Haines filmmaker and former NBA star Mark McNamara dies at 60

Mark McNamara played as a center for UC Berkley and eventually went on to win a national championship with the Philadelphia 76ers. (Photo courtesy of Cal Athletics)

Haines resident Mark McNamara died last week at the age of 60. The former NBA star moved to Haines in 2005, where he spent time making films and sharing his knowledge of basketball. McNamara grew up in California and got his start playing basketball at Del Mar High in San Jose. He continued playing at UC Berkeley where he studied environmental economics. When he graduated in 1982, he was drafted to the Philadelphia 76ers.

That was a very eventful year for him. The summer after he graduated, but before he started playing for the 76ers, McNamara landed a gig in the Star Wars movie “Return of the Jedi.” At 7 feet tall, McNamara worked as a stand-in for Peter Mayhew’s character Chewbacca.

After the NBA season started, McNamara and the 76ers would go on to win the national championship. He had a successful career in the NBA and played on a few different teams until the ‘90s. That’s when he began coaching professionally, but health issues related to a rare genetic disease forced him to take a different path.

In 2005, he settled down in Haines. Local filmmaker Mario Benassi was a close friend of his.

“We met at Kroschel Wildlife Center where I was working. He came up to visit, and at that time he kind of expressed his undying love for wolves and for all things nature. That’s where we kind of hit it off,” Benassi said.

McNamara and Benassi shared a passion for filmmaking and quickly joined forces. They took on a lot of different projects and worked closely with Takshanuk Watershed Council. McNamara loved getting footage in scenic areas like Glacier Point and Flower Mountain.

Benassi said they made a great team because they complimented each other.

“I’m an artist. I’m not that organized. Mark is very organized and precise and dots all the i’s and crosses all the t’s,” Benassi said. “He was an incredibly intelligent individual and someone that we all looked up to.”

In past interviews with the Chilkat Valley News, McNamara said he didn’t intend to get involved with the community when he moved to Haines, but he couldn’t stay away from basketball. He started going to open gym and even helped coach the high school team for a few years.

Haines resident Kyle Fossman said throughout his own career in basketball, from playing overseas to coaching at the University of Alaska, he looked to McNamara for advice. He learned some of the finer points of the game from him.

“What would be a good shot, versus a great shot. What would be a good time to push the ball versus walk it up. More like intangible stuff that you kind of got to learn,” Fossman said.

According to Mario Benassi, McNamara had been traveling and was trying to return to Haines in the days leading up to his death. He passed away from heart related complications on Tuesday in Nevada.

He is survived by his sister Lauren McNamara of San Francisco.