January 8, 1962
Thirty-five years ago, when we named Ohio State center Jerry Lucas as our Sportsman of the Year, Ray Cave, who wrote the story, extolled him as "a wholesome example of fitness, awareness and common sense." Today Lucas is remarkably fit at age 56, and the awareness and common sense remain in evidence too.
A three-time All-America, Lucas led the Buckeyes to the 1960 NCAA championship and runner-up finishes in '61 and '62 to Cincinnati, which hasn't won the NCAAs since but is our pick to do so this season (page 60). Lucas helped the U.S. win the gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics, played 11 seasons in the NBA and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980. He had other gifts as well. He was Phi Beta Kappa, at Ohio State, and his mnemonic skills were so prodigious that he took to memorizing large portions of the New York City phone book to allay the boredom on road trips with the New York Knicks, with whom he won an NBA championship in 1973. During an appearance on The Tonight Show in 1972, Lucas wowed Johnny Carson with his ability to instantly recall the names of audience members whom he had met just before the show. In 1974 he was a co-author of The Memory Book, which made it to No. 2 on The New York Times best-seller list. "A lot of people will come up to me, tap me on the shoulder and say, 'Who am I?' " Lucas says. "What I always say to them is, 'If you don't know who you are, how do you expect me to?' "
Lucas lives with his wife, Cheri, in Templeton, Calif., and teaches his Lucas Learning System in seminars around the country. He recently formed a company, Lucas Educational Systems, Inc., which will publish curricula to teach his "automatic learning method." Lucas is a scratch golfer and a regular on the celebrity golf circuit, but he says, "The real goal of my life is to make a profound impact on education in America."
Lucas is wistful about a time when, in his view, college athletics were purer than they are today. He agrees with SI college basketball writer Alexander Wolff's view that players who leave school early for the NBA miss college hoops more than the game misses them (page 54). "Players look at college as a stopping-off place on their way to the pros," Lucas says. "It's unfortunate. I look back on my college experience as the most memorable years of my life."