Louis Orr, a star forward at Syracuse who in the 1980s played for the Knicks alongside Bernard King and Patrick Ewing and who later became a college coach, including as Ewing’s assistant at Georgetown, died on Thursday at his home in Cincinnati. He was 64.
The cause was melanoma, his daughter, Monica Russell, said.
Orr shot over 50 percent for all four years of his Syracuse career. After serving as the sixth man as a freshman, he became a starter, with his best year coming as a senior, in the 1979-80 season, when he averaged 16 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. The Orange won the Big East championship that year, and Orr was named the team’s most valuable player and selected for the all-Big East first team.
He was drafted by the Indiana Pacers in 1980 and joined the Knicks in 1982. He found that his skinny physique was an issue in the N.B.A.
“This Orr kid is about 6-foot-8, maybe 180, soaking wet,” Chuck Daly, a Philadelphia assistant coach at the time (and later a Hall of Fame coach of the Detroit Pistons), told The New York Times in a 1981 profile of Orr. Some people in basketball had taken to calling him Bones, which Orr did not appreciate.
“God gave me a body that bends but doesn’t break,” he told The Times. “I hurt at times after a game, but the bruises keep going away.”
The brawny Knicks power forward Len Robinson, known as Truck, told The Times in 1984 that he had learned from playing against Orr in practice that Orr was able to compensate for his slight build.
“He’s a smart player, he knows his limits,” Robinson said. “He doesn’t try to get physical. When he plays against players bigger and stronger, he doesn’t mix up with them.”
Orr played backup to Robinson and King, the star forward whose right leg injury in 1985 became a major setback for the Knicks. Orr, who retired in 1988, overlapped with Ewing, the Knicks’ center, before the team established the core of its 1990s playoff runs, with strong partners for Ewing like Charles Oakley.
Orr spent a decade as an assistant coach at Xavier, Providence and Syracuse before becoming head coach at Siena College in upstate New York in 2000. Seton Hall made him its head coach the next year, and he remained there until 2006. He was named Big East coach of the year in 2003, becoming the first person in the history of the conference to win honors as both a player and a coach, according to an announcement of Orr’s death released by Georgetown.
Orr was head coach at Bowling Green State University in Ohio from 2007 to 2014. When Ewing was named Georgetown’s head coach in 2017, Orr joined him as an assistant and had remained in that post until his death.
Louis Orr was born on May 7, 1958, in Cincinnati. His mother, Mildred (Hutchinson) Orr, owned a cafe, and his father, Lindsay, worked in maintenance at the office of a publishing company. Louis was enough of a star in high school that in 1976 Rick Pitino, then an assistant coach at Syracuse, postponed his honeymoon and instead flew from New York to Cincinnati after his wedding to recruit Orr.
In addition to his daughter, Orr is survived by his wife, Yvette (Chauncey) Orr; two brothers, Lindsay and Edwin; his son, Chauncey; and two grandsons.
Orr became an evangelical Christian after his second season in the N.B.A., inspired by a sermon given by the television preacher Jimmy Swaggart. Orr came to see coaching as a kind of ministry, he told The Times in 2005, and he tended to write about a dozen verses of Scripture on the back of his game plans. His favorite verse, which could have doubled as a message to his players, was Jeremiah 29:11:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”