John Smallwood: Love for Phil Jasner overflows at his farewell

Posted: December 09, 2010

AS I SAT in the chapel yesterday at Goldstein's, Rosenberg's Raphael-Sacks, I couldn't understand why this thought would not leave my mind.

I was at the funeral for a dear friend, colleague and mentor, yet all I could think of was a quote from "The Wizard of Oz."

It was right after the Tin Woodman told the Wizard that he still wanted a heart despite being warned that the heart would not be practicable until they could be made unbreakable.

Then Oz told the Tin Woodman, "A heart is not judged by how much you love, but how much you are loved by others."

Phil Jasner was loved by others.

Anyone who attended the service for the Daily News legend and five-time Hall of Fame sports writer could tell you how much.

A service that was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. already was running more than a half-hour late, and two long lines were still extending down the hallways to the chapel.

It was then that everyone was informed that, unfortunately, they would not be able to greet Phil's family and could they please come into the chapel.

It was standing-room only, and there wasn't a lot of standing room remaining.

"I've done thousands of funerals," said Rabbi Max Hausen, who knew Phil for more than 40 years, "and never have I heard such magnificent tributes - is it still morning or is it afternoon now?

"I know there were some who had to leave and others who could not be here because of other commitments.

"I also know that within this congregation there are so many who could have delivered magnificent tributes other than the five we heard."

Had that happened, we'd be still sitting around talking today.

As it was, the five who talked about Phil - 76ers coach Doug Collins, former Daily News columnist and sports editor Stan Hochman, Eagles radio voice and Phil's lifelong friend Merrill Reese, Daily News writer Dick Jerardi and Comcast SportsNet personality Michael Barkann - said all that needed to be said.

Like the magnificent obituaries written by Rich Hofmann in Saturday's Daily News and Bill Lyon in Sunday's Inquirer and the touching reflections written by Jerardi on Monday, the speakers told of a consummate professional and dear friend.

The wide variety of mourners on a bitterly cold December day explained the impact Phil had on so many people.

But of all the basketball dignitaries at the funeral, one stood out to me as the best example of how much Phil mattered to people.

Former Sixer and current Sacramento Kings center Samuel Dalembert had a home game last night against the Washington Wizards.

Yet there he sat at Phil's service.

Dalembert had taken a red-eye into Philadelphia yesterday morning. He had an afternoon flight back to Sacramento.

I asked him, "Why?"

He said, "This is life. The other stuff is games. I would not have missed this for anything."

The sports reporting community is a relatively small one.

I wasn't surprised to see that nearly every sports reporter in the Delaware Valley was in attendance.

Still others came from farther away.

Doug Smith is the longtime beat reporter for the Toronto Raptors at the Toronto Star.

With the Raptors playing in New York last night, Smith was able to take the train to Philadelphia.

But Doug would have crossed the border if he had to.

"I grew up in this business with Phil," he said. "I had to be here."

I know what he was saying.

I had been at the Daily News less than 2 years when I was granted the extraordinary opportunity to be a columnist.

Phil, and every other sports reporter at the Daily News for that matter, had every reason to be upset, confused and resentful.

A columnist position is something reporters work a lifetime to achieve.

I was the least qualified and least tenured writer on the staff.

Everyone knew. No one knew better than me.

I think Phil could sense my uneasiness, fears, apprehensions and concerns when he called me to congratulate me.

I don't remember the exact words, but Phil told me that you didn't give yourself a column. Somebody else did, so they must see something in you. Your job is to work hard every day and prove them right.

In the 17 years I have been at the Daily News, Phil, Jerardi and Lyon have helped me more than I'm sure even they know.

I watched. I asked. I listened. I learned.

Bill retired a few years ago.

Changes in priorities kept me from working assignments with DJ as much as I would like.

Phil was the constant. I covered more events with him than anybody.

I remember how I'd laugh right after a Sixers game when Phil - the Hall of Fame writer who knew everything there was to know about this team - invariably would come up to me and say, "OK, you're doing that, so what should I write?"

Yesterday, when the pallbearers rolled Phil's casket out of the chapel, the impact of his death finally fully hit me.

There will be no more conversations with my friend, no more lessons from my mentor.

The Wizard of Oz was right; hearts are impractical.

Send e-mail to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/smallwood.

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