Rudy LaRusso, a five-time NBA all-star who three times helped the Lakers reach the NBA Finals in the early 1960s, died early Friday after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease, his family confirmed. He was 66.
One of the league’s original power forwards, the 6-foot-7, 220-pound LaRusso averaged 15.6 points and 9.4 rebounds in 10 NBA seasons. For nearly eight seasons, his strength and defensive prowess provided the perfect complement to Elgin Baylor’s gravity-defying acrobatics in the Lakers’ starting frontcourt.
He ended his career in 1969 with the San Francisco Warriors, with whom he enjoyed his two most prolific seasons after emerging from the shadow of Laker stars Baylor and Jerry West. LaRusso later was an investment banker and sports agent.
“Rudy and I go all the way back to our days together in Minneapolis,” Baylor, the Clippers’ general manager, said Friday in a written statement released by the Clippers. “He was one of my favorite teammates ever, and we had some great times. He was a wonderful person and a good friend, respected by everyone.”
LaRusso was born Nov. 11, 1937, in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was a two-time All-Ivy League selection who led Dartmouth to its last conference championships, in 1958 and 1959. The Big Green secured its 1959 title in a one-game playoff against Princeton that was won on a last-second shot by LaRusso.
He was a second-round pick of the Minneapolis Lakers in the 1959 NBA draft, He moved west with the team a year later and was part of the original Los Angeles Laker team in the 1960-61 season.
With LaRusso in the starting lineup, the Lakers won Western Conference titles and played in the NBA Finals in 1962, 1963 and 1965. He scored 50 points, his career high, in a game against the St. Louis Hawks on March 14, 1962, and still ranks among the Lakers’ all-time leaders in rebounds.
Tommy Hawkins, the Lakers’ first-round draft pick in 1959 who is now vice president of external affairs for the Los Angeles Dodgers, described his former teammate Friday as a “big, raw-boned, very aggressive, effective, enforcer-type player.”
Hawkins also called LaRusso a prankster who “loved to keep the guys loose and make them laugh, until he got into the locker room, and put his game face on. Then he was all business.”
LaRusso is survived by his wife, Roslyn, and a son, Corey, his partner in his sports agency.
A memorial service will be held 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Old North Church at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, Hollywood Hills.