Marvin Webster, Basketball’s Human Eraser, Dies
By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN
Published: April 8, 2009
Marvin Webster, the 7-foot-1-inch shot-blocking center known as the Human Eraser who took the Seattle SuperSonics to the 1978 N.B.A. finals, then spent six seasons with the Knicks, was found dead Monday in Tulsa, Okla. He was 56.
The Tulsa police said that Webster’s body was found at his room in the Ambassador Hotel and that there was no indication of anything suspicious. W. Charles Bennett, of Albuquerque, Webster’s former player agent and later his financial adviser, said the preliminary cause was coronary artery disease. He said that Webster had been living at the hotel and that he was hospitalized a month ago for liver problems related to hepatitis incurred during his college years.
Webster gained his nickname when he averaged eight blocked shots a game while taking Morgan State University of Baltimore, his hometown, to the 1974 N.C.A.A. Division II championship as a junior. He averaged 21 points and 22.4 rebounds a game and was named Division II player of the year.
“I think our players were intimidated by Webster’s nickname as much as anything,” Joe O’Brien, the coach of Assumption College of Worcester, Mass., which lost to Morgan State in the tournament semifinals, once told Sports Illustrated.
Webster made his pro debut in 1975 with the Denver Nuggets, playing in the American Basketball Association before the Nuggets joined the N.B.A. in the two leagues’ merger the following year. After two seasons in Denver, Webster joined the SuperSonics and turned in what would be his best pro season, averaging 14 points and 12.6 rebounds as Seattle went to the seventh game of the 1978 championship final before losing to the Washington Bullets.
Envisioned as a future star, Webster signed a five-year contract with the Knicks following that season, and he proved effective at times teaming with the 7-foot Bill Cartwright. Webster provided defense and rebounding while Cartwright was an outstanding shooter. But Webster was plagued by hepatitis as well as tendinitis in his right knee.
He missed all of the 1984-85 season and the outset of the next season because of hepatitis before announcing his retirement in December 1985, having averaged only 6 points and 6.2 rebounds a game as a Knick. The team made the playoffs in only three of Webster’s six seasons and never advanced beyond a conference semifinal round in the post-season.
Webster tried for a comeback. He played in the Continental Basketball Association, then appeared briefly with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1986-87. He averaged 7 points and 6.8 rebounds for 10 pro seasons.
Webster faded from the public eye after that. His son, Marvin Jr., 6 feet 11 inches, was an outstanding basketball prospect, raised by his maternal grandparents in Greensboro, N.C., after Webster and his wife, Mederia, were divorced.
“We’re not as close as I’d like to be,” Marvin Jr. said of his father in an interview in The Philadelphia Daily News in 1996. “I want to get closer, to sit down and really talk with him.”
The son was about to become the starting center for Temple University in his first season with the team, as a sophomore, when he died of the heart disease cardiomyopathy in August 1997, six weeks short of his 19th birthday.
Webster is survived by a son, Marques; his brother, Steve; four sisters, Phyllis Edwards, Maryline Laws, Garnetta Massey and Karen Grimes, and his mother, Dorothy Webster.
Three months before Marvin Webster Jr. died, his father, working in real estate in Metuchen, N.J., spoke about his son.
“They call him Eraser Jr.,” Marvin Webster Sr. told Sports Illustrated. “One day he calls me up, says, ‘Dad, everybody here knows who you are.’ I smiled. It’s nice to be remembered.”