If NOT us? Who?
As I entered my forties, I really began to treasure my relationships with my older friends. At the top the list was my relationship with Claude Gross, Sr. We shared a love of the great game of basketball, we both appreciated the role that Philadelphia played in bringing the game to international prominence and we both never shut up.
Now…I’m opinionated and outspoken. But, I can’t begin to hold a candle to the legendary loquaciousness of Claude Gross.
More than just about anything else, he loved to talk hoops. His favorite topics were how good he was as a player and a coach. He was a living, breathing embodiment of the cartoon character Commander McBragg. Except, you always knew that Commander McBragg was embellishing his accomplishments.
Claude Gross never told me a single lie.
“I beat Wilt in High School, he wasn’t ready for me…”
“We won the YMCA/AAU national championship in Jim Crow North Carolina in 1953…”
“I played professional basketball under an assumed name while I was in high school…”
“I averaged more than 40 in the industrial league…”
“Me and Tee Parham were like 800 – 0…”
Upon initially meeting Claude and hearing all of this, one would naturally wonder if he was exaggerating… NEVER!
As his gait got slower, and his energy levels decreased, I realized that I would not have my friend forever.
Claude and his contemporaries were GIANTS in the game. As noted above, his was the only Public League team to defeat Wilt Chamberlain and Overbrook HS. He played with John Chaney in high school. He mentored Ray “Chink” Scott, Earl Monroe, Mo Howard, Andre McCarter, Gene Banks, Lionel Simmons, Nate Blackwell, Geoffrey Arnold, Donnie Carr, Bobby Johnson, BJ Johnson, Donnie Carr, Rashid Bey and hundreds of other young men the came through the Sonny Hill Community Involvement League.
Claude passed on so much knowledge about the history of the game. He was an endless font and an incredible inspiration.
It just wasn’t fair that the accomplishments of his generation weren’t memorialized.
I never really knew about the magnificent careers of Tarzan Cooper, Zach Clayton and Frank Washington until Claude explained in great detail what they had accomplished. With words, he could place you in a cramped church gym and you could actually “see” Tee Parham scoring 40, 50, 60 or even 90 points with ease.
After bouncing around the idea with Claude, Tee Parham, Dave Riddick and Ray Scott, I decided to establish the Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Fame. This was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I enlisted Mo Howard and Geoffrey Arnold and we were off and running. We literally had nothing but spirit, energy and commitment.
Somehow, someway we wanted to be able to recognize the GREAT Philadelphia players, coaches, journalists and contributors that would never be otherwise recognized.
If NOT us? Who?
There is no Philadelphia Basketball Hall of Fame. These guys were banned from competition in the Big 5 solely because they were Black. Who? Who was gonna recognize and memorialize their enormous contributions?
With a nice little contribution from Lionel Simmons, we were off and running. No glitz, no glamour… Just 100 hopheads gathered in a small North Philadelphia community center with plenty of food and top shelf liquor loving and respecting one another.
ESPN’s Undefeated, the Philadelphia Tribune and the Philadelphia Inquirer provided extensive regional and national media coverage of the inaugural class. Temple and La Salle Universities were very supportive. Philadelphia Youth Basketball and Mike Horsey gave generous donations.
The highlight… The headliner… The GRAND MASTER of the evening was my dear friend Claude Gross. He was a little weak, he wasn’t moving very well… But his mind was as sharp as ever! There were at least 20 South Philly guys in the house and they were drinking, carousing and fully supporting their leader.
Just a few weeks after his induction, Claude passed away. I can’t describe how good it felt knowing we were able to induct him into the Black Basketball Hall of Fame while he was able to fully participate and enjoy the ceremony.
I have come to treasure every interaction and conversation I have with guys like Tee Parham, Ray Scott and Sonny Hill. They have given the game of basketball and the city of Philadelphia so much. We were able to present the late, great Dave Riddick with his award acknowledging his induction before he passed away. These moments are invaluable. To be able to honor the legends from yesteryear as well as my contemporaries like Nate Blackwell, Mike Anderson and Lionel Simmons meant so much to me. To see and feel the extent to which they appreciated the honor was incredible.
I am extremely proud to have played a significant role in establishing a means of properly enshrining them and ensuring their legacies are shared with future generations.
The Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Fame, under the leadership of Mo Howard and Al Taylor has grown and taken on a much needed role of advocating for and providing assistance for members of the Philadelphia basketball community in need.
Again… If NOT us? Who?
I love the Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Fame.