Wendell Ladner (October 6, 1948 – June 24, 1975) was an American professional basketball player. He played college basketball at The University of Southern Mississippi where he became a member of Phi Kappa Tau fraternity.
Ladner, who was born in Necaise Crossing, Hancock County, Mississippi and played high school ball at Hancock North Central High School in Kiln, Mississippi, played five seasons with five different teams in the ABA, from 1970 to 1975. A 6'5" (1.96 m) 220 lb (100 kg) forward, Ladner was one of the great "enforcers" of the American Basketball Association, protecting Dan Issel of the Kentucky Colonels and Julius Erving of the New York Nets. He was named to the 1971 ABA All-Rookie team.
Ladner died at the age of 26 in the June 24, 1975 crash of Eastern Air Lines Flight 66, in New York City. He was identified by medical examiners because he was wearing his ABA Championship ring. For many years, the Nets listed his name and number on the list of retired numbers, however it does not hang in the rafters with the other retired numbers. His number was also given to Rick Mahorn during his tenure with the Nets. In October 2013, the Nets released a statement finally clarifying a 17-year question. According to the Nets, longtime Nets trainer Fritz Massmann would not issue Ladner's No. 4 to any other players out of respect. There was never a formal ceremony and his number is not retired.
By Dean Hanley
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