Just before La Salle tipped off against St. Joseph's Saturday at Tom Gola Arena, a photo appeared on the screen. In memory of Claude Gross. A moment of silence.
In the front row at center court across from the benches, the greatest all-time La Salle scorer, 3,217 points, pointed across to a St. Joe's assistant coach. Lionel Simmons gave Geoff Arnold a thumbs up.
"Geoff, you were the first son," Simmons told the Hawks assistant after the game.
"You were the chosen son," Arnold told Simmons.
To both, Claude Gross was a basketball father. Each remembered meeting Gross for the first time. Each remembered not wanting to go back for a second time.
"He pulled you in and kept you hostage," Arnold said of the man who died Friday at 82. "We lost Goliath, and I'm not just talking about basketball."
Before the game, Explorers assistant Pappy Owens stood on the baseline as La Salle warmed up, talking about how you never forgot all that Gross passed on "once you began to get through the noise."
The noise, though, turned out to be unforgettable. Basketball, politics, life, the University of Claude Gross, always in session. When Owens, a star at Rhode Island, was finishing up his degree there, there was an assignment to write about a great person. Owens called a man the professor had never heard of.
That man, 6-foot-a-whole-lot, had starred at Ben Franklin High. He was the best in the city at the time, according to many, many people, including himself. Gross would tell people he was "the king until Wilton Norman Chamberlain arrived on the scene. That ain't bad to be second to him."
Gross, of course, married Wilt's sister, Selina, who survives him, and his own impact went in another direction. He was part of a collection of Sonny Hill League coaches who spread a hoop gospel for generations. In its glory days, the Hill League was divided up more or less geographically. West Philly really would take on North Philly, South Philly, Northwest, etc.
Arnold was a kid from Darby Township, just an eighth grader in 1978, but he was invited to join the South Philly group practicing at Marian Anderson Recreation Center, 17th and Fitzwater. Alonzo Lewis, Big Five hall of famer, brought Arnold down there.
"He tells me you're a smart ballplayer," Arnold remembers Gross saying with Lewis standing there. "I'm looking at this giant. He says, 'I think you're a dumb SOB.' "
Arnold's next move - shaking his head no.
"If you ever shake your head at me again, I will smack your head off your shoulders," Gross told him.
You can maybe see why an eighth-grader didn't want to go back. But Lewis, a La Salle great himself, then coaching at Darby Township, brought Arnold back a second time. There was a collection of all-city talent in the gym that had Arnold slightly in awe. Gross called him over, the group taking laps.
"He's sitting in the stands, probably smoking a cigarette," Arnold said. "He says, 'Kid, what's my name?' "
Arnold told him, "Claude Gross."
"Kid," Gross told him, "if you don't know my nickname by the end of practice, you're cut."
At this point, Arnold said, "I'm like wetting myself. I get back in line."
A couple of the guys asked Arnold what Gross had said. He told them. Means he likes you, they said. They told him the nickname. He trusted they weren't messing with him.
Gross called him over later. In front of the whole team. What's my nickname?
"It's Sallie," Arnold said.
Gross started cursing and yelling.
"Who told him!?"
You didn't have to be a star like Owens to never forget Claude Gross. He and Tee Shields, always together, part of a group of Hill League legends that included James Flint (Bruiser's dad) and Fred Douglas and John Hardnett and Tony Sammartino. They effectively ran city summer hoops for a long, long time. And they didn't stop after the summer.
Dan Leibovitz, now Southeastern Conference associate commissioner for basketball, remembers getting to Marian Anderson for some workouts.
"Every time somebody made a mistake we did maybe 15 pushups," Leibovitz said. "By the end of practice nobody hit the rim on a jumper."
It became pushup practice. Leibovitz said Gross was great because he'd call anyone out, didn't matter if they were Rasheed Wallace or Lou Roe or John Chaney or Fran Dunphy. The things Gross did, Leibovitz said, "people charge parents for it today and call themselves personal trainers."
Pregame along the baseline, Pappy Owens talked more about Gross. "His best work was Lionel. Flawless."
He meant Simmons, of course. La Salle was giving out L-Train bobbleheads Saturday and honoring the '87 La Salle team that included Simmons as a freshman, already averaging 20.3 points a game.
After the game, standing by the court, Simmons said, "He would tell me what I needed to do, and I would act like I wouldn't listen. But I would try to do everything he told me."
An example: If a guy is bigger than you, you face him up and take him to the basket off the dribble. If he's smaller than you, you back his butt down every time, you mess with him that way.
"I took that with me all the way throughout," Simmons said.
His first time meeting Gross, "I was 14 years old. I went to the gym. They told me he was crazy. You're not going to like him. I went in. I didn't go back. I said, 'You're right. He's crazy.' He came to my house the next day, and I've never been separated from him since."
After Saturday's game, Simmons and another South Philadelphia Gross protege, Bobby Johnson, whose own son now stars for La Salle, stood with Arnold talking about Gross until the Gola lights were out. They had to find somebody to let them out. They kept talking in the parking lot.
A text chain was going around the city this weekend, Arnold said, that included various coaches from all the Big Five schools. There will be a memorial service, still to be set, so more stories can flow. Dunphy finished one message to Arnold with the words Gross finished every phone call to all of them with: "I love you, and there ain't nothing you can do about it."