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Sun-Times Sports Columnist Lacy J. Banks Passes Away

By Chuck Sudo in News on Mar 22, 2012 10:05PM

Lacy J. Banks
Long-time Sun-times sportswriter Lacy J. Banks passed away yesterday at the age of 68.

Mr. Banks became the first full-time African American sportswriter for the Sun-Times when he was hired in August 1972. He went on to cover all six of the Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls championship teams first as the paper's Bulls beat reporter, and later as the Sun-Times' NBA columnist.

In 2008 Mr. Banks began writing a blog for the paper about his struggles with brain and colon cancer, and congestive heart disease where he was unflinching in his honesty and frustration with the diseases and unwavering in his faith. (Mr. Banks was a Baptist minister for almost 60 years.)

His health struggles came as the Sun-Times was streamlining to a bare bones staff; at one point he lost his health insurance coverage while on medical leave. (The Reader's Michael Miner wrote an account of that in 2010.)

Mr. Banks' Tribune counterpart, Fred Mitchell, called him a "name dropper"—intended as a sincere platitude— who would "greet colleagues in the media work room or press box with 'God bless you' before setting up his computer and attending to the business of covering a sporting event." ESPN's Michael Wilbon, a Chicago native, said Mr. Banks was as much an inspiration for him to become a newspaper columnist as Mike Royko.

"To provide some context, deep into the 1990s I had young journalists come up and tell me I was the first black sportswriter they'd ever read. I read Lacy's stories a quarter century earlier. Read everything he wrote, mostly what he wrote on the Chicago Bulls of my youth. Lacy J. Banks took me into the Bulls locker room and let me know Norm Van Lier and Jerry Sloan, Bob "Butterbean" Love and Chet "The Jet" Walker. Lacy told me what Dick Motta was thinking, told me why those Bulls couldn't beat Jabbar's Bucks or Chamberlain's Lakers in those annual playoff series back when the Bulls and Bucks were in the Western Conference of the NBA. It never dawned on me there was some barrier to being a sportswriter because -- lucky me -- I saw Lacy Banks doing his thing every day. "

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in a statement released today, called Mr. Banks "a trailblazer in his field. By sharing his courtside seat with the city for nearly four decades and writing in beautiful detail, he told a story that was bigger than sport ... [and] about how a team can tie a city’s hopes and communities together. Lacy’s dedication to his craft came not just from love of the game, but from his love for Chicago.”