Greg Ballard, a member of the 1977-78 Washington Bullets squad that won the franchise’s only NBA championship, died Wednesday after a battle with prostate cancer at the age of 61.
The Bullets selected Ballard with the fourth overall pick in the 1977 NBA Draft, and he paid immediate dividends for the team in his rookie season. He averaged 4.9 points and 3.5 rebounds per game his rookie season, and delivered when the team needed him in the NBA Finals, particularly in Game 6. He came off the bench and helped spur a run in the second quarter that helped the Bullets pull out to a big lead. He finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds in the game that helped the Bullets force Game 7.
Ballard played 8 seasons with the Bullets and holds several high marks in the franchise’s record books. He’s currently the team’s all-time leader in steals, he’s third in games played, fifth in rebounds, and tenth in points. He only missed 13 games during his eight year career in Washington.
Ballard stayed in basketball after his playing days were over. He spent time as an assistant and scout for the Hawks and Wizards. Former Wizards coach Randy Wittman had this to say about Ballard to Steve Aschburner of NBA.com:
“As big as Greg was, he was such a soft-natured guy, he always had a smile on his face,” said former Wizards coach Randy Wittman, who worked with Ballard in Dallas, Minnesota and D.C. “Even at the end of August, he was sure he was gonna beat this.”
Wittman, who spoke with Ballard last week, added: “Nicest person I ever met. I’d never known if Greg was having a bad day. You could kick him in the [groin] and he’d be as happy as he could be.”
Other people in the basketball community have shared memories and condolences on Twitter throughout the day.
We are all deeply saddened by the passing of Greg Ballard and send our thoughts to his family, friends and fans. pic.twitter.com/e5LRnMAAb1— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) November 9, 2016
Rest peacefully Greg Ballard!!! Always had a smile when I would see him. Prayers to the family— Jordan Crawford (@jcraw55) November 10, 2016
So, so sad. Former Washington Bullet/NBA champ-as-a-rookie Greg Ballard was one of the nicest people I've ever encountered in the NBA. #RIP https://t.co/xVFRLbmtG7— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) November 9, 2016
RIP Greg Ballard. One of the nicest human being I've ever met. Always positive and full of energy. My condolences to his beautiful family.— Zaza Pachulia (@zaza27) November 9, 2016
Greg Ballard was so much nicer than he had to be to 20-year old me, in a press area I probably didn't deserve to be allowed in. RIP, sir.— Kelly Dwyer (@KDonhoops) November 9, 2016
RIP former Oregon and NBA star Greg Ballard. Taken too young at age 61. pic.twitter.com/NYMNGz8y9D— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) November 9, 2016
Terrible to hear about the passing of Greg Ballard. Wonderful man, always enjoyed him.— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) November 9, 2016
Hawks will have a moment of silence before tonight's game in honor of Greg Ballard.— Chris Vivlamore (@CVivlamoreAJC) November 9, 2016
Many of you don't know who Greg Ballard was. Google him. He was a gifted player at Oregon-played in the NBA. Was an assistant coach/ scout.— chuck swirsky (@ctsbulls) November 9, 2016
Greg Ballard passed away from cancer. He always had a smile , a big handshake and a huge hug for friends. He was beloved by everyone .RIP— chuck swirsky (@ctsbulls) November 9, 2016