Before Coquitlam’s Lars Hansen sprouted up to the 6’10” height he’d eventually reach, he knew nothing about basketball.

Baseball was Hansen’s game and, boy, could he pitch. At age 12, he threw a no-hitter in Little League. The Texas Rangers sent scouts to watch him.

Things began to change one winter in his early teens. The Hansen family went down to Pasadena, California every Christmas to visit friends. There, Hansen saw professional basketball on colour TV for the first time. The Boston Celtics’ Jo Jo White shot the lights out that night and Hansen’s mind was blown. There was an outdoor hoop in the driveway, so he ran outside and began to play. His winding road to the pros began right there, ultimately making the Copenhagen, Denmark-born Hansen the first Dane to play in the NBA.

Another key moment occurred the summer before grade ten. Hansen was invited to a six-week camp at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. For six weeks he did nothing but soak up college game experience. He came back a different player, “elbow above the rim” better than any high school player in BC.

Hansen soon began scoring 30-40 points a game regularly for Centennial’s Centaurs. He led them to the 1971 BC High School Boys’ provincial semifinals before narrowly losing to Vancouver College. The Centaurs rebounded the next year to take the BC title in convincing fashion with Hansen walking off with tournament MVP honours for the second straight year.

From there, coach Marv Harshman recruited Hansen to join the University of Washington Huskies. At power forward, Hansen became UW’s leading rebounder and averaged double digits in points. In 1975-76, he led UW to a 23-5 record before a last-second shot against Missouri sunk their NCAA Final Four hopes. For his efforts, Hansen was selected to the NABC East-West All-Star game. He departed the UW having lettered and started all four years, an unprecedented achievement for a Canadian at the time.

Hansen also established himself as a key member of Canada’s men’s national team from 1972-77 and is still regarded today as one of Canada’s all-time top post players. In 1974, he helped Canada reach the top eight at the world championships for the first time in twenty years. Recovering from emergency gall bladder surgery, Hansen led the host nation to a fourth-place finish at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, one of Canada’s best-ever results.

His play caught the eye of the Chicago Bulls, who drafted him 37th overall in 1976, the first player from BC to appear in the modern-day NBA. After a year playing in Italy with Olimpia Milano, the Seattle Supersonics signed Hansen. Fighting the media-contrived stigma that Canadians couldn’t cut it in the pros, Hansen averaged 5.1 points and 3.9 rebounds for the Sonics during their 1978-79 championship season, becoming the first Canadian to appear on an NBA championship roster.

From there, Hansen played several years professionally in Europe, highlighted by a dominating 1980-81 season with OAR Ferrol in Spain where he led the FIBA Spanish First Division in both scoring and rebounding and was named league MVP. He closed out his professional career in 1982-83 by leading FC Barcelona to the Spanish league championship.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.