart, while also battling prostate cancer and a brain tumor. It made my occasional migraines and chronic allergy and sinus attacks very small potatoes indeed. And yet, Lacy was always there, with a smile and a kind word for everyone. While we were talking, he occasionally paused to look at his phone for incoming messages, saying “I may get a call from Mayo (Clinic). I gotta take that call.” I prayed for the call to come. But God, apparently, needed him sooner. 

On Draft Day 2012, I will feel sad, because Lacy isn’t there to cover the draft with me.

His sunny, seen-it-all personality and deep, abiding faith in God, no matter what his health was or how he was feeling, made him such a role model, not just to me, but to all the reporters in the press box. And everywhere else he went.

Why? There were three things I knew were important to Lacy:  1) His unshakeable faith in the Almighty God.  2) His family–especially his cherished wife  Joyce, his children and grandchildren.  He spoke to me about the importance of loving your mate. While covering a Bulls game one evening last year, I remember him joyfully declaring –“It’s my wedding anniversary!”  3) His commitment to community and his professions: Pastor. Sportswriter.  Community Activist. Man of God.

Let me add ‘Pioneer’ to that list.

Lacy never wore his accomplishments on his sleeve, I didn’t know til I read his obituary that he was the  first full-time African-American sportswriter for the Chicago Sun-Times, When I heard passed away this week at the age of 68, of heart disease, there was no doubt in my mind  that he, as my friend and colleague Les Grobstein said on his 670 The Score Radio show, after entering the Pearly Gates, he would seek out his friend,  former Bulls player and analyst  Norm Van Lier for a heart-to-heart.

While Lacy covered many sports in his 40 years at the Chicago Sun-Times, his name was put on the map when his basketball columns became required reading for the Michael Jordan era in Chicago Bulls basketball.

I believe his legacy extends far beyond men’s basketball.

I began covering the Chicago Sky in 2007, one year after they came into the WNBA. At that time, there were just a handful of media types covering the fledgling Chicago franchise. After all, it was the women’s game, not the men’s game.  At the time, Sky fans were  counted in the hundreds.

Last year, the franchise had the highest increase in attendance (29%) in the WNBA.

I believe that among other factors. it was Lacy who helped the women’s game here in Chicago.  The fact that a basketball columnist from a major metropolitan daily took an ongoing interest in the team and showed up every week to cover their games added a certain legitimacy to the coverage of the WNBA here in Chicago. Lacy covered the Sky, and I always had the impression it was not just because the Sun-Times assigned him there. His passion and respect for the women’s game, the players, and his belief in their abilities, helped the Sky become an established franchise here in Chicago.  I believe that every reporter from other Chicago-area dailies that sent reporters and columnists were extremely important to the cause. But having Lacy’s columns and stories with his byline dedicated to the Sky were an endorsement that the sport, and the athletes, were newsworthy….the real thing.  

And Lacy was there at every game, interviewing players, talking to the Management staff, and serving, in his quiet way, as a mentor for the women of the WNBA. I remember him sitting down and talking to the Sky’s Sylvia Fowles about her aggressiveness, how she was handling the ball, making her think, encouraging her with his words. Not unlike the way he did with Michael Jordan and Isaiah Thomas two decades earlier.

There will never be another Lacy J. Banks. But all those who looked to him as a mentor, friend and pastor would do well to look at ways to emulate his grace, faith, and acceptance of all human beings, frailities and all. And his unique joie d’vivre, borne of his unique place in the universe, which touched and inspired us all.

God bless you, Lacy J. Banks. It has been my privilege to know you. Please save a spot for me, if you can, at the Heavenly Table.


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