Gone too soon
BEFORE Kobe Bryant, the last NBA active or retired player to die from an air crash was Nick Vanos on August 16, 1987.
Then 24 years old, the 7-foot-1 Vanos, a native of San Mateo, California and a product of Santa Clara University, was a member of the Phoenix Suns when the Northwest Airlines Flight 255 that he boarded crashed near Detroit Metropolitan Airport, in Romulus, Michigan, USA.
Vanos’ fiancee, Carolyn Cohen, also died in the crash. Vanos had visited Cohen’s parents in Michigan and boarded the plane for a trip back to Phoenix, Arizona where he had played with the Suns for two seasons.
The plane crashed after takeoff from the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, killing 154 passengers and crew, including Vanos and Cohen, as well as two motorists.
Other American professional basketball athletes who died tragically included Bobby Phills and Wendell Ladner, who were both active pros at the time of their death.
Phills was a member of the Charlotte Hornets when he passed away on January 12, 2000 as a result of an auto accident in Charlotte, Carolina. He was 30.
The 6-foot-5 Phills was traveling behind Hornets teammate David Wesley at over 100 mph (160 km/h) when his Porsche spun and crossed into oncoming traffic.
It hit another car, which in turn was struck in the rear by a minivan. The drivers of the other two vehicles recovered, while Phills was pronounced dead at the scene.
A police report said Phills and Wesley were driving “in an erratic, reckless, careless, negligent or aggressive manner.”
Wesley was later convicted of reckless driving after being cleared of a racing charge.
Ladner was a member of the New York Nets in the old American Basketball Association — and a teammate of Hall of Famer Julius Erving — when he died on June 24, 1975 at age 26 when he was aboard on Eastern Air Lines Flight 66 that crashed in Jamaica, New York.
The 6-foot-5 Ladner was identified by medical examiners because of the 1974 ABA championship ring (with the Kentucky Colonels) that he was wearing.
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Dwyane Tyrone Wade Jr., who earned three NBA title rings (2006, 2012 and 2013) with the Miami Heat, will have his No. 3 jersey retired by the club in a game against the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers on February 22 (Feb. 23 Manila time).
Wade, who turned 38 on January 17, hung up his NBA jersey after the 2018-19 wars following a 16-year tenure. He is the Heat’s all-time leader in games played, points, assist and steals.
It will mark only the fifth time in franchise history that a Heat player’s number was retired following Alonzo Mourning’s No. 33 (March 2009), Tim Hardaway’s No. 10 (October 2009), Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 33 (December 2016) and Chris Bosh’s No. 1 (March 2019).
Curiously, one number was retired by the Heat even though he never played for the team or was not associated with the organization in any way — an unprecedented development in NBA history.
In whose honor was the No. 23 jersey retired by the Heat in 2003? Michael Jordan, who played for the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards during his illustrious NBA tenure.
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