Friends helping sick NBA legend
For decades, former NBA and ABA standout Luther “Ticky” Burden has put his formidable talent to work serving local youth.
Next week, area residents will get the chance to return the favor and show their support for Burden, who helped the United States win gold at the 1975 Pan American Games, by attending the first-ever Luther “Ticky” Burden Old School Celebrity Dinner.
The event, which is slated for Friday, Oct. 11 at Forsyth Country Club, will serve as a fundraiser for Burden, who suffers from a rare life threatening illness.
“I think people will enjoy coming to the event,” James Blackburn, one of the organizers, said of the $100 a plate dinner, which will feature an auction of sports memorabilia and a number of b-ball notables. “…It’s a chance for people to come out and kind of rub elbows and meet the stars of yesterday.”
Burden, a former New York Knick and University of Utah standout, has coached and trained hundreds of local youth over the years, schooling them in basketball and the game of life.
“I had this stipulation that if you weren’t doing well at school and you weren’t doing well at home, then you couldn’t come practice with me,” related Burden, the father of 10, who for decades has coached youth at several local YMCAs and the Gateway YWCA. “I’ve been like a father figure to most of my kids; I’ve done the best that I could to help them be better citizens.”
Burden was working at the Gateway Y 10 months ago when he as diagnosed with Amyloidosis, a rare systemic disorder characterized by a buildup of protein in the bloodstream. The illness can negatively impact nerves, muscles and bones. Burden’s prescribed treatment for the disease, which has no cure, is a simultaneous heart and liver transplant. Burden has temporarily moved to Hempstead, N.Y., to be closer to New York-Presbyterian/Colombia University Medical Center, one of the few medical facilities nationwide that performs the complex procedure.
Blackburn, an independent basketball talent scout who met Burden years ago when he innocently challenged the former pro-baller to a game of Horse at a local YMCA, said the news of Burden’s illness was a blow to the basketball community and the countless youth and young people who look up to him.
“It was tough hearing about it,” commented the 26-year-old, who has authored several articles about his friend and mentor over the years. “I just wanted to help him out as much as I could.”
Burden is currently undergoing an extensive drug treatment program that his doctors hope will strengthen his body and prepare it for the surgery. Burden, whose wife is a five-year a breast cancer survivor, is unable to work because of his condition and subsequent relocation.
“They’re going real well; the only concern that we’ve been having is it’s been a ton of money,” Burden said of his treatments thus far. “…It’s astronomical – it’s over a million dollars.”
Former Wake Forest University star Simpson “Skip” Brown is helping to lead the fundraiser. He said Burden’s presence can be felt throughout the basketball community.
“As a player, he was a great ambassador for the sport – he made a lot of friends in the NBA and the sports world,” said Brown, a former point guard whose #15 WFU jersey has since been retired. “(And) his impact on the lives of young people here in town has just been tremendous.”
Brown, who recently joined WFU Athletics as assistant athletic director for student-athlete development and operations finance, said he remembers Burden as a former adversary and seasoned player, even in his college days at Utah.
“I just remember him being a tremendous player with an ability to really shoot the ball well,” he said of Burden, a guard who set the FIBA World Championship scoring title in 1974, a record he retained until Kevin Durant broke it in 2010.
Brown, who recently retired from his position as president of First Community Bank, said he felt it was important to support Burden.
“We all are here to help our fellow man, and when people are in need, I think it requires us to step up and help,” said the father of two. “We have an individual who’s been a strong contributor to our community who now needs our help, so we need people to come out and help us help him.”
Burden, who has called the Twin City home for decades, played one of the best games of his collegiate career against UNC-Chapel Hill at the Greensboro Coliseum in the 1970s.
[pullquote]“I had this phenomenal game … I scored 44 points against Carolina and made this incredible 20 straight field goals without missing,”[/pullquote] he recalled. “That game became folklore among fans. Everybody remembered me from that game.”
Burden was born in Florida and spent much of his life in New York. He moved to the Triad in the 1980s, drawn by the warm climate and friendly people.
“I’m so overwhelmed – I just can’t express how deeply I feel for that city down there. It’s always embraced me … the thing I liked about Winston (is) they treated me as a person, not this superstar. They just treated me as Luther Burden, the individual,” he said.
Burden’s doctor has cleared him to return home for the dinner, and he says he is anxiously awaiting the long overdue reunion with family, friends and fellow players.
“I’m just getting excited as the days get closer, about being able to see my family again and some of my friends, some of the ball players from the past,” he declared. “I just want to thank the committee that’s put this effort forward to try to help me out. I want to express my heartfelt thanks to the city of Winston-Salem. I’ve embraced Winston as my home, and it’ll be my home until I die.”
For more information about Luther “Ticky” Burden Old School Celebrity Dinner or to purchase tickets, visit http://lutherburdenfund.com or contact Blackburn at 336-414-2197. The deadline to purchase tickets is Oct. 9.