Cardinal Dougherty High School closed nine years ago, but the old place still got a shoutout Thursday night on national TV, even if its name got mispronounced. It turns out a defunct school on North Second Street can still produce an NBA champion.
Kyle Lowry, of North Philadelphia, Cardinal Dougherty and Villanova produced the top line of a top-line basketball resume: 6-foot-1 point guard for the Toronto Raptors, 2019 NBA champions. Lowry, 33, already had an Olympic gold medal and played in five NBA All-Star Games. This goes on top.
As the Raptors clinched the NBA title over the Golden State Warriors late Thursday night, Lowry’s Game 6 stat line included 26 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals. This was after Lowry had missed a last-second three-pointer that would have won Game 5 for the Raptors.
“When he missed the shot, I never worried. He’s got the strongest will,” Jay Wright, Lowry’s coach at Villanova, said Friday. "You’ve got certain players you want ... taking the last shot. Number 1, because you believe they’ll make it. But No. 2, you know missing it is not going to affect them.”
You tell players to work hard, and your dreams can come true, Wright said, knowing that doesn’t always happen.
“You were just so happy for him. He was able to experience that,” Wright said.
Maybe the only local player in the last 30 years who could compare basketball resumes with Lowry is Dawn Staley, another North Philly native. No Big 5 men’s player in the last quarter century has a resume that can compete.
“Very cool that people used to watch baseball players earn world championships from the roof of what would later become his house,” former Daily News sportswriter Ted Silary noted in an email about Lowry, who grew up at 20th and Lehigh across from what used to be Connie Mack Stadium and Shibe Park before that. "Now he is a world champ.”
Of course, getting to this title meant getting through the 76ers, which meant Lowry wasn’t exactly a local hero to Sixers fans this postseason.
Lowry got it. He said during the Sixers series, "If you’re wearing the opposing jersey, they’re going to say, ‘[Bleep] you. Die slow.’ "
“That was the worst 2½ weeks of my life,” said Dave Distel, a former Dougherty assistant coach. "I stayed off social media. Kyle is the guy you love to hate unless he’s on your team.”
Distel thought back to a Catholic League high school semifinal game against St. John Neumann at La Salle University. In his memory, Lowry had picked up three first-half fouls. He was told at halftime that he was staying out there. Then he picked up a fourth foul midway through the third quarter and walked back toward Dougherty’s bench, Distel said, “sheepishly.”
That’s when Dougherty head coach Mark Heimerdinger turned to his assistant and said, "I can tell you this right now. If we take him out, sit him now, we’re going to lose.”
Distel paused for a second in his telling of the story.
"I’m getting emotional now," Distel said.
The story gets told because Lowry stayed in the game, and he never fouled again, and Dougherty won, and Lowry told reporters afterward about how his coach had shown so much loyalty to him that he had to give everything he could.
"That’s his life," Distel said. "If you’re loyal to him, there’s no extent to what he won’t do for you.”
Wright spoke about Lowry’s loyalty, too.
"As soon as he signed this contract, he came to us, said, ‘I want to give a million dollars to the program,’ " Wright said. "No one asked him. As much as his generosity was impressive, it was that he came to us as if he was already thinking about it.”
Wright also mentioned the private plane Lowry had rented to get to the Final Four in 2016 when Villanova won the national title over North Carolina.
Remember, this was a player whom Wright had been warned not to recruit, that his hard-headedness would be too much to contain. Both Wright and Lowry have talked about how that was almost true, especially his freshman year, when Lowry himself sometimes wanted out.
“I’m probably an optimist. I see the best in anybody,” Wright said. "You hoped this was what he would be. You definitely saw in him intelligence at a young age and a good heart. Those were the two ingredients — if he gets it, if he listens. … I think that’s how you’ve seen him evolve through his career.”
That was an issue with the Raptors, too.
“He thinks the game, and he thinks it before the other players,” Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri said in a 2015 Inquirer interview. "He’s one of those players. There are few of them. He knows what the other team is running.”
Ujuri added, “Maybe the other immature side of Kyle before that made that part get overlooked … a little bit.”
The two had a heart-to-heart before his first All-Star season of 2014-15 about how maybe his stubbornness was holding him back. Lowry said himself that it was a good conversation, that he already knew.
Silary noted that Lowry is tied for second on the scoring list of Philly players, from the city itself, in NBA title-clinching games. Wali Jones (Overbrook High, Villanova) still tops the list with 27 points in 1967. Lowry tied Paul Arizin (La Salle High, Villanova), who had 26 in ‘56. Wilt Chamberlain (Overbook) had 24 twice, and Earl Monroe (Bartram) had 23 in ‘73.
Kamal Yard can tell you about how Lowry played for his AAU program funded way back by Cuttino Mobley, another Cardinal Dougherty alum.
“Kyle is from my neighborhood. I’ve watched him play since he was 9 years old,” Yard said. “He was a buzzsaw then. His first half [in Game 6] against the Warriors, that was all 25th and Diamond. He went for the jugular.”
Yard remembers Lowry showing up for coin drops on City Line Avenue to pay for a trip, how Kyle’s older brother, Lonnie, “who always believed in him,” came up with a list of top point guards around the country, and they’d sign up for tournaments chasing those players, “trying to trap them.”
During the NBA Finals, Lowry was asked about what his definition of pressure was, what he thought of when he heard the word. He went straight back to North Philadelphia, talking of his mother and his grandmother, what they had to go through to feed him and his brother and his cousins.
“Going to work — getting up at 5 in the morning, making me cereal ... having a bowl of cereal sitting in the refrigerator with some milk, being able to provide for me and my brother and my family. That’s pressure," Lowry said. "Willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that your kid will see better than what you’ve ever seen. Getting up and taking public transportation an hour and a half away. People like that are heroes to me.”
“He’s a grinder. He’s a Philly grinder,” said Joe Westerfer, who coached Lowry for the Philly Elite AAU program. "The old-school Philly point guard.”
Westerfer couldn’t have predicted all this, though. He notes that he once picked Sean Singletary over Lowry as his starting point guard. It wasn’t a terrible choice. Singletary went on to a great career at Virginia.
"He did things his own way," Westerfer said, noting that if Lowry at first thought he’d "do anything at anytime,” he adapted. "When it was time for him to step up, he was always able to.”
Westerfer has moved to California. He was the only person in a crowded bar, he said, cheering Thursday night for the Raptors. When asked if he was Canadian, Westerfer explained he was from Philadelphia and had coached Lowry once. They didn’t believe him until he pulled his phone out and showed them Lowry’s saved number. They’ve stayed in touch.
Distel said he still talks to Lowry every week. He didn’t predict this level of play for Lowry, he said, but did think he could make the NBA, noting "an uncanny ability to be such a smart player, to understand time and space, getting to spots defensively, active hands, taking charges.”
“He made himself different,” Distel said. "There’s a million 6-foot point guards out there. He made himself different.”