NEW YORK — LeRoy Ellis, a star center at St. John’s University who went on to a long NBA career and played for the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers championship team that won a record 33 straight games, died Saturday in Scappoose, Ore., a suburb of Portland. He was 72.
The cause was prostate cancer, said his wife, Vera.
Mr. Ellis, at 6 feet 10 inches, teamed with the all-American Tony Jackson and Kevin Loughery on coach Joe Lapchick’s outstanding St. John’s teams of the early 1960s.
‘‘For a big guy, hewas awfully quick; you can never catch him,’’ LouCarnesecca, who succeeded Lapchick as the St. John’s coach, said in a statement. ‘‘He had a soft touch and was a good rebounder. He was a quiet guy; you never knew he was around. But when he was on the court, you always knew.’’
Mr. Ellis still holds St. John’s records for highest rebounding average in a season (16.5) and most rebounds in one game, with 30 against New York University in December 1961. He averaged 23.5 points a game as a senior, when he received the 1962 Haggerty Award as the New York metropolitan area’s best collegiate player.
A first-round draft pick of the Lakers’, Mr. Ellis played for four National Basketball Association teams in a professional career spanning 14 seasons. He was a slender 210-pounder, but he continued to be an outstanding rebounder. He was a backup to Wilt Chamberlain on that 1972 Lakers team that beat the Knicks, 4 games to 1 in the NBA finals.
LeRoy Ellis was born in Queens, N.Y. He played at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn with Jackson, a productive scorer renowned for his jump shot.
Mr. Ellis was a raw talent at Jefferson, where his skills were developed by longtime coach Mac Hodesblatt. Playing for Lapchick, a former Knicks coach, Mr. Ellis appeared on St. John’s teams that went to the NCAA tournament.
Mr. Ellis played four seasons for the Lakers and then another four for the Baltimore Bullets before he was chosen by the newly created Portland Trail Blazers in the 1970 expansion draft. He had his best year with Portland, but returned to the Lakers in a trade before the 1971 season.
He went from the top to the abysmal bottom in the NBA after the Lakers traded him early in the 1972-73 season to the Philadelphia 76ers.
That team set a then-NBA record for futility with a 9-73 record.
He played nearly four seasons for the 76ers, retiring in 1976 with career averages of 9.7 points and 8.3 rebounds.
After he retired from the NBA, Mr. Ellis worked in property management and played into his 60s withamasters basketball team.
In addition to Vera Ellis, his second wife, he leaves his sons LeRon and LeRoy Jr.; his daughters Lisa Walton and Dawn Yoshinaga, from his marriage to his first wife, Lucille, which ended in divorce; two stepchildren, a brother, Larry; and 15 grandchildren.