There are plenty of great sports writers in Philadelphia, and there have been plenty more over the years. After all, Philly is (sometimes) a great sports city to write about.
But there is one name that comes to mind as arguably one of the greatest Philly sportswriters — and he has six Hall of Fame inductions to prove it, including the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Phil Jasner wrote innumerable articles covering Philly sports teams over the decades until his passing in 2010 at 68 after a battle with cancer. He covered the Sixers for the Philadelphia Daily News from 1981 (though he started there in 1973 after working in Norristown, Trenton and other places). His illustrious professional career started in 1962 with an article in The Philadelphia Jewish Times.
For his son, Andy Jasner, growing up with constant visits to Veterans Stadium and the Palestra and doing his homework there while his dad was working was a cool way to grow up.
“I spent more time in those arenas and stadiums than I did in my own house,” he laughed.
His father’s career inspired his own as he got older, and he also made a name for himself as a sportswriter. His dad never pushed him into it, he noted, but just watching what his dad did pulled him in the same direction.
“To be on Darryl Dawkins’ shoulder dunking the ball and talking to Julius Erving in practice — I mean, it’s not a normal way to grow up,” he acknowledged, “and I was very fortunate to have had that. I just fell in love with [sportswriting] and it’s what I wanted to do.”
After his dad passed away, he started thinking about a way to honor him; an early idea he kicked around became Phil Jasner “On the Case”: His Best Writing on the Sixers, the Dream Team, and Beyond, published by Temple University Press.
“It was a long, long, long project and process,” said Jasner, who belongs to Ohev Shalom in Wallingford, “but slowly it came together, and getting his work in print will just keep that legacy going forever.”
It chronicles some of his father’s writing starting from that Jewish Times article (which was actually not about sports but rather kids playing outside in the summertime) all the way through a March 2001 Daily News feature on Charles Barkley as he retired.
Jasner chose 60 of his father’s “thousands and thousands and thousands” of stories, which was no easy feat.
“Boy that was hard,” he laughed. “Really. At the time it would be 3:30 in the morning in my basement and I’d have hundreds of articles lined up. I must have changed my mind 10,000 times, but we finally nailed it down and it came out just beautifully.”
He spent years doing archival research and turning to other sources — like his grandmother’s scrapbooks of cut-outs of his father’s earlier pieces — to complete the book.
“On the Case,” so-named for his father’s signature catchphrase, is divided into chapters spanning decades of his work, each with an introduction by some of the biggest names in sports who had connections to Phil.
Merrill Reese, for instance, leads off chapter one, “The Early Years,” after Andy Jasner’s foreword. Reese shares an anecdote about growing up with Phil, playing football in the yard together while they were students at Overbrook High School and remaining close throughout their lives as their careers took them on similar paths.
Vince Papale opens “The Eagles Years,” while Al Miller introduces “The Soccer Years,” with articles covering the Philadelphia Atoms. One of the most poignant introductions is late in the book by Allen Iverson, with whom Phil Jasner shared a unique and respectful if not tumultuous relationship. Iverson called him “the best” in his field.
“The Philadelphia sports world is very connected and it’s a very tightknit close group, so I knew who I wanted and what was very heartwarming to me was how quickly everybody just agreed and said sure,” Jasner said. “That shows the kind of respect they had for Phil, how much love they had for him.”
For him, completing the book was a therapeutic experience as well as a physical reminder of his father that he can pass to his three daughters.
“I wanted them to know their grandfather,” he said, noting his oldest — now 12 — was only 4 when Phil passed away and his youngest wasn’t born yet to meet him.
At book signings, he’s met people who come up to him and share new stories about his father.
“It really was amazing how many lives he touched, stories I still hear from people. People stop me on the street and they call me Phil and I don’t correct them because if that’s how they want to remember [him], that’s great,” he said.
“He resonated with this city and was a fabric of the city, and everybody loved him back and it’s showing.”