Inerasable Memories

At Webster's Funeral, Friends Recall Him As Larger Than Life

April 18, 2009|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,

Seven-foot-1 Marvin Webster was laid to rest yesterday, in a casket built to size, after a funeral service that celebrated his basketball career.

Three hundred people gathered at Greater New Hope Baptist Church in West Baltimore to pay homage to Webster, 56, a hometown product and former NBA standout who was found dead April 6 of coronary artery disease.

Beside the casket were floral arrangements that spoke to the game and the college he loved. On one table, carnations of orange and white - the colors of Morgan State, Webster's alma mater - formed the number 40, his jersey number. Nearby was a flower display in the shape of a backboard, with a basket attached and a ball sewn into the base of the net.

"Marvin was something else - the 'Human Eraser,' man," said Lenny Moore, the Baltimore Colts Hall of Famer who lives in Randallstown near some of Webster's kin. "He was a damn good athlete and an even better person. That's a real tribute to someone in sports."

An imposing figure on the court, Webster was just as gentle off it, those who knew him said.

"He was a beautiful person who would reach out to people - and not just because he had long arms," said Edwin Hopkins, who grew up with Webster near Edmondson High.

Said Valerie Goodman, a classmate from junior high through college: "Marvin could make you laugh. We used to call him 'Mr. Ed' because someone said he had a face like a horse, and he'd smile and whinny right along with us."

To most folks early on, the skinny Webster was known simply as "One" because that was the number he resembled.

"He must have been born with size-11 feet," Baltimore Del. Nathaniel Oaks said. "I remember him shoveling snow off the Franklin playground in West Baltimore so he could play basketball in winter."

The son of a preacher, Webster never cursed and often carried a Bible with him in his 10-year pro career with the Denver Nuggets, Seattle SuperSonics, New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks.

"From age 6 all the way through high school, Marvin would ask me to read the Scriptures to him at bedtime," said his brother, the Rev. Steve Webster. "Of course he could read it himself, but he loved to hear the word of God."

Webster kept growing toward heaven, friends said, and in college he led Morgan to the Division II national championship in 1974.

"He just dominated games," said Ron Mayo, another former Baltimore Colt, who played football at Morgan while Webster was there. "Marvin and I used to like to stand back-to-back to see who was taller.

"He always won."

When Webster walked onto Morgan's court as a freshman, jaws dropped, center Earl Cox said.

"We always said that when Marvin stood at the foul line, his feet would be out of bounds," Cox said. "I remember the first time I tried to shoot over him. I had a 42-inch vertical leap and I'd planned on doing a finger roll, but ... it turned out that I was his first erasure."

Webster's years at Morgan might have been the happiest of all, said Billy Newton, a guard on the Bears' title team.

"He loved to give us all nicknames," Newton said. "I was 'Billy Big Nose.' Others were 'Oink Oink,' 'German Shepherd' and 'Pillsbury Doughboy.' "

Webster's impeccable work habits, coupled with a lack of ego, brought Morgan a mountain of accolades, Newton said.

"But I'd trade them all to hear Marvin laugh again."

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