Sportswriters strive for one thing – the opportunity to cover a team well enough to have the respect of both the players and the fans. The best work tirelessly, never taking “no” for an answer, digging and making phone call after phone call to try to get the information they’re looking for so they can deliver it to the fan, their reader. Every now and then, when all of these things are done with incredible grace and an undying passion, a legend is born in the press box.
Phil Jasner, the Daily News’ Sixers beat writer, who fit that bill, perhaps more so than anyone else this city’s basketball community has ever seen, died at his home Friday after a long and courageous battle with Stage 4 cancer. He was 68.
For four decades, Phil covered sports for the Daily News. His name was synonymous with basketball in this city. Never have I seen someone as passionate, as persistent and as in love as Jasner was with 76ers basketball. He lived for his job, he loved the sport and he was one of the best our business will see for years to come.
His son, Andy, saw no path fitter than to follow his father into the profession that he was so proud to be in. In 1992, they covered an NBA All Star Game together for the first time.
“He was like a kid in a candy store that weekend,” Andy said in Saturday’s Daily News. “He never lost his enthusiasm for the work. I’m convinced he would have done it forever. He loved it.”
Past and present, players, executives, stadium security guards or anyone else who was lucky enough to encounter the proudest member of the Philadelphia basketball community knew Phil for not for his undying urge to tell the truth and tell it most eloquently, but for his kindness and respect for you no matter who you were.
Allen Iverson sent his condolences to Jasner’s family from Turkey last night in the form of multiple tweets.
“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. My condolences go out tonight to his family,” Iverson wrote.
My personal favorite moment between the two came in the famous “Practice” presser. After Iverson finished with his now-famous rant, Jasner questioned Iverson about his shooting percentage. Iverson cut Jasner off, claiming he wouldn’t understand because he never played ball. Jasner insisted that he did, which led to one of Iverson’s less memorable, but funniest remarks of the press conference.
“I don’t know you as no basketball player, Phillip,” Iverson, half mockingly, remarked.
When AI returned in the middle of last season, Jasner was the first one to stand up and shake his hand, welcoming him back to the city AI calls home, before the two sat down and began what would become another famous news conference.
Iverson was Jasner’s legend. Phil chronicled his run to the Finals in 2001, one of the few good seasons the team has seen. But through all of the bad times the passion did not diminish. He still loved the sport and lived to tell its tale.
Doug Collins, the 76ers head coach for just months now, but friend of Jasner’s since Phil covered him when Collins was a player on the team, fully understands the legacy Jasner left behind.
“Phil Jasner was the ultimate professional. … Phil was all about the truth. He was all about facts. He wasn’t about any rumors, he was all about the right things.”
Now, if only all of us can enjoy our lives and our jobs as much as Phil Jasner did, the world will be a better place.