Wednesday, December 8, 2010

'Go Ahead, Philip'

As you probably know by now, legendary Philadelphia sportswriter Phil Jasner died last Friday after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 68 years old.

The tributes have come from all over the place for the Hall of Famer, and rightfully so. Dick Jerardi has a wonderful piece on his friendship with Jasner. Rich Hofmann penned his tribute. And Bill Lyon honored him as only Bill Lyon can. But none resonated with me as much as J.A. Adane's piece:

Jasner had to do more than admire Iverson. He had to cover Iverson. That meant chronicling an MVP season and Iverson’s mercurial ways. That meant sometimes having to write things that Iverson or anyone else wouldn’t like to read about themselves. Yet Jasner came from a place of respect, thus he commanded Iverson’s respect as well.

You could see it even in the full transcript of the infamous “Practice” press conference, which continued long after the clip you’ve memorized by now. Iverson challenges him, but he ultimately yields to him, instead of brushing him off with a Rosenhausian “next question.” What stands out is how resolute Jasner was in his quest for Iverson’s explanation, rather than imposing his own views on Iverson.

Reporter: "There are people that have suggested, myself included, that instead of shooting 40 percent, you...

Iverson: "What do you know about basketball? Have you ever played?"

Reporter: "Yes"

Iverson: "I don't know Phil, I don't know you as a basketball player. I know you as a columnist but I have never heard of you as a player though.

Reporter: "Why is that an issue?"

Iverson: "Why is that an issue? Because we're talking about basketball."

Reporter: "Let me ask my question."

Iverson: "Go ahead, Phillip."

Reporter: "Supposed you shot 44 percent..."

Iverson: "I don't know about that. That is in God's hands. I do not know if that will help me or not. That's God. God does that, It ain't up to you to say if Allen Iverson does this then he'll do that. That's up to God. It ain't up to anyone in here. That is up to God. He handles that.

Reporter: "You have control over your body?"

Iverson: "God has more control over it than I do. You know that. God has more control over your body. I do not care about how much you eat, how many weights you lift or how good you eat, if God says you're gone, you're gone.

So Jasner didn’t exactly get what he was looking for, but he did wind up with a rumination on the powers of the Almighty from Iverson, which might be worth even more.

When I heard that Jasner died, that's the first thing I thought about. Everyone remembers Allen Iverson talking about practice, but the real quote that stood out to me, as it did to Adande, is when Iverson, clearly frustrated but realizing who he's talking to, boldly says, "Go ahead, Philip."

That should tell you all you need to know about Phil Jasner. He was so good, so fair, so well-respected by even the players that many people see as selfish and uncompromising that he could get Allen Iverson, the biggest star in the NBA at the time, to acknowledge and even defer to him in the middle of a rant. How many reporters are afforded that type of courtesy, especially in a contentious setting during a fiery press conference?

But that's how everyone saw Jasner. He was respected for his work, for his attitude, for the way he went about his business. Phil Jasner is in five Hall of Fames. That's no accident. He was a great writer, certainly the best to have ever covered the Philadelphia 76ers for nearly 30 years. And by all accounts, he was a great man as well.

The world just lost another icon. Everyone will miss him. His friends, his family, his colleagues. The Daily News, the city of Philadelphia, the NBA, the sportswriting field as a whole. Even Allen Iverson:

"I am deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Phil Jasner. The world has truly lost a 'great man,' who will be surely missed."

The world will miss Phil Jasner. Somehow, reading about the 76ers just won't feel the same.

R.I.P. Phil.

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