Education trumps all for Jerry Lucas.
The Hall of Famer is one of three basketball players to win an NCAA college national championship, an Olympic gold medal and an NBA title but the Ohio-native said those accomplishments can’t compare to what he has worked on in the educational world.
“My involvement in education has been far more important to me than basketball ever was,” Lucas said. “I left basketball for this, and it is where my heart always was and still is. It was way more important.”
Lucas, who was a standout at Middletown High School, a three-time All-American at Ohio State and an NBA player for 11 years, is ready to unveil a new memory retention system of learning that may lead to a new an educational revolution.
For the past 40 years, Lucas, 81, has dedicated countless hours on changing the educational process.
“I have worked my whole life on revolutionizing the learning process and changing the way children learn,” said Lucas, who was in Lima to speak to the Rotary Club and to bring attention to his work. “Children never have a problem learning prior to going to school because as a young child, we all learn the same way. Our parents point to and identify objects. … and it is impossible to forget because God has given us this remarkable ability that every time we think of a tangible object, a picture automatically appears in our mind and we can’t stop it. If I say to you ‘Don’t see a zebra in your mind’ — too late, you have already seen it.”
With that premise, Lucas embarked on developing where and how it could be applied.
From a young age, Lucas understood he had a gift of memorization and an active mind that was constantly working. It all came together thanks to a fourth-grade teacher who wanted to teach the students the names of the Great Lakes. She told them to think of homes on the water because the word “homes” is an acronym for Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior.
“I thought, my gosh, I will never forget that as long as I live,” Lucas said. “Why can’t I do that with everything I needed to learn and that was the impetus that got me started, and boy!, the game was on then.”
Another game that was a passion for Lucas was basketball. He excelled in the sport, winning a state title for Middletown, taking the Buckeyes to three NCAA championship games from 1960-1962. Ohio State won the title in 1960. Following college, he was drafted No. 2 by the Cincinnati Royals in 1962.
In his first season, Lucas was named the rookie of the year and named an all-star seven times in his seven years with the Royals. In the 1969 season he was traded to San Francisco and then joined the New York Knicks the following year, where he spent the next three seasons and won a championship in 1973.
Even when he played basketball, he dazzled with his ability to memorize things like phone books and people. He often appeared on television such as The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to display his talents.
Education always remained at the forefront for Lucas and he left basketball to pursue his love for learning and spent the next four decades developing.
“The two real heartthrobs of my life were basketball and education,” Lucas said. “Of course I played basketball my whole life and was on some very successful teams….It was one of the main throbs of my life, but I was always being pulled away from basketball by education and that pull got to be so much that I left basketball with three years still left on my contract because I wanted to devote all my efforts to education. And boy did I!”
Lucas began the process by focusing on how grades kindergarten through sixth were taught. That meant reading countless amounts of text books and other materials to understand. He pointed out that today’s learning is about repetition and points that it is no fun and never has been . His system provides a different approach with visualization that is more engaging.
“I had to learn more about those subjects than anybody that had every lived,” Lucas said. “I got up at 3 a.m. and went to bed at midnight for 40 years. I read hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of text books. I had to know what was being taught, how it was being taught, and the terminology. I thought ‘No wonder this is no fun.’”
As he read he said he took copious notes of everything he was reading. He had to figure out a way to transfer what he had learned to make it accessible and teachable. He decided to hire a young artist, Mike Webster.
“I was going to have a little fun with him the first day. I said, ‘Mike, let’s get started and the first thing I want you to do is draw me a picture of a pronoun.’ He got a puzzled look on his face and he asked, ‘What did you say Mr. Lucas?’ And I said ‘I want you to draw me a picture of a pronoun. And he said he couldn’t do that and asked what is a pronoun. I said, ‘Mike you are going to draw tens of thousands of things that nobody has ever seen.’ and thus it began.”
Lucas, an author of more than 60 books, added that since then it has been an amazing journey. He expects an announcement in the coming months of how this is going to be integrated into the educational system with materials and a website entitled, “Dr. Memory’s Universe.”
“It is going to be very, very exciting for education and children who have never learned to read and write will learn easily because I have pictured every sound in the English language and I know you have never seen the sounds of the English language walking down the street because no one has ever seen them. But I have given identities to all of them.
‘It has been a joy for me. It has been a real passion of mine and it was a real need. It was my goal to meet that need and solve it and it has been done.”