It was the best book pitch you ever heard, perfectly tuned into the venue. Cecil Mosenson would sit in the front lobby of the Fellowship House in Conshohocken, offering his one-sentence pitch to the collection of basketball aficionados wandering in for the yearly spring Donofrio Tournament basketball extravaganza.
“You a Wilt Chamberlain fan?”
Seriously, who could say no? You’d be revealing your profound ignorance of the very sport you were there to watch. To be a basketball fan in Philadelphia means pretty much by definition that you are a Wilt fan. If you’re not, get up to speed.
“I coached him,” this man would say next.
What a traffic stopper. Cecil Mosenson, 90, died Sunday. He lived a full life, full of accomplishment, and many coaching years at all sorts of spots, mainly in the Philadelphia suburbs. But the book Mosenson wrote in 2008 was about his date with history — how, right out of Temple, he got a job coaching Overbrook High basketball, already featuring the best player Philly hoops had ever seen, or ever would see.
Mosenson went on to coach Upper Moreland High and William Tennent High. He was an assistant principal and then a principal. He once visited the White House, meeting President Ronald Reagan in the Rose Garden with other principals. Funeral services later this week will be private.
A player himself at Overbrook and at Temple, Mosenson retired a number of times from coaching, but could never quite give it up. His son David, himself a basketball player at Lafayette College, remembers his dad helped coach junior varsity girls' basketball later in his life. David Mosenson can’t even remember the school, just some of the tales.
If you coach Wilt, the tales start there. For a time, Sam Cozen coached both Overbrook High and Drexel — a feat in itself — but when that became a tough balancing act, Cozen chose Drexel, which meant Overbrook needed a coach for Wilt’s last two years.
Younger people would ask Mosenson, was he as good as Shaquille O’Neal?
“Shaquille couldn’t come close to him,” Mosenson said, sitting in that lobby in Conshohocken in 2017.
Mosenson considered Wilt — who died in 1999, age 63 — not just the best basketball player but the best athlete he’d ever seen.
“He was a track star — 220, 440, high jump,” Mosenson said. “He played volleyball. Before they changed the rule, he could block all the shots. They changed the rule because of him.”
One famous tale, the time Mosenson kicked Wilt off the team.
“He scored 75 against Roxborough,” Mosenson said. “And we’re going to play Roxborough again, and he was crapping around in practice. And I threw him off the team."
Mosenson went to his principal, he said, explaining they would have to alert the press.
“He said, ’Let’s wait till Monday. ’"
A smart man. Wilt showed up at practice with a basketball, asking if Mosenson would work with him on his hook shot. Mosenson, no fool, had calmed down. On they went. Mosenson also briefly played for the Washington Generals, taking on the Harlem Globetrotters every night, and for Harrisburg in the old Eastern League.
“Really a very quiet man," David Mosenson said of his father. “He never raised his voice. A great dad.”
Of the Wilt connection, David knew of it — especially the tale of kicking him off the team — but said Wilt was not a daily presence in their family. Of his father: “He could have been an egomaniac and rode it to whatever ends.”
Mosenson never ran from it either.
“There was one time we were playing West Philly at Sayre Junior High, and two guys started to fight, and everybody in the crowd came out into the stands, and Wilt went like this..."
Mosenson, talking at the Fellowship House, raised up both his arms.
“Everybody just stopped and turned around and went back to their seats,” Wilt’s old coach said.
Stories worth preserving. This man did as long as he lived his own full life.