This is a story, all rolled into one, of local boy makes good, then comes home to his dream job.
Ed Stefanski's path to president and general manager of the 76ers could have been taken by trolley, stopping at 69th Street, from St. Bernadette's parish in Drexel Hill to Monsignor Bonner High School to the University of Pennsylvania.
The rest is local, too. Stefanski, named yesterday to replace Billy King, married his high school sweetheart, got started in the mortgage business, coached Bonner for a few years, worked as a college basketball television analyst, and kept his home in Wayne even after he sold the business and began working as a basketball scout for the New Jersey Nets.
"I've been commuting for nine years," Stefanski said.
It apparently wasn't just Stefanski's basketball acumen that has him in charge of the 76ers. His new bosses also hope his business sense will help revive their sagging franchise. Attendance is down, and the struggling team is in danger of falling off the local-sports radar screen.
"Ed was very, very successful in the mortgage business," said Peter Luukko, president and chief operating officer of Comcast-Spectacor, which owns the Sixers. "We see him leading our business side," and also working with the staff to sell tickets and sponsorships and do promotions.
The unique aspect of Stefanski's rise in the NBA is that he didn't have a full-time basketball job until John Nash, then the general manager of the Nets, hired him as a scout nine years ago.
"I am not averse to taking risk," Stefanski, 53, said. "At the age of 44, doing well in my business, I gave it all up to follow my passion."
Friends and colleagues, however, point to his scouting as being the key to his success with the Nets, where he rose to general manager.
"He's going to be one of these presidents who is going to get out there and see players," said Speedy Morris, who assisted Stefanski for a year at Bonner. "He's been in Europe more than he's been in Wayne the last couple of years."
Nash has known Stefanski his entire life.
"I've known his brother, Bob, since he was 7 years old, so I've known Eddie since he was born," Nash said. "We used to play with a peewee football in their backyard, and Eddie used to mess the game up because he was a little kid. So his brother would tie the clothesline around his leg and tie it to the tree."
All those years later, taking Nash's job offer, Stefanski didn't jump off that cliff without seeking outside advice.
"When he was in the mortgage business and talking about a career change, we did have many conversations about the pros and cons of leaving a very successful business and finding his way in the NBA," said Fred Shabel, vice chairman of Comcast-Spectacor and Penn's athletic director when Stefanski arrived on campus.
It seems that everybody who knows him, older or younger, comes back to Stefanski's always seeming older than his years.
"Even in high school, he was almost like a teacher walking around Bonner when the rest of us were just kids," said Kevin Lake, a basketball teammate at the school.
"He's better than anybody I know at building relationships," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said.
Stefanski's career path was affected by advice he had taken. Finishing his freshman year at Penn, Stefanski got the news: His freshman basketball coach at Penn, Rollie Massimino, was leaving Chuck Daly's Quakers staff to take the head coaching job at Villanova.
Stefanski called Massimino. He wanted to go with him.
"I had a very strong emotional tie to Rollie," Stefanski said. "But he said: 'Ed, this would blow [up] the Big Five. People would go crazy.' Maybe I could have helped him right away, but Rollie said: 'You are at Penn. You're going to the best business school in the country.' "
Stefanski said he was still friends with Massimino because of that advice, calling his initial interest in transferring to Villanova "an emotional decision."
"The Wharton School, especially if you're going to stay in Philadelphia, the network is strong," Stefanski said. "You talk about other places, and they'll say the North Carolina connection or a Duke connection. Well, in Philly, it's a Penn connection. It's strong."
That goes back to working in the summer for horseman Bob Levy, he said. That friendship has remained strong, Stefanski said, and included dabbling in the horse business. Stefanski was a minority owner of Levy's Bet Twice, the 1987 Belmont Stakes winner.
These days, Stefanski is a go-to guy for others seeking advice. Dunphy said he had sought Stefanski's counsel on any number of subjects.
"Absolutely, no question about it," said Dunphy, who attended Stefanski's introductory news conference. "He'd always give you a thoughtful response."
Although he wasn't working full-time in basketball, Stefanski was a TV commentator working Big Five games for Prism and later worked as the analyst for the Atlantic Ten's TV package.
Stefanski jokes about the highlight of his own basketball career being in fifth grade. He was, in fact, a Drexel Hill legend. The big CYO game his eighth-grade year was St. Bernadette's against St. Andrew's. Stefanski may not remember this, but others do: He had 29 of 33 St. Bernie's points.
At Penn, he was a reserve, part of two Ivy League championship teams. He scored two points in each of two NCAA tournament games.