Eddie Gottlieb's Story of Immigrant Success Resonates in South Philly

Hoops Icon Wins Overdue Recognition for Overcoming Odds

What’s Up, Wilt? Eddie Gottlieb, who was honored at South Philadelphia High School, peers up at Wilt Chamberlain in 1959.
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What’s Up, Wilt? Eddie Gottlieb, who was honored at South Philadelphia High School, peers up at Wilt Chamberlain in 1959.

By Hillel Kuttler

Published May 31, 2014, issue of June 06, 2014.
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Down the corridor outside the administrative offices at South Philadelphia High School run several display cases honoring storied alumni like actors Jack Klugman and Eddie Fisher and singer Marian Anderson.

But during his four years as principal of Southern, as insiders call the school, Otis Hackney III never realized that a framed diploma of legendary basketball star and alumnus Eddie Gottlieb was hanging on a wall in the school until just before the ceremony that took place May 21 on Southern’s front lawn, dedicating a state historical marker in Gottlieb’s memory.

A custodian had noticed and realized the diploma’s significance about an hour before the ceremony, and he called Hackney as the Forward was interviewing him about the dedication.

“Want to see something funny?” Hackney said, and led me around the corner, where the framed diploma of Isadore Gottlieb, class of 1916 — the very same Eddie — hung.

“There’s no such thing as luck,” Hackney said. “It’s the intersection of preparation and opportunity. I’ve walked by that thing a million times, but I wasn’t prepared to recognize it. Opportunities cross our paths all the time, but who’s taking advantage of them? Those who are prepared.”

Today, Hackney hopes that the Gottlieb dedication will inspire his racially and ethnically diverse students.

Attacks on Asians by African-American students in late 2009 brought notoriety to Southern. The incidents, which Hackney terms “The Beast,” led to an overhaul of the school’s administration and to Hackney’s arrival as principal. These days, he said, intergroup relations are much improved.

Like many of Hackney’s students today, Gottlieb was an immigrant. Arriving with his family from Kiev in 1902, the Jewish newcomer rose from humble beginnings to become a founding father of the National Basketball Association, now a multibillion-dollar enterprise with 30 franchises; stars known by such shorthands as LeBron, K.D., Dirk, Kobe, D-Wade and ’Melo; offices in 14 countries, and multiple television broadcast deals.

Back then, the contributions from Gottlieb — better known as “The Mogul” — were seminal:

The 24-second shot clock? Gottlieb’s innovation.

Wilt Chamberlain’s still-record 100-point game in 1962, which he played as a Philadelphia Warrior? Gottlieb had pushed for a territorial draft that landed The Stilt from nearby Overbrook High School by way of the University of Kansas.

Team schedules? Gottlieb penned them for the entire league by hand on napkins and scraps of paper, possessing an encyclopedic grasp of train departures, arena availability and city holidays, said his biographer, Rich Westcott.

The NBA’s Rookie of the Year award recently bestowed upon Philadelphia 76ers’ point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who averaged 16.7 points per game? That would be the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy.


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