Hundreds memorialize ex-NBA player Lorenzen Wright, shot to death in hometown of Memphis

By Adrian Sainz, AP
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Slain NBA player Wright memorialized in hometown

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The procession moved slowly and solemnly on Wednesday, a long line of mourners dressed in black and white, pausing in front of the silver casket of their slain native son Lorenzen Wright.

Hundreds of fans, friends and family members of the former NBA player filed into the FedEx Forum in Memphis for Wright’s memorial service and funeral, remembering the man many called “Ren” as a loving, gentle, charitable family man.

Wright’s body was found July 28 in woods outside Memphis after he had been missing for 10 days. The 34-year-old was shot to death in what police are calling a homicide. No arrests have been made and Memphis police will not discuss whether they have a motive or suspects.

Relatives and friends fought off tears as they addressed the crowd, still in disbelief at the way he died.

Jeffrey L. Archie told the audience that he may never understand why someone would kill his brother.

“To me he was invincible,” Archie said. “There’s no reason for anybody to take him like this.”

Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley said Wright had movie star looks with an infectious smile, and served as the team’s leader. Wright spent five of his 13 seasons in the NBA with the team from the city he was born.

“We should all leave this hall with the thought that were going to do a little bit in Lorenzen’s honor to make sure things like this don’t happen again,” Heisley said. “That’s the biggest service you could pay him.”

Wright’s six children and ex-wife were in the procession, trailed by his father, Herb Wright, who uses a wheelchair. Dozens of friends and family followed, stopping before a photo of Wright, then the casket. His mother, Deborah Wright, also attended.

A litany of former NBA brethren paid their respects, including Memphis hero Penny Hardaway, Elliot Perry, Bonzi Wells, and former Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Woodson. Current Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph and former NBA player Damon Stoudemire also were there.

Lorenzen Vern-Gagne Wright Sr. was born in Memphis but lived as a youth Oxford, Miss.. His mother and siblings moved to Memphis for his senior year in high school, and he became a star at Booker T. Washington High School. While growing up, Wright’s father, who was paralyzed after being shot in the spine, coached him on the basketball court and taught him to be a family man off the court.

He then went to the University of Memphis, where he played two seasons and was an All-America selection after his sophomore year.

The 6-foot-11 forward-center was drafted No. 7 in 1996 by the Los Angeles Clippers where he spent three seasons before moving onto the Atlanta Hawks, for two separate stints, Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings and most recently the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2008-09. He averaged 8 points and 6.4 rebounds in 778 career NBA games, and also was known as a good defensive player.

In March 2003, Wright’s 11-month-old daughter, Sierra, died of sudden infant death syndrome.

Wright contributed to children’s charities, holding basketball camps, contributing to child reading programs, and visiting St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital.

“As loving as Lorenzen was, and he gave so much to so many people, if we can just come together and love each other instead of all this violence, it will be a much better world,” Herb Wright said after the service.

As people mourned, police worked to find the killers.

A 911 hang-up call from Wright’s cell phone in the early morning hours of July 19 has become a key piece of evidence in the investigation. The call was received by dispatchers in suburban Germantown, but they didn’t alert patrol officers or commanders because they couldn’t confirm that it came from inside their jurisdiction.

Top police officials in Germantown said they didn’t learn of the call until July 27 — eight days after it was made and five days after Wright’s family reported him missing.

In the days he was missing, police said they didn’t expect foul play, and friends and family have accused authorities of dragging their feet.

Dr. Bill Adkins, of the Greater Imani Church and Christian Center, appeared to reference the 911 call when he talked about how “a cry of help went unnoticed.”

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton pledged to the family that justice will be served.

“I want you to know that we are working day and night, not to see that things are done quickly, not to rush, but that things are done right and that justice will be done,” Wharton said. “That is our prayer.”

(This version CORRECTS Corrects to St. Jude hospital, not center. Updates his time in the NBA. This story is part of AP’s general news and sports services.)

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