John Chaney did a great thing before this basketball season started. He issued an edict that he didn’t want to be featured on a media guide or promotional campaign without “the Chief.”
Chaney didn’t want to be on Temple’s media guide unless the Chief’s picture was above his own. He didn’t want shirts made up to celebrate his induction into the National Basketball Hall of Fame without the Chief being on the shirt, too.
Chaney insisted Temple honor the Chief more so than himself. Tonight Temple honors the Chief along with Chaney before Temple’s men’s basketball game against Charlotte at the Liacouras Center.
Harry Litwack was the Chief.
He was a basketball legend when Chaney was learning to dribble a ball. The Chief coached the Temple varsity men’s basketball team from 1952 to 1973. He led Owls like Guy Rodgers and Hal Lear to 13 post-season appearances, the 1969 NIT title and two NCAA Final Four appearances.
The Chief was a quiet man. Compared to Chaney, it’s easy to call someone quiet. But the Chief got things done his way. Like Chaney is known for his cardigan vest and loosened tie, Litwack was known for the stogies in his pocket and mouth.
Both great coaches are known for their defense. Litwack is credited with inventing the zone defense; Chaney has turned his matchup zone into an art form.
Both coaches are legends at Temple and in the world of basketball. The Chief and Chaney are both members of the National Basketball Hall of Fame. They share the honor of having the half-court circle at the Liacouras Center named after them.
But the Chief hasn’t really gotten his due at Temple. Everyone knows Chaney, but who knows about the Chief?
Who knew the Chief was born in Austria? Who knew that the Chief’s nickname came from the greeting he gave to people upon meeting them? Who knew he was a star basketball player in the late-20s at Temple?
Everyone knows Chaney was a legend of Philadelphia basketball, but who knew the Chief was, too?
Litwack played at South Philadelphia High, then at Temple, then with the Philadelphia SPHA’s. The SPHA’s (their uniforms were purchased by the South Philly Hebrew Association) were winners of seven American Basketball League championships.
The SPHA’s were a group of South Philadelphia Jews in the ’30s and ’40s. When the Basketball Association of America (a forerunner of the NBA) came into being, the ABL became a minor league. Former SPHA player Red Kloz purchased the team and changed its name to the Washington Generals, as in the Generals that lose to the Harlem Globetrotters night in and night out.
Chaney was a Globetrotter; Litwack didn’t stick around long enough to become a General.
But as a coach, he was one of the best court generals in basketball history. He was the Chief. And now, thanks to Chaney’s demand that Temple honor his greatest predecessor, we know.