Bruce Seals, who played three seasons for the Seattle Sonics and helped the team reach the NBA Finals in 1978 before spending three decades mentoring children through the Boys & Girls Club, died Tuesday in Boston after battling cancer. He was 67.
“My father was the epitome of a self-made man,” daughter Denitra Seals said. “He was a simple man who lived an extraordinary life, and he strongly believed in the principle of reaching back to help others once he achieved success. In his 30 years of mentoring, he touched the lives of thousands of young people. We’d like to think of that as his legacy.”
Seals joined the Sonics for the 1975-76 season after two years with the Utah Stars of the American Basketball Association, reuniting with Slick Watts, who had been his college teammate at Xavier, an NAIA school in his native New Orleans.
Seals, a 6-foot-8 forward, started the majority of games in his first season with the Sonics, averaging 11.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game and helping them reach the playoffs. The Sonics lost to Phoenix in six games in the first round, with Seals scoring 28 and 24 points in the final two games.
Seals was also a starter the next season, averaging 11.0 points per game. He lost his starting job the next year when coach Bob Hopkins was fired after the Sonics started 5-17. But he remained a valuable reserve, averaging 7.8 points per game while helping Seattle reach the title series against Washington.
Seals played the next three seasons in Europe after a contract holdout from the Sonics.
In 1990 he became athletic director at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester in Boston and remained in that post the remainder of his life.
“He touched a lot of people,” Denitra Seals said. “He was very strict but with a purpose. He had good intentions, and those who really listened turned out to be really wonderful people and great professionals in whatever careers they decided to do. They really cherished him.”
Seals impacted many others as assistant basketball coach at Emerson College for 17 seasons, then seven seasons at Emmanuel College, where daughter Denitra was the volleyball coach for 13 seasons.
“My (team) loved it when he came around and he would tell his stories and give his analogy that they could put together and say, ‘Oh, that’s what you are talking about,’ ” Denitra said. “He could do that better than anyone.”
Rhonda Seals Hollingsworth followed her big brother to Seattle after she graduated from Xavier to help the family with child care. Hollingsworth, who still lives in Seattle, was overwhelmed by all the emotional tributes on social media to her brother from those he affected.
“I had no idea that he was the icon at the Boys & Girls Club that he was,” Seals Hollingsworth said. “Bruce always mentored. He was always mentoring, which was his passion, but I had no idea that he was an icon in the city of Boston that he was.”
In addition to his daughter and sister, Seals is survived by son Bruce Jr. and brother Barry. He was preceded in death by his wife, Shirley Gallier.
“He was a big brother; he took care of all of us, and he lifted our whole family,” Seals Hollingworth said of Bruce, who grew up in public housing in New Orleans. “When Bruce achieved success, he came back and helped each one of us, to give us a leg up. It’s because of him our family was able to go to college and we didn’t fall victim to a lot of the ups and downs that young people can fall into growing up in an urban area.”