On the morning of May 3, 2023, my father, Lance Blanks, took his life.
People will ask, “How did we not see it?”
And people will say, “This wasn’t him. Someone like him wouldn’t do this.”
People will want more information.
But the fact is we will never truly know why. And we don’t need to. All we need to do is remember him, honor him, celebrate him and pour our love into the family that made him happy.
All we need to know is that, oftentimes, the people in the most pain are the giants in our lives.
Daddy always said, “Keep it real. Keep it simple.” He was not one to beat around the bush. He prioritized the elephant in the room.
The purpose of this story is to honor him, to represent him.
I knew Daddy on a profound level.
As I grapple with the unimaginable pain of his absence, I am compelled to share his remarkable life.
Lance Blanks was a leader.
Not just the humble, legendary Texas Longhorns shooting guard, the scoring machine with the most epic defense skills and court dance moves of his time. Not just the Pistons’ 26th pick in the 1990 NBA draft or the passionate player who competed in Germany, Cyprus and Hungary. Not just the NBA executive who worked for the Spurs, Cavaliers, Suns and Clippers, treating every day like it was a Wednesday, burning the midnight oil, lifting weight people couldn’t see. Not just the head of scouting who knew players like the backs of his big, strong hands. Not just an ESPN and Longhorn Network basketball analyst who brought light, storytelling and accessibility to every game. Not just the relentless patriarch of his family, the adoring father of his daughters and the devoted father of his community.
My father was a leader and a guardian angel. In the darkness of my worst nights, he always picked up the phone.
I could go on. I could tell you about every accolade, every stat and every award Daddy received throughout his career. But that information is easy to find, and as I listen to his loved ones, fans and community, I don’t hear about his résumé. I hear about his character.
So instead I will say this: Daddy had impact. He had what he would call “staying power.” He was lovingly referred to as the duck: relaxed, calm and effortless on the surface, pedaling like mad beneath the water.
Daddy was my person, my idol, my teacher, my best friend and my confidant — a man I thought immortal. He encompassed everything to me.
The year I was born marked the beginning of Daddy’s NBA career, intertwining our lives with the league. Daddy put his all into everything he did. I recall the countless hours spent together at basketball games while he scouted. From small, grungy gyms in the South to unlined courts in West Africa, to the state-of-the-art facilities, he’d watch with his intense gaze and calculated thoughts.
He knew humans so well. He was perceptive, insightful and a pure analyst. He taught me to be discerning, to vet everything and to never give my words away for free. He’d always say, “Bet on you.”
Daddy first put a tennis racket in my hand when I was 5 years old on a red clay court in Nicosia, Cyprus; I remember a foggy day, a racket as long as my torso and a dad with a crystal-clear vision for my future. He drove me to ITF tournaments. He walked me through UVA’s grounds before I committed and played for their team. He was my athletic mentor from childhood to college. He gave me a sport that would define my character, bolster my intuition and elevate my maturity.
We once spent hours in a parking lot when I was 12 years old, standing in front of a box that almost reached my waist. He said we wouldn’t leave until I jumped on the box. I was terrified. But he believed in me.
I’d do anything now to go back to that day, to feel his confident presence alongside my fear.
Losing him is not a box I can jump on.
Our deep connection was forged through long car rides, windows down, R&B blasting. He loved Nina Simone and Sam Cooke and Otis Redding and Luther Vandross. We danced to “Dance With My Father” at my wedding, with his dad spinning between us in a wheelchair.
Daddy wasn’t your stereotypical man. He loved a good brunch. We’d share Earl Grey lattes at our neighborhood restaurant. Roses were his favorite flower, and regular pedicures were a must. While he was our patriarch, patriarchal systems were lost on him. He was kind and sensitive. His style was minimal and meaningful, marked by simplicity.
Daddy lived next door to my husband, Jack, and me. He was our neighbor in every definition of the word. Often, I’d walk the gravel path to my home and see him next door on his porch, sitting in his green rocking chair, talking on the phone, and taking in the oak trees with his loyal pit bull, Walter, at his feet. “Hey, Riles,” he’d say.
He recently told me that I gave him a front-row seat to my life and that it was his greatest joy. What he didn’t understand was that it was mine, too.
I asked him a couple of months back, “Daddy, what’s the one thing in life that makes you happiest?” Without hesitation, he said, “Family, Riles. Just family.”
Daddy loved his family: his dad, Sid; his brother, Sid Jr.; and his mother, Clarice. He organized countless family reunions and gatherings.
His youngest daughter, Bryn, got his features and his mannerisms. Their conversations were compatible and fluid. Though my dad and my mom, Renee, went separate ways, they remained close. He often wore a watch she gifted him years ago, inscribed with the words, “Always and forever.”
The watch is stunning, but he loved it because it’s sentimental. He didn’t need anything sparkly or special. He was the glitter.
For many years, Daddy was the primary caregiver to his own father, known as “Sugarbear” or, to us grandchildren, as “Big Sid.” My dad liked to exuberantly call him, “THE BEAR!” He and my dad both had a massive presence. And they loved sugar.
Big Sid was the first African American to play at an integrated school on a football scholarship in the state of Texas. After Texas A&I, he played seven successful seasons in the NFL. He was bilingual, left-handed and a lover of pecan pie, old Western films and lemon trees. Our dad was his guardian for much of his adulthood as he developed Parkinson’s disease at a young age, which stemmed from head injuries from playing football, according to his doctors.
The last time we saw Big Sid was at my wedding. Despite his health condition, Daddy found a way to transport his father across state lines to bear witness to the family legacy he masterfully spearheaded and my union with my husband, Jack.
Daddy’s love knew no bounds as he carried my grandfather, a football legend, on his back — figuratively and literally — through every challenge that Parkinson’s presented. Big Sid also battled Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
It was a level of care that could have moved the whole world.
I once asked Daddy how he managed to provide such boundless care. His response, honest and humble, resonated with the core of his being. “It’s my duty as a person,” he replied. “That’s all I know.”
Lance Blanks was tireless, relentless, willful, passionate, gregarious, intense and incredibly empathetic.
His value in my life wasn’t quantified by the mere fact that he was a good dad — it was that I had the privilege of truly knowing him.
He was fascinated by time. He owned 50-plus watches, and he’d always remind me to be highly aware of how fast it’s passing.
I used to say I won the lottery simply because my daddy was Lance Blanks. Sometimes, late at night, ever since I was a little girl, I would fear his mortality.
What will I do without him? There is no way I could live without him.
But I see this quote in his home: “The meaning of life is to live it.”
And I know I must go on for him.
Daddy, Lance, LB, my forever hero, has left a void that cannot be filled. And yet, I find solace in the promise to honor him with everything he left us. In the loving embrace of my sister, Bryn, I will remember that we are both forever connected to the remarkable man who was our world.
Riley Blanks Reed is a multimedia storyteller, socially conscious artist and the creator of Woke Beauty, a photography movement. And she is the eldest daughter of Lance Blanks.
If you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. In Canada, call Talk Suicide Canada at 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645 from 4 p.m.-midnight ET.
Remembering the man, my father Lance Blanks