(CBS/AP) Basketball great Maurice Lucas was once "The Enforcer," but in the end, bladder cancer was the victor against the 58-year-old who was a fan favorite with the Portland Trailblazers.
Lucas led team to an NBA title in 1977.
"We have lost a champion of a man," Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan said in a statement. "Maurice was a great man and a great friend. He battled his illness like the warrior he was on the basketball court."
In a 2009 interview, Lucas talked about his battle with cancer.
"The one thing that I'm finding is an issue for me is learning patience, being patient with myself. I'm trying to understand what this process is all about. It takes a little longer amount of time than I'd like it to take in order to recover," he said. "But it is what it is and I'm not in charge of it. I've just got to play my role, be patient, feed myself well, take the right meds and see if I can get back on track."
In America, there are 70,000 new cases of bladder cancer each year, according to the National Cancer Institute, and nearly 15,000 deaths.
The disease typically starts in the cells that make up the inner lining of the bladder, although other forms may begin in other parts of the organ.
Smoking is a major factor in the disease, causing at least a third of the cases. Bladder cancer is far more common in men than women.
Early rat studies showed that two artificial sweeteners, saccharin and a lesser known chemical, cyclamate, increased the incidence of bladder cancer. But subsequent research concluded the effect was not the same in humans. Cyclamate was removed from the market anyway. Saccharin remains a popular sweetener.
As for Lucas, he is remembered fondly by players, fans and coaches.
"Maurice Lucas was an amazing man and I count myself lucky to have known him," said Trailblazers owner Paul Allen. "We all - players, coaches, the owner and the fans- were made better by having Maurice a part of our team, whether playing on the championship team or, most recently as an assistant coach."
Lucas is survived by wife Pamela, sons David and Maurice II and daughter Kristin. Funeral arrangements were yet to be determined.