Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

An idea to honor Mel Greenberg: A hoops fest to call his own | Mike Jensen

Celebrating women's basketball at the Palestra and supporting stars of the future is a layup.

Mel Greenberg covers more games now than when he was a newspaper writer covering the sport.
Mel Greenberg covers more games now than when he was a newspaper writer covering the sport.Read moreCLEM MURRAY / File Photograph

This idea, frankly, is a layup, the uncontested kind.

The layup, however, would be inside a full and deafening Palestra, a game-winning shot, once a year.

A yearly celebration of Philadelphia women’s basketball, which is responsible for so many of the roots of this game, locally and spreading out nationally.

Let’s have one day of women’s hoops inside the hallowed building, a doubleheader that could grab the national spotlight.

» READ MORE: Jay Wright got noticed long before he started running up Hall of Fame credentials

Let’s call it the Mel Greenberg Invitational.

Why Mel? Do you have to ask? There’s been nobody like him, a man thrown into women’s hoops coverage practically a half-century ago who is still at it. This weekend at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the yearly lifetime achievement media award will be presented to Mel, the first time (somehow) this award will be presented to someone who has primarily covered women’s hoops.

Mel, retired now from The Inquirer, still writing for his own must-stop blog, already is an inducted member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, and the Big 5 Hall of Fame and his alma mater Temple’s Hall of Fame.

This isn’t all about Mel, however, more about the game he exhaustively covers — and we’re still working the kinks out of The Mel. We’ve run the idea by some local hoops types and the feedback has been good. The original thought, as presented above, was for a yearly tournament, but smart minds pointed out that it’s harder to get the teams you’d want to commit for multiple games. So The Mel could be one day, a doubleheader.

The field? Start with the City 6 schools, who usually have a courtside place reserved for Mel just on the assumption he’ll show up. Two of them would play each year, rotating. They’d all be there once every three seasons and never play against each other, so it wouldn’t get in the way of City Series play. (Nobody wants to give up home gates anyway.)

The opponents would rotate. The marquee game should be a big national program, as big as you can get. Start with the obvious ones. You may have heard that the coach down at South Carolina and the coach up at Connecticut are from the region. You really think Dawn Staley and Geno Auriemma wouldn’t take that phone call? Also, be sure to flip a coin on who gets the first call, so neither gets offended that the other plays in the first year, since these are the two most prominent coaches in the sport. (If Muffet McGraw were to come out of retirement, she’d get a quick call, too.)

Who makes that call? Retired Villanova legend Harry Perretta has a little time on his hands. We’d make him tournament chairman.

“It’s a good idea,” Perretta said of the whole thing, separate from his potential involvement.

“I agree — Harry makes the calls to get some teams here,” said his successor at Villanova, Denise Dillon. “He will have them convinced it was their idea.”

The fourth team would be from this region. The definition of “this region?” Places that have seen Mel show up over the years. From Rider and Princeton and Rutgers on the Jersey side, up to Lehigh and Lafayette, and include Delaware and Penn State. Rotate them so you’re asking for each of them to play once every seven years.

The whole thing would be a celebration. Let’s have a big award for contributions to the game locally. Please call it the Cathy Rush Award, named for the extraordinary Immaculata Mighty Macs coach. Narrowing the field of honorees would be a task.

Since the media likes nothing more than media awards, have that, too. But this would be a national award — who has followed in Mel’s footsteps most closely? We’re not suggesting calling it the Mel Greenberg award. (That’s too much Mel.) It would be the Jay Searcy award, named for the man who essentially created Mel. Searcy was The Inquirer sports editor who came up with the idea of running a national women’s college basketball poll and looking around the newsroom, decided Mel, then a clerk at the paper, was the guy to put it together. (Searcy, by the way, was himself as fine a wordsmith as you could hope to find, as he showed again and again after switching back to the writing side.)

Who would run The Mel? Let the City 6 schools rotate it every year. Taking charge of the logistics once every six years isn’t too onerous.

» READ MORE: Mel Greenberg is the Guru

Where would be the money go? A quick thought is that any proceeds should go to support girls’ basketball in the city of Philadelphia, to help try to ensure that the next Dawn Staley doesn’t drop the sport before liftoff.

What would Mel’s role be? He’d be in charge of the party, pre-party and after-party, probably at his favorite place in Chinatown, before a trip to the diner in Voorhees for breakfast, chosen for its WIFI and plugs for Mel to write at all hours, since he’s always mixed up his days and nights. (We haven’t run any of this by Mel. He’s had enough on his plate.)

On a weekend that honors Mel Greenberg at the sport’s highest level, let’s think about this idea that helps his local legacy keep going and going, as Mel always has.

It’s a layup.