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Former Inquirer writer Mel Greenberg accepts Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Award for his coverage of women’s basketball

Greenberg, 74, created the women's college basketball poll in 1976 and has tirelessly written about and promoted the game.

Mel Greenberg at the Hall of Fame ceremony.
Mel Greenberg at the Hall of Fame ceremony.Read moreJon Lopez via Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Mel Greenberg had prepared a speech to celebrate his winning the Curt Gowdy Media Award for Print presented by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, but one Hall official felt it needed to be trimmed by about three minutes.

“He said, ‘Mel, your presentation’s really good but you have a lot of thank-yous in here. You’ve got more thank-yous than anybody else in this entire weekend,’” Greenberg said. “And I responded and said, ‘What do you want when you’ve got 50 years?’”

Still, when Greenberg finally took the podium Friday night in the ballroom of the Mohegan Sun Hotel and Casino, he still managed in his 7½-minute speech to mention the names of 46 people who had helped him and inspired him. Which is normal for him.

Anyone who knows Mel Greenberg would tell you he’s truly a people person. That covers the time period starting with Temple, where he served as a manager on the team that won the 1969 National Invitation Tournament championship, to his hiring by The Inquirer, and particularly to his creation of the women’s college basketball poll in 1976 that set off his career as “The Guru of Women’s Basketball.”

Greenberg got a shoutout from the podium Saturday night from Hall of Fame inductee and Big East commissioner Val Ackerman, who said, “I’m so happy for Mel Greenberg.” And there were more in a video tribute produced by Associated Press women’s basketball writer Doug Feinberg.

“On behalf of every other coach, I want to say thank you,” said UConn head women’s coach Geno Auriemma, a Norristown native. “We really couldn’t have grown the game to the level that we did without you. We really couldn’t be in the place that we’re at right now without you. And we don’t say it enough, and we don’t appreciate you enough, but I think this award speaks from all of us to you.”

In his speech, Greenberg, a Northeast High School graduate who spent 41 years at The Inquirer, covered a lot of territory, talking about how he reported on the mothers of some players he covers now, and some daughters as well. And as is his usual nature, he had a couple of quips to keep the audience entertained.

He began his speech by thanking the committee that selects the Gowdy Award “for allowing me to complete the list of basketball media majors. Until tonight, the closest I got to a grand slam was on the menu at Denny’s.”

What a grand slam it is. Greenberg’s Hall of Fame roll call is the Big 5 (1992), the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (2002), the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (2007), the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame (2018), and Temple’s Klein College of Media and Communications (2019). The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association media award is named after him.

As for his involvement in the women’s game, Greenberg said someone once told him, “Mel, one day they’re going to make you an honorary woman.”

“Soon enough, Immaculata put me in their Hall of Fame joining such legends as Theresa Grentz. So tonight, on behalf of the gender, I’m pleased to break another glass ceiling.”

Greenberg congratulated Villanova coach Jay Wright, who was enshrined Saturday night at ceremonies in Springfield, Mass. He said an Inquirer editor sent him a note last week saying, “You’ve impacted the industry.”

“I responded by saying, ‘You can thank me by giving me more coverage than Jay this weekend,’” Greenberg quipped, adding after the dinner ended that he had told Wright, “I feel so bad I’ve got to steal the spotlight from you this weekend.”

Greenberg said afterward that he tried not to get emotional during his speech, especially when he referenced Lauren Hill, a Division III Mount St. Joseph’s (Ohio) basketball player who died of pediatric brain cancer in April 2015 at the age of 19. She received the Pat Summit Courage Award less than a week before her death from the legendary Tennessee coach.

“Pat herself surprised with one of her last public appearances,” he said in the speech. “That day, I noted, there are times when we are not simply media or players, coaches, referees, administrators, and fans. Instead we’re just one big basketball family. That’s true again tonight.”

Later he said, “I climb outside my body since I’ve done it. It’s one of those things that gets you emotional. It’s John Cappelletti’s [Heisman Trophy] speech. You kind of don’t want to do that, you want to get through it, you don’t want to stop.”

Greenberg says he’s grateful to be part of not only the women’s basketball family, but the basketball family at large. From the podium, he saluted the “nearly 50 Hall of Fame coaches, players and contributors in women’s basketball I’ve covered.”

“Without you, there’s no me,” he said.

“I hope that in my 50-plus years in this great game, that I helped propel the sport forward, made some sort of difference in the lives of those I’ve had the honor to cover, captured the game’s essence and the essence of those in it. Abd If I have enriched your lives at even 1 percent with you’ve enriched mine, then I am by far the luckiest person forever. If I am your champion, you are mine.”