Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Jensen: These Philly hoops super fans see it all . . . every day

Outcome determined in this girls' high school game, reserves getting time, two men sitting just past a basket at Cardinal O'Hara High, an 82-year-old and a 72-year-old, were: (a) falling asleep; (b) leaving; or (c) paying even closer attention.

Outcome determined in this girls' high school game, reserves getting time, two men sitting just past a basket at Cardinal O'Hara High, an 82-year-old and a 72-year-old, were: (a) falling asleep; (b) leaving; or (c) paying even closer attention.

With these two men - never, ever, pick anything but (c).

"I like Number One . . ."


"She a sophomore? I think she's going to be pretty good."

These two men, Bill Wright, 72, from Ambler, and Tom Bachinger, 82, from Springfield, Delaware County, discuss the potential of the backup sophomore point guard at a Catholic League power, but Wright and Bachinger aren't limited to powerhouses, or just girls' high school programs, or just high school programs.

These two encyclopedias of local hoops get to a game or two or three a day - high school and college, male and female. Wright and Bachinger, who just met in the bleachers, compare schedules and often end up in the same place if they're in agreement about the place to be.

"I'm an addict," Wright said one day during a game. "I need a game a day. I need a fix."


"Tom sees more than I do, he just doesn't keep count," Wright said. "I'm sick, but he's out of control."

Wright, however, had been the one in the gym an hour before the start of the girls' high school triple-header, in time for the start of the junior varsity game, settled in for nearly six hours of hoops. Bachinger showed up toward the end of the JV game, carrying his seat cushion from the 2000 NCAA Women's Final Four. (Tom used to have a backup cushion but believes he left it at Penn Wood High.)

"Not starting on time," Wright told Bachinger.

He meant the first varsity game. The shot of the day already had happened. Bachinger, the more social of the two, actually had been in the gym for it but had missed it, he said, talking to the parent of an O'Hara varsity player. (Not an issue for Wright: "I stay clear of parents at all costs.")

O'Hara JV guard Katie Shallow had nailed about a 27-footer, way above the top of the key, at the buzzer, forcing overtime. As she got mobbed by teammates and the gym buzzed at the turn of events, Wright kind of groaned and looked at his watch.

"That's our biggest fear, overtime in the JV game," Wright said.

Make that double overtime, before O'Hara eventually won.

Why do this? Bachinger jokes about some other habit would be worse in retirement if he was sitting at home. Friends kept asking if he was going to go back up to Bloomsburg, where he was born and raised, after retiring from working at the Navy Yard, his last job second line supervisor in the machine shop.

"You kidding?" Bachinger said, grabbing your arm, mentioning how he doesn't hunt or fish, and all the live hoops he can see down here, the choices provided by over 125 high schools, the great public address announcer at Delco Christian who reminds him of Dave Zinkoff, the possibility of finding the next big thing. C.B. West, for instance, has a big-time freshman. Wright had heard about her when she was in eighth grade. A golfing buddy had heard about Maddie Burke from his dentist, who happens to be the C.B. West coach.

"She might be the next Kristen Clement," said Bachinger, who first got into girls' high school hoops because of Clement, the O'Hara star who went on to Tennessee.

"Let's see her a second time," Wright said.

Wright says he never gets emotionally involved in games: "I go to watch players."

Where the two men might be unique, Wright said, is that they both follow the male and female side of the sport equally avidly. They don't know anybody else like that.

Wright, keeping his eye on the court, said that when he hasn't seen a team before he tries to pick out the best player during warm-ups. Watching Bethlehem Catholic on a layup line before the second varsity game at O'Hara, Wright said, "I got this one."

He was right and he didn't even know the player was a freshman, already drawing Division I interest.

Bachinger is the one who either handwrites a roster in advance from a website like or he brings a program from an old game. That's how he had the lineup for Episcopal Academy's girls' team. He didn't need one for O'Hara.

Before a marquee December boys' high school doubleheader at Arcadia - Wood vs. Abington, Neumann-Goretti vs. Imhotep - Wright didn't even need a JV game to get him to the gym 70 minutes before the first tipoff.

Bachinger said one public-address announcer who does a lot of high school games, Roy Hanshaw, would be known to test the PA system by intoning, "Bill Wright is in the house." About a decade back, Hanshaw pressed Wright into emergency service as his spotter at a PIAA playoff game at the Palestra.

Wright, who still buys and sells medical handling and storage equipment out of his house and gets to LA Fitness six days a week, keeps careful handwritten count every season of games he sees, adding the cost of admission. His first game this season was Oct. 28, Delaware Valley College vs. Philadelphia University, an exhibition game, no cost. The next day, he noted the Penncrest Shootout (seven games). In November, he started with Villanova men vs. Indiana University of Pennsylvania at the Wells Fargo Center, added Colgate vs. Philly U. women the next day (his neighbor's daughter plays point guard for Philly U.).

When Neumann-Goretti's boys scrimmaged at Plymouth-Whitemarsh, he was there. He'll drop a little money ($85, as noted, for Villanova vs. Penn at the Palestra), but that's offset by all the games he sees for free. By the end of December, he'd already seen 56 games.

Wright got to 158 games last season, October through the 20 games he saw at the Donofrio tournament. His all-time record, he said, is 166.

Wright hasn't seen a live NBA game he figures since 1971, he said, since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson destroyed the Sixers. That had once been an addiction, though. His first game, 1953 or '54, was at the old Philadelphia Sports Arena at 46th and Market. How many watching some high school game today can also recall seeing George Mikan play? Wright's uncle had been a minor-league pitcher for Eddie Gottlieb, who also owned the Warriors, so his uncle would get free tickets.

Later on, Wright would go with friends to Convention Hall to see the Warriors. A few of them got there early one time, were walking behind the place, when a lavender Cadillac pulled up - "a big thing in 1962." A bigger thing got out of the car, Wilt Chamberlain. "Hello, boys."

Wright grew up in Springfield, Montgomery County. His group in high school would take the train from Chestnut Hill to 30th Street, walk to the Hall, where a dollar to the right usher could get you in and another dollar could get you a seat down on the steps close to the court.

Wright doesn't just consider Wilt the best basketball player who ever lived - he's got him on top of best athlete ever. Wright is pretty sure he saw Chamberlain face Bill Russell in their first Philadelphia meeting, Warriors vs. Celtics. He did a little research and saw that the first meeting in Wilt's rookie year, Russell didn't play. (Wilt scored 49).

So Wright saw the first Philadelphia Wilt-Russell matchup on Dec. 12, 1959. He found his copy of The Wigwam, the Warriors' program, from that game. He'd kept score, marking baskets and fouls. In his program, Paul Arizin had led the Warriors with 29, Guy Rodgers had 27, Tom Gola had 25, Wilt had 21. For Boston, the total didn't quite add up - "Hey, listen, I was 15 years old and they may have been blowing smoke in my face" - but Boston won the game and Wright had Russell down for 22 points, with Bob Cousy topping the Celtics with 23.

Wright said he kept nine Wigwams, the oldest from 1957, a doubleheader featuring the Warriors vs. the Knicks and then the Globetrotters vs. the Philadelphia Sphas.

Of his cold turkey years, "I got interested in playing golf," Wright said. "Life changed."

Given all he's seen, you wonder what Wright was going to say after Neumann-Goretti star Quade Green hit a jumper in the first half of a big December game against Imhotep. In the second row, Wright began, "I have to say . . ."

Could Green measure up?

"He might be the best I've seen around here since Kobe," Wright said. "I love the kid."

"I've never Green look this quick," Bachinger added after Green converted a three-point play. He also said, long before Green went on a spree that finished when he had scored 37 points, "I only saw him miss two shots during warm-up."

Bachinger says he relies on Wright for the expert and historical analysis - "he's way off the charts" - but Tom knows the game, too. His wife sometimes comes with him and gets to a lot of the girls' games. She played at old Lansdowne-Aldan High and Millersville.

"Tom's a little more open-minded than I am," Wright said. "I'm a little opinionated."

A typical Bachinger day could be Episcopal in the afternoon, Garnet Valley at night. Two games in a day absolutely don't have to be in the same building. While both men said Clement's top-line skills really got them into the girls' game, Wright goes back further, to some terrific O'Hara teams of the early '90s. He nailed four out of the five starters and recognized the name of the fifth starter instantly.

Asked at that Neumann-Goretti game where he was going the next day, Wright said Philly U. He's loyal to his neighbor's daughter's team.

And Bachinger?

"I'll be going somewhere," he said. "I'll be checking the paper in the morning."