It didn’t matter whether it was 4 a.m. or at courtside of the NBA championship, Phil Jasner was always there for someone. The Hall of Fame Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter was there to bring a keen eye and unparalleled expertise to the game of basketball, but mostly, Jasner was the kind of top-of-the-food-chain writer that was willing to help anyone, from a rival paper to a novice covering his first game.
That was Phil Jasner.
There’s a reason why the late Jasner, a Havertown native, is in five sports halls of fame, and why the JCC Maccabi Games have renamed Thursday's 16-and-under championship—scheduled for 1 p.m. at —the Phil Jasner Memorial Basketball Tournament. One more great honor for a great man who touched many, many lives in and around basketball, who was constantly giving to basketball and giving to others.
Jordana Jasner, Phil’s 5-year-old granddaughter, will present the championship trophies, and the 16-and-under game will be officiated by NBA referees Joe Crawford, Duke Callahan and Mark Lindsay. Crawford received special permission from the NBA office to ref the game—within an hour of asking.
That’s the kind of impact Phil Jasner, who died of cancer at 68 on Dec. 3, 2010, carried.
“This is going to be very difficult and incredible all at the same time,” said Andy Jasner, Phil’s son, a 1987 graduate who lives in Media and is also a noted sportswriter nationally. “It’s a huge honor to have this tournament named after my father. It’s the kind of dedication my father gave to people, and from my perspective, I wish my father was still here. I think about him every day, and to have this tournament named after him, it’s something I’ll never forget.
“I miss my father dearly, and it’s very heartwarming to see his name up there with this tournament. I have to thank (Comcast SportsNet producer) Brian Schiff for being an important part of making this happen. But that was my dad. People loved him. They don’t put your name on something without a person giving up something and (having) done something for people.”
That was Phil Jasner.
Andy related a number of stories about his legendary father, like the time Phil met someone for the first time from outside the area and sent them packages of the Daily News, or the countless times Andy and Phil talked basketball into the wee hours of the morning after a game, or when Phil would fax basketball information to a young reporter in Eugene, Oregon, at 4 a.m. It didn’t matter, Phil Jasner was always there for someone, and for a captain in his field to take that kind of time was rare.
“My father touched people; I’ve heard stories upon stories and I tried to model myself after that,” said Andy, a Syracuse graduate. “This is a tough business and my father was honest with people. He was like a mentor to so many different people. Mostly, he was very giving to others. He was a very social person and he loved to converse with people. He just loved talking basketball. We would be in hospitality suites after filing and I’d tell him I had to go to bed. Then I hear him coming back at four in the morning.”
Andy will always carry a part of his father with him, from the black curly hair, to the countless, absorbing memories, like meeting Dr. J as a teenager, or Charles Barkley. He has the times he sat and watched his dad working, covering tripleheaders at the Palestra, and the 1979 Penn Final Four team, and the occasions Doc would walk by and say, “Hey, Little Jaz.”
It’s those times that are priceless.
“It’s been a very hard time for me. My family has been through a personal hell, my mother passed in 2005 from lupus and then, boom, my father gets diagnosed,” Andy said. “He battled it incredibly well. My father never wanted to talk about his illness very much, and he worked up to the very end. He wanted his surroundings to be as normal as possible. But there were times I worked side-by-side with him on deadline, and those are times I’ll always have. I’ll never forget that.”
Phil was also very proud of his Jewish faith. Andy named his youngest daughter Shira, which in Hebrew means song, and why both of Andy’s daughters, Phil’s granddaughters, attend Jewish day care.
“Judaism was important to my father and is important to me,” Andy said. “It’s why I married a Jewish woman and why this event holds a special meaning to me and my extended family.”
Thursday afternoon will hold a wondrous and emotional moment for anyone who knew Phil Jasner. Jordana will be walking out the championship trophies to the winning team, and Andy will be thinking of his father, a man whose name is synonymous with Philadelphia basketball.
“It’s going to be emotional, very emotional,” Andy said. “But I know Dad’s going to be watching.”