ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y., Oct. 12, 2007 — Bob Lanier’s status as the big man on campus was made permanent at St. Bonaventure University on Friday.
Lanier was on hand as a life-size wooden statue of the St. Bonaventure and NBA Hall of Famer was unveiled behind the Reilly Center arena.
The statue was a surprise to Lanier, who was on campus to participate in a ceremony officially naming a new floor in the arena as “Bob Lanier Court.” The 6-foot-11-inch Lanier led St. Bonaventure to the NCAA Final Four during the 1969-70 season.
“This is overwhelming,” said Lanier as he gazed up at the statue that stands some 15 feet tall. “It’s so unexpected. All I can say is wow.”
As meaningful as the statue is the story behind it.
It was carved from the trunk of a 150-year-old maple tree that was among thousands of trees destroyed in the October snowstorm last year in and around Buffalo, Lanier’s hometown. The statue of Lanier is the 31st (the number on his retired jersey now hanging in the Reilly Center) statue made to date as part of Carvings for a Cause, an effort to raise money to pay for the reforestation of the region. All of the statues are the work of a sculptor who uses only a chain saw.
Buffalo attorney and real estate developer Carl Paladino, a 1968 St. Bonaventure graduate, commissioned the statue of Lanier. Paladino said he had already agreed to pay for another statue for a site in downtown Buffalo when he thought of Lanier and St. Bonaventure.
“I had just had dinner with Bob, and so I said (to the promoter), ‘how about doing one for my buddy Bob Lanier?’” said Paladino. He sent e-mails looking for contributions toward the $5,000 fee and got quick responses from friends such as Olean businessman Louis Magnano as well as Bonaventure alumni who went to school with Lanier and Paladino.
“They just finished the statue yesterday,” said Paladino. “I think it’s great and I think Bob loves it and is very proud of it.”
“I’m speechless,” said Lanier. “A tree out of the Buffalo storm, all of these (contributors) who had a presence in my life – it was very nice.”