Jimmy Kieserman, a former Abington High School basketball standout, University of Miami basketball letter winner and four-time U.S.A. basketball player in the Maccabiah Games, only really wanted one thing out of his career.
That would be a verbal confirmation from his grandfather, the Temple University coaching legend and Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Harry Litwack, that he was a good player.
But it never came. Litwack, famously, was a man of few words. He also was a man of the old school, who sided with fellow coaches against even his family members.
Yet this summer, the grandson is perhaps getting his long-awaited confirmation from the Philadelphia basketball public. After playing in his fourth Maccabiah Games at age 52 in July, Kieserman will join his grandfather in the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
“Somewhere, he’s so proud,” Kieserman said of Litwack.
The grandson grew to love the game at his grandfather’s basketball camp in the Poconos, according to Lois Kieserman, Kieserman’s mother and Litwack’s daughter. Kieserman came away from those experiences repeating Litwack’s mantra about the “seven Ps”: “Proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance.”
“Jimmy grew up quoting that,” Lois Kieserman said. “Pop-Pop used to say …”
But at the camp, Litwack would give the opening day speech and then go sit out on the porch, smoking his cigar. Other coaches would ask Jimmy what his name was; when he informed them he was the Temple coach’s grandson, they were surprised.
Lois Kieserman said that her father did not ignore or separate himself from her son. He actually encouraged young Jimmy. He just did not want to self-promote or show favoritism.
“He would watch him play. He would have a smile on his face,” she recalled of her father.
Kieserman grew up to become the captain of Abington’s varsity basketball team and earn a collegiate scholarship. Yet throughout high school, his grandpa spent time in Florida and could not attend many of his games.
Every article about Kieserman mentioned that he was Litwack’s grandson. But the Hall of Fame coach, who led Temple to two NCAA Final Fours and an NIT championship in 1969 when it meant something, did not seem to want to embrace the obvious narrative of his grandson’s career.
“He was a coach’s coach,” Jimmy said. “He separated himself.”
As Kieserman explained, though, Litwack did not separate himself in general. When the family came over to his house, he would turn off the television and start asking the kids how they were doing in school.
And since Kieserman was a natural athlete who also became Abington’s No. 1 golfer and boys’ tennis player, Litwack took an interest in those other sports. He would take his grandson to the driving range and watch him hit balls for an hour. He also “would tell everyone” about his grandson’s golfing exploits, Kieserman said.
“He would say, ‘You should see him hit a golf ball,’” Kieserman added.
The only validation that eluded the grandson was the one he really wanted.
But in 1993, a year after he graduated from Miami, Kieserman played in his first Maccabiah Games in Israel for Team U.S.A. As the point guard, he helped lead the U.S. to the gold medal game against the home country. His grandfather was in the stands for the game alongside his mother.
He watched closely as Kieserman led the U.S. to an early lead before being benched for another point guard. Kieserman’s coach wanted the other kid to get some playing time. In the second half, with the lead slipping away, Litwack slapped his knee and walked out of the gym. The American team lost with Kieserman on the bench.
Lois Kieserman had to follow her father out of the gym because he was in his 80s.
“He could not believe what he was watching,” she said.
“That was the first time that he really saw the other side of it, where he sided with me as a player,” Jimmy added.
Litwack died in 1999, two years after becoming an inaugural member of the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Kieserman played for the United States again in the Maccabiah Games in 1997, 2017 and 2022, playing in divisions for men in their 40s and 50s during the latter two trips. He never got as close to winning gold as he did that first time — he won a bronze medal this year — but he was OK with that in the end.
“If I was a good basketball player in his eyes that was all that mattered,” the grandson said. “I’m going into this hall of fame. That’s the only thing that matters.”