Sometimes, the right people come into your life at exactly the right time.
Long-time Daily News sports writer and Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame inductee Phil Jasner didn't set out to become one of my mentors. In the 16 years that I was fortunate enough to work with him, Phil never took me by the scruff of my neck and said, "OK, young fellow, this is how you do this job." He just told me once that, if the bosses believe that you can do the job, who are you to say you can't. Just work hard and prove to everyone they made the right choice.
Phil, who died in 2010, taught through his tireless work ethic, his dedication to the craft, and his willingness to share the experience he gained from nearly four decades of writing about sports.
Andy Jasner, Phil's son, is a second-generation writer on the Philadelphia sports scene. His new book — Phil Jasner "On the Case" -– is a collection of stories written by his dad during key moments of a career that landed him a spot in six different halls of fame.
Published by Temple University Press, On the Case, a play on the line Phil would say whenever he was working a story, is more than a tribute by a son to his father.
Phil Jasner, who passed away in 2010, is shown here in 2004 accepting the Curt Gowdy Media Award from John Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame.For Andy, this "labor of love" was therapy for losing his father, his mentor and his best friend unexpectedly when Phil was taken away by cancer seven years ago.
"Losing my dad was just brutal, one of the hardest things I ever had to go through because it was so unexpected," Andy Jasner said. "In 2012, I started to think of how I could keep my dad's legacy shining, not that it needed it. It can stand on its own just fine.
"I started kicking ideas around and said why not do a collection of his work? It's his work and it will tell the story."
Andy Jasner began the laborious task of sifting through thousands of stories his father wrote, beginning with one in The Philadelphia Jewish Times published on Aug. 31, 1962.
Many of the early articles come from a scrapbook passed down from his grandmother. The book reprints articles Phil wrote for Montgomery Newspapers, the Norristown Times Herald, the Trentonian and, of course, the Philadelphia Daily News, for which he wrote from 1972 to a few weeks before he died on Dec. 5, 2010.
Phil Jasner is best remembered for his long-time career as beat writer for the 76ers, covering the careers of Hall of Fame players Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson. He also, however, covered the Eagles and the Big Five as well as the Philadelphia Atoms when they won the North American Soccer League title in 1972.
Chapters are introduced by Philadelphia sports figures such as long-time Eagles radio voice Merrill Reese, beloved former Eagle Vince Papale, Big Five Hall of Fame coach Paul Westhead, former Atoms coach Al Miller, plus ex-Sixers Doug Collins, Billy Cunningham, Earl Cureton, Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson.
Andy said in talking with the people Phil wrote about, one common theme kept coming up: Phil's dedication to the job and the energy he poured into it from his first story to the last game he covered for the Daily News – a loss by Saint Joseph's to Western Kentucky in November 2010.
"The thing that's amazing, and Paul Westhead told me this," Andy said. "He goes, "I never saw a drop-off, Andy. Phil covered my high school in Cheltenham the same way he covered Allen Iverson.'
"That theme resonates throughout the book. Doug (Collins) told me that. Vince Papale. Al Miller of the Philadelphia Atoms in 1972 said Phil covered that team 24/7. That energy never waned."
Phil Jasner "On the Case" is 232 pages, featuring 60 stories written by a legend in Philadelphia sports. Those who read them when Phil first wrote them will look back fondly. Those who weren't fortunate will understand how a great journalist went about doing the job.
"I went through thousands of articles and cut it to 60," Andy Jasner said. "That was the hardest part of this. I wanted to show the kind of hard worker and deep thinker my dad was."