By Theodore N. Beitchman
Goldstein’s on North Broad Street was packed to the gills last Friday for Harvey Pollack’s funeral, which also doubled as a joyous memorial and Sixers reunion.
The 1967 NBA champions were represented by Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham and Billy Melchionni and the 1983 champs (which were coached by Billy C.) by Julius Erving, who offered a beautiful spoken tribute.
President Sam Hinkie, CEO Scott O’Neil and coach Brett Brown led a contingent of present-day Sixers employees.
Most of the media tributes after Harvey’s death last week at the age of 93 concentrated on two elements of his professional life:
The number 100 that he drew on a piece of paper for Wilt Chamberlain to hold up after he scored 100 at Hershey, Pa. in March 1962 against the Knicks (there was no game action photography);
And statistics that he invented that are now part of the basketball lexicon — defensive rebounds, plus/minus, triple doubles — way too many to list.
But the one area of his career that has gone almost unremarked upon — his son Ronnie mentioned it Friday in his eloquent homage — was his work as a public relations man for the Warriors and Sixers.
It was relatively easy to drum up publicity for the Warriors, who started four Philly guys — Wilt Chamberlain, Guy Rodgers, Tom Gola and Paul Arizin. But they moved to SF in 1962, and after a season without pro basketball, Irv Kosloff and Ike Richman bought the Syracuse Nationals and moved them to Philly.
The Nats were hated rivals of the Warriors, and we were being asked to root for a team that we had despised; and there were no Philly players on the team.
So, in 1963-64 Harvey’s task of drumming up interest was a monumental challenge, especially in a newspaper environment in which he had to beg for space as opposed to today’s saturation coverage.
This was before ESPN, CSN and the internet. Newspapers were where everyone got their sports news.
A third problem existed:
There were three newspapers in Philly back then — the Bulletin, Inquirer and Daily News — and only the Bulletin sent a reporter to cover games!
This was way before he began giving away his art, which burnished his rep as a philanthropist. In the old days he was a hack owner of hack papers.
The new 76ers scheduled most of their 40 home games in Convention Hall, which had a 12,000 capacity, instead of the Arena, which only held around 6,500 fans.
Annenberg owned the Arena, and he settled that score by decreeing that no home games would be covered by either paper, with only wire copy used in this fashion:
Four paragraphs if the 76ers lost and two graphs if they won!
So Harvey was dependent on the Bulletin, which in those days was the city’s paper of record, for all his publicity. It’s a good thing Bob Vetrone and Jim Heffernan were dedicated to covering basketball, and they helped get lots of features into the paper to supplement their game stories.
Harvey was a fiercely loyal fellow, and he never forgot how important the Bulletin was to the early days of the new team.
He always gave preferential treatment to any paper or radio or TV outlet that sent a reporter to cover every game because daily coverage was where the team’s bread was buttered.
He showed his favoritism when Sports Illustrated started noticing the Sixers after they traded for Wilt in 1965. The SI writer was given a seat in an auxiliary press section or the upstairs press box at the Spectrum instead of on the floor.
I asked him why this prestigious magazine was given second-class treatment, and he said matter-of-factly:
“They don’t cover us every day and they are a weekly. I don’t care how big they are. I reserve my floor seats for the reporters who come every day.”
When Wilt was traded back to Philly, his first game as a 76er was against the Warriors, his old team. He dominated Nate Thurmond and the 76ers won 110-103.
Oh, and the game was played at Annenberg’s shabby, old Arena because of a scheduling conflict at Convention Hall.
Harvey appreciated that irony.
I wonder if Annenberg did.