He couldn’t fight any longer.
Former Notre Dame men’s basketball standout Bob Whitmore battled serious health issues for years. He suffered seizures. He took on pancreatic cancer.
It reached a point in January 2019 as he was set to be inducted into the school’s Ring of Honor that many worried Whitmore would be too ill to attend. That he might not even live long enough to have his moment in Purcell Pavilion.
Whitmore attended the ceremony that day. On Saturday, after being admitted to hospice earlier this month in the Washington, D.C., area where he lived, Whitmore died. He was 73.
“He was a great example for how to do it for all the guys who came after him,” former Irish teammate Collis Jones, a fellow Washington native and friends with Whitmore for 50 years told the Tribune in 2019. “He was a great ballplayer (but) he was a great person. It was about more than playing basketball for him out there.”
Attending the Ring of Honor ceremony that day during halftime of the Notre Dame-Boston College game was important to Whitmore. Failing health or not, he was going to be there. He had to be there. He was. He laughed. He smiled. He soaked it all in.
Even then, just like in his playing days, Whitmore delivered.
“There are times when I feel like getting out and playing ball, but I’m not getting around as well as I did in my heyday, but I’m still Bob Whitmore,” he told the Tribune days before being the eighth member of the program to see his name and number and blue and gold and white banner go into the arena rafters.
Who was Bob Whitmore? He was a pioneer for attending Notre Dame at a time (1966-69) when black men didn’t leave big cities for places like Northern Indiana.
He jumped center against Lew Alcindor (soon to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) in the dedication game of the Joyce Center. Whitmore scored the first basket in the then-new building in 1968.
At 6-foot-7, Whitmore wasn’t the tallest of the quickest or the best player on the court. He often was thanks to his hustle and hard work.
In three seasons at Notre Dame (freshmen were ineligible during those days), Whitmore scored 1,580 points and grabbed 1,053 rebounds. That ranks 15th and fifth all time. He’s one of only six Irish to grab at least 1,000 career rebounds. He also had 47 double doubles for points and rebounds.
In 84 career games with the Irish, Whitmore averaged 18.8 points and 12.4 rebounds.
“I respected the game,” he said of his career. “I never thought that I was better than anybody. I always gave my best.”
That’s why Irish coach Mike Brey wanted Whitmore in the Ring of Honor. He was more than a basketball player. He was a class act. With a capital “C.”
Whitmore prepped at famed DeMatha (Md.) Catholic High School before attending Notre Dame. DeMatha lost legendary coach, and Brey’s mentor, Morgan Wootten in January.
Wootten accompanied Whitmore on a private plane out to Notre Dame for that weekend in January 2019. Word was they enjoyed every minute of the ride and the weekend and the memories together.
“Life becomes very short,” Whitmore told the Tribune in 2019. “We’re put on this Earth to accomplish something, so accomplish it. If you’ve got good people around you and can smile and help when someone’s down, hey man, you’ve lived a doggone good life.”
That Whitmore did.