Philadelphia Basketball Great Eddie Gottlieb Cited as Immigrant Role Model

Jewish Hoopster Went From Ukraine to South Philly Fame


By Hillel Kuttler

Published May 22, 2014.
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Jewish basketball great Eddie Gottlieb was posthumously honored as a pioneer who rose from an immigrant student to a founder of one of the sports’ most iconic brands.

A marker was dedicated by state and city officials Wednesday on the grounds of South Philadelphia High School, from which Gottlieb graduated in 1916 to begin a lifelong career as a hoops player, coach and owner, including with the Philadelphia Warriors, which is now known as the Golden State Warriors of the National Basketball Association.

Gottlieb also led the Sphas (the acronym for the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association’s team), a nearly all-Jewish club that dominated organized basketball’s early days.

Two of his Warriors players – one of whom also played for Gottlieb’s Sphas – attended the ceremony, along with several current students from the high school and its principal, Otis Hackney III.

The marker dedication culminated a campaign by local historian Celeste Morello to attain the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s official recognition of Gottlieb.

Gottlieb, a Kiev native who died at 81 in 1979, is a member of several Jewish and general basketball halls of fame, including in the sport’s birthplace of Springfield, Massachusetts.

At the ceremony, NBA global ambassador Dikembe Mutombo represented the league, a multibillion-dollar global enterprise, with more than 25 percent of its teams’ rosters comprised of foreign-born players. The NBA regional semifinals – between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, and San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder – are now being contested. Under Gottlieb, the Warriors won two championships: one in the Basketball Association of America and the other in the NBA.

Mutombo, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo who went on to a long NBA career, told The Forward that Gottlieb stands as an example of aspiration and achievement, saying that the largely immigrant South Philadelphia High population can learn “a great lesson” from him.

“Success in life is not just where you come from, but where you want to be tomorrow,” he said. “It can be a driving [force] for them. They can walk from the school and look at this wonderful plaque and say, ‘He went here.’ ”

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