Dave DeBusschere Cause of Death: How the NBA Legend Died at 62

Dave DeBusschere was one of the greatest players in NBA history, a two-time champion, an eight-time All-Star, and a Hall of Famer. He was also a two-sport star, who played baseball for the Chicago White Sox before focusing on basketball. He was a fierce competitor, a loyal teammate, and a respected leader. He died of a heart attack on May 14, 2003, at the age of 62, shocking the basketball world and leaving behind a legacy of excellence and integrity.

A Two-Sport Star

DeBusschere was born in Detroit on October 16, 1940, to parents Peter and Dorothy DeBusschere. He attended Austin Catholic Preparatory School, where he excelled in both basketball and baseball. He led his high school teams to city and state championships in both sports, and was named a Parade All-American in basketball in 1958. He received a $75,000 bonus contract from the Chicago White Sox, and was also a territorial draft pick by the Detroit Pistons in 1962. He decided to pursue both sports, and became one of the few athletes to play in both the NBA and MLB.

He pitched for the White Sox for two seasons, going 3-4 with a 2.90 ERA in 36 games. He was a hard-throwing right-hander, who could reach speeds of 95 mph. He also played basketball for the Pistons, averaging 12.7 points and 8.7 rebounds in his rookie season. He was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team, and quickly established himself as one of the best defenders and rebounders in the league.

A Player-Coach and a Trade

In 1964, DeBusschere became the player-coach of the Pistons, at the age of 24, making him the youngest coach in NBA history. He juggled both roles for three and a half seasons, leading the Pistons to a 79-143 record. He was a tough and demanding coach, who expected his players to play with the same intensity and passion as he did. He also continued to improve his game, making his first All-Star appearance in 1966, and averaging a career-high 18.2 points in 1967.

However, he realized that he could not handle both jobs effectively, and decided to give up coaching in 1967. He also gave up baseball, as he felt that it was affecting his basketball performance. He focused solely on basketball, and was rewarded with his best season in 1968, when he averaged 18.6 points and 12.6 rebounds, and made the All-NBA Second Team.

In December 1968, DeBusschere was traded to the New York Knicks, in exchange for Walt Bellamy and Howard Komives. The trade was a turning point for both DeBusschere and the Knicks, as he became the final piece of the puzzle for a team that was on the verge of greatness.

A Champion and a Leader

DeBusschere joined a talented Knicks team that featured Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, and Dick Barnett. He fit in perfectly with the team’s style of play, which emphasized defense, teamwork, and ball movement. He was the team’s defensive anchor, guarding the best forwards in the league, and grabbing rebounds with tenacity. He was also a reliable scorer, who could hit the mid-range jumper, drive to the basket, or pass to an open teammate. He was the epitome of a blue-collar player, who did all the little things that helped the team win.

DeBusschere helped the Knicks win their first NBA championship in 1970, when they defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games. He played a key role in the series, averaging 16.1 points and 11.7 rebounds, and hitting a clutch shot in Game 5, which the Knicks won in overtime. He also witnessed one of the most iconic moments in NBA history, when Reed limped onto the court in Game 7, despite having a torn thigh muscle, and inspired the Knicks to victory.

DeBusschere won his second championship in 1973, when the Knicks beat the Lakers again in five games. He was named to the All-NBA Defensive First Team for the fifth consecutive season, and made his eighth and final All-Star appearance. He was also selected to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996, and to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team in 2021.

DeBusschere was not only a great player, but also a great leader. He was the captain of the Knicks, and the president of the NBA Players Association. He was respected by his teammates, coaches, opponents, and fans, for his professionalism, integrity, and character. He was a role model for many young players, who admired his work ethic, dedication, and humility.

A Post-Playing Career and a Sudden Death

DeBusschere retired from playing in 1974, at the age of 34, after 12 seasons in the NBA. He finished his career with 14,053 points, 9,618 rebounds, and 2,497 assists, and averaged 16.1 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983, and had his number 22 jersey retired by the Knicks.

DeBusschere continued to be involved in basketball, as he became the commissioner of the American Basketball Association (ABA) in 1975. He oversaw the merger of the ABA and the NBA in 1976, which brought four ABA teams (the Denver Nuggets, the Indiana Pacers, the New York Nets, and the San Antonio Spurs) into the NBA. He also helped negotiate the first collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the players union, which included free agency, a salary cap, and a pension plan.

In 1982, DeBusschere returned to the Knicks, as their general manager. He made one of the most important decisions in the franchise’s history, when he selected Patrick Ewing with the first pick in the 1985 NBA draft lottery. He resigned from the Knicks in 1986, and became a senior vice president of Madison Square Garden. He also worked as a broadcaster for NBC and MSG Network, and as a consultant for the Detroit Pistons.

DeBusschere died of a heart attack on May 14, 2003, at the age of 62. He collapsed on a Manhattan street, and was taken to NYU Downtown Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. His death stunned the basketball community, and saddened his former teammates and friends. He was survived by his wife, Geri, and his four children, Peter, Michelle, Dennis, and Catherine.

DeBusschere was remembered as one of the best players and people in NBA history, a legend who left an indelible mark on the game and the league. He was a winner, a warrior, and a gentleman, who played with passion, pride, and grace. He was a hero to many, and a friend to all. He was Dave DeBusschere, and he will never be forgotten.

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