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In the ancient days when basketball was an adolescent, Eddie Gottlieb and the game survived as the prelude to a dance. They remember those times in Philly: upstairs in the grand ballroom of the Broadwood Hotel, where for 65� men, 35� ladies you could "get the Saturday night SPHAs' habit" watching Chickie Passon scrambling or Stretch Meehan maneuvering under the basket or Cy Kaselman arching in those long two-handers from way out or Eddie Gottlieb, on the bench in a loud, flowered tie, managing the team and counting the house. And afterward, when Gil Fitch would climb out of his SPHAs' uniform (designed by Eddie Gottlieb) and climb up on the stage and lead his band, the dancing would begin.
At some places, like the Visitation Athletic Club in Brooklyn, there was dancing before the game, too, and even in between the periods, but at the Broadwood it never began till after the SPHAs were finished playing. Of course, those ladies who did not wish to watch basketball were permitted to come late, when they could get in for just two bits. But very few would do that. "In those days," Eddie says, "many of the Jewish people would not let their daughters go to an ordinary dance, except they could go to the SPHAs. And listen, they were good times for the young people. We even gave whatshername, uh, Kitty Kallen, we gave her her start, and a lot of couples who are still to this day happily married, they met at the SPHAs' games. Isn't that right, Mike?"
Mike Iannarella nods gravely. Mike is the ticket manager for the Philadelphia 76ers, with offices adjoining Gottlieb's. Mike has been with Eddie, more or less, since 1929, when Gottlieb first started booking games for Mike's baseball team, the 2nd Ward Republican Club. "How are you gonna get games with a name like that?" Gottlieb had asked him before he changed it to the Philadelphia Italians. "I changed a lot of names like that," he says. SPHAs itself stood for South Philadelphia Hebrew Association. Sometimes, out of town, Eddie had them go just as the Philadelphia Hebrews.
Besides basketball, Gottlieb was the manager of various football and baseball teams, commissioner of various leagues in several sports, owner of the Negro baseball franchise and, really, proprietor and general manager of all amateur and semipro sport in Philadelphia and environs. He arranged the scheduling of virtually every team in every sport in the area. During the baseball season he would book more than 500 games a week. If you were Mike Iannarella and you were managing the 2nd Ward Republican Club and you wanted games, you went to Eddie Gottlieb. For an agent's 10% he would get you a match; the better you were, the higher the guarantee. If you crossed Eddie, if you didn't show up or something, you didn't get any more games. "They feared me like they feared the wrath of God," Eddie says. He was The Mogul. "A mogul," Eddie explains, "is a top banana."
In pro basketball today Eddie Gottlieb is still referred to as The Mogul. He was one of the organizers of the league and is on the NBA Board of Governors as a part owner of the San Francisco Warriors. He bought the team for $25,000 in 1952 and sold it for $850,000 10 years later. He also received a good salary to go out to S.F. (Eddie always calls it S.F.) and help the franchise get going out there. Later, just for kicks, The Mogul bought back a piece of the team.
The NBA also keeps Gottlieb on the Rules Committee and the Referees Committee. And the Schedule Committee? "Schedule Committee, what the hell," Eddie says. "I am the schedule committee." He always has been. "Sometimes," he says, "I get the urge and get up in the middle of the night and work on it." Mike Iannarella says, "Eddie has more brains than the rest of the NBA put together." Anyway, if you are scoring, Eddie's intelligence matches his warmth.
In his office Eddie leans back in his chair and smiles, a mischievous Buddha. It seems there should always be a band and happy music to follow Eddie Gottlieb, just as there was back at the Broadwood. His game does not lead directly to marriages anymore, but he is forever giving away things or setting up deals for friends. He has so many transistors in his office that it looks like a Tokyo discount house. There are pocket radios and portable TV sets and tape recorders and eyeglasses that have a radio in them. "I don't have one of those clock radios left," Eddie says, mad that he can't display at least one. "It's a Bulova. If you saw it, you'd want one. That's why I don't have any left. People would see one, and then I'd have to get them one at cost. So now I don't have a single one, and I'm the one that's buying them all."
Eddie has saved an awful lot of things, like great quantities of financial and attendance figures kept in large brown envelopes. There are also items with more life—basketball yearbooks dating back to the early 1900s and programs and pictures. There is a picture, for instance, of Gottlieb with Khrushchev, taken when Eddie was leading one of the Harlem Globetrotter caravans. There is a picture of Gottlieb on a camel that was taken in Egypt. ("This is before Nasser," he explains.) Another time Eddie met the Pope and he has medals he picked up then that he will give you if you are a Catholic.
In the midst of the files and the transistors sits Eddie, neat and organized before a clean desk. The only thing on the desk is the phone that rings all the time. Eddie has always worked by phone. He has always had a clean desk, too, because the way he learned to operate was to pay a bill the minute it came in, preferably by cash since that got him 3% off. That is the neat way Eddie always did business. Dun & Bradstreet stopped coming around to ask him questions a long time ago, because what good is it to investigate a man's credit rating if the man never asks for credit?
Eddie hasn't changed much since the Broadwood days. He has never been as chubby as people suggested, even though he loves sweets, especially candy and ice cream. To this day, if Eddie really likes something, he will drive all his associates berserk with his enthusiasm. How much can a man have to say about Hershey bars? Gottlieb has exasperated his most devoted companions with repetitious, tender monologues about these chocolates. He gives them away, too.