PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Terry Porter knew Jerome Kersey was special. There was, of course, the talent on the court, but also something more lasting: the "joy and his smile, the way he embraced life."
Kersey died Wednesday night at 52. The state medical examiner said Thursday a blood clot had traveled from his left calf to his left lung, causing a pulmonary thromboembolism. Kersey had minor knee surgery last Friday, but it could not be immediately determined if the surgery caused the clot.
Porter, one of the great Trail Blazers, said he woke up Thursday and "thought it was a bad dream."
"As a teammate he was the best teammate you could have," said Porter, his voice trailing, his eyes welling with tears. "He'd run through walls for you. He got every ounce out of his talent that was humanly possible."
A team ambassador, Kersey appeared Tuesday with Porter and former Blazers player Brian Grant at a Portland high school in celebration of African-American History Month. Kersey was in the team offices earlier Wednesday and passed out candy to President Chris McGowan's assistant.
"Former athletes don't always come into the office every day," McGowan said, "but Jerome certainly did."
Kersey averaged 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 17 NBA seasons with Portland, Golden State, the Los Angeles Lakers, Seattle, San Antonio and Milwaukee. He helped the Blazers reach the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992, playing alongside Porter, Clyde Drexler, Kevin Duckworth and Buck Williams.
"He was the greatest guy, the nicest friend, teammate and brother. He was loved by everyone. We will all miss him. He just cared so much," Drexler told Comcast SportsNet Northwest. "This is unbelievable."
Kersey had his best season in 1987-88, averaging 19.2 points and 8.3 rebounds. Kersey played in 1,153 regular-season games, averaging 1.9 assists and 1.2 steals.
The former Longwood University star ranks second on Portland's career games list (831) and rebounds (5,078), third in minutes (21,400) and steals (1,059) and fifth in points (10,067).
At 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds, Kersey had a broad smile and warm manner that made him a fan favorite. Former Blazers broadcaster and fellow team ambassador Bill Schonely recalled the moment he coined the catchphrase "Mercy, mercy, Jerome Kersey."
"I think it was against Chicago, 1990 or maybe it was '89, a long time ago. Typical Jerome night. I think it was Terry (Porter) who passed him the ball and of course you knew how fast and how hard he ran," Schonely said. "He got the ball, dribbled a couple of times and with a two-hander he stuffed that baby and right then I said 'Mercy, mercy Jerome Kersey,' and it stuck."
Former coach Rick Adelman called Kersey a "warrior."
"He never quit. He was someone you could count on every time he stepped on the court. He was just such a rock for those special Trail Blazers teams," Adelman said. "He also cared about the community and was always giving back."
Kersey retired in 2001. He was an assistant coach with Milwaukee in 2004-05 under Porter. In addition to serving as a team ambassador, he appeared on Blazers' broadcasts for Comcast SportsNet Northwest.
Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard posted to Twitter: "Spoke to him regularly about life and the ups and downs of a NBA season. Gone too soon, much love!" Others who posted their condolences included Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter.
At Longwood, a Division II school in Farmville, Virginia, Kersey averaged 17 points and 11.3. He was a second-round draft pick by the Blazers in 1984.
"Jerome was a genuinely warmhearted and kind person, and he fully embraced his role as an ambassador for Longwood," Longwood athletic director Troy Austin said. "He played bigger than his size on the hardwood and carried that passion into his everyday life."
Kersey lived with wife Teri in Lake Oswego. The couple married in 2013.
Funeral services were pending.