Ed Lerner sits there, watching guys making $9 million a year to play basketball, clanking free throw after free throw off the rim, and it makes him sick. “Easiest shot in the world,” Lerner explains. “You’re standing there, nobody bothering you, and you can’t make that shot?” Lerner made 97 percent of his foul shots during a splendid four year career at Temple University, earning him the right to squawk about today’s overpaid and overstuffed professionals.
He played at every level of Philadelphia basketball, from schoolyard to the pros, and singles out his favorite days in the Jewish League. “We played the preliminary game, before the SPHAs,” Lerner recalls. “And then Gil Fitch would take off his uniform and put on a tuxedo, and lead the band. For 40 cents, it was the best Saturday night deal in the history of the world. Two basketball games and a dance! “Our games were great. No formal practices. We made up the plays as we went along. I played under an assumed name, because South Philadelphia High didn’t want us playing in those games.”
Lerner’s remarkable career started with the Newsboys, a club team. He moved on to Thomas Junior High, and then Furness. At South Philadelphia, he set a Philadelphia single season record, scoring 203 points. “Now,” Lerner sighs, “they score that in one game.” After high school, Lerner enlisted in the Navy and spent the next two years at Bainbridge Naval Training Center, the youngest player on a team crammed with college standouts.
“Last game I played,” Lerner says, “was against Temple. And I scored the winning basket. I think (coach) Josh Cody had a sweet tooth for me after that.” Lerner chose Temple over St. John’s and got to start as a freshman, a dispensation granted to young men coming back from the service. Temple played some home games at South Hall and others at Convention Hall, a tough slate that included CCNY, NYU. “We played Kentucky twice,” Lerner says. “They came up here and we beat them 60-59. I had 22 points. It was rated one of the five biggest upsets ever.” When he finished at Temple, Warriors’ mogul Eddie Gottlieb approached him. “Gotty offered me $3000 for 84 games,” Lerner says. “I told him I’d take a rain check on that. Instead, I went to Sunbury and played in the Eastern League. We played twice a week, got a cut of the gate, a better deal than what Gotty offered.”
When his playing days ended, Lerner became a food broker, applying the same dedication he showed as a player. “Took me seven and a half years to sell Acme one item,” he says, “but I finally did it.” He retired 10 years ago, lives in Margate, NJ and plays tennis every day. “Singles,” he says bluntly, in case you thought he was getting soft at 77.