In 1977, Joe Namath’s National Prep Sports Magazine picked West Philadelphia as the top boy’s basketball team in the country. As the pre-season favorites for that year, the publication stated, “High school basketball is bigger and better than ever before, and West Philadelphia High may be one of the best ever. Led by returnees Gene banks, Clarence Tillman and Darryl Warwick, along with 6’ 8” transfer Joe Garrett; this Pennsylvania quintet could be the best in the land.”
The Speedboys, who went on to capture the mythical national championship that season, were coached by the legendary Joe Goldenberg.
Joe Goldenberg was born and raised in southwest Philadelphia where he attended Longstreth Elementary School and Shaw Junior High. His father had been an outstanding athlete at Central High School, where he played both football and baseball. He also had a short career as an amateur boxer, fighting under the name of either Ed or Ike Gould.
Goldenberg’s interest in basketball started at a very early age. “There was a basket in my grandmother’s neighborhood, and when I would visit her, the big kids would always be playing,” recalled Goldenberg. “I would stand there until they would let me shoot. I was only five years old at the time.”
Later, he began playing basketball with the Big Brothers Organization, and by the age of ten he was making trips to the Palestra. “I would take the trolley to the Palestra where I was a ball boy for numerous college games,” remembered Goldenberg. “My buddies and I would work as ball boys for double and triple headers, and then get the opportunity to play on the Palestra floor after the games.”
As a ninth grader, Goldenberg began playing basketball in the gym at West Philadelphia High School. Doug Connelly, West Philadelphia’s legendary coach, would open the gym for any individuals who were interested in playing, Goldenberg recalled, “Coach Connelly would just sit in a chair and watch us play. After observing me for quite some time, he asked me if I wanted to play for him at West Philadelphia. I was supposed to go to Bartram, but because of the interest Connelly showed in me, I decided to attend West Philadelphia instead.”
At West Philadelphia, he started at point guard for Connelly in every game from tenth grade through his senior year. During his three seasons (1952-1955), the Speedboys only lost nine games. Seven of those nine defeats were by those powerful Overbrook teams led by Wilt Chamberlain. “If it wasn’t for Wilt,” said Goldenberg, “we may have won at least two City Championships.”
In 1955, Goldenberg was honored by being selected to the same Coaches’ All-Public League team as Wilt Chamberlain and Ray “Chink” Scott.
After graduating that same year, he was given a basketball scholarship to Temple University, coached by the legendary Harry Litwack.
At Temple, he played on the freshman team in 1955-56. That season, Litwack took the varsity to the Final Four where they finished third.
Two years later, his junior year, Temple returned to the Final Four only to lose to a talented Kentucky team, 61-60. The Owls would have to settle for another third place finish.
As a senior, Goldenberg started in every game for the Owls who finished with a disappointing record of 7-18. However, one bright spot for the senior point guard was a game against the University of Cincinnati and Oscar Robertson. Temple lost the game, but Goldenberg and Robertson each finished with 21 points. The following day the Philadelphia Daily News’ headline read, “Little Joey G. Scores As Many As The Big O.”
After graduation in 1959, Goldenberg had a short stint in the service before landing a teaching job at Sayre Junior High where he taught with John Chaney.
In 1963, he was hired at his alma mater, where he was the cadet coach (10th graders) and later the J.V. basketball coach. When Doug Connelly retired in 1969, Goldenberg was given the head coaching duties.
For the next 21 years, he would register a 410-84 record, and capture five straight Public League titles and four consecutive City Championships.
During one stretch, West Philadelphia won a state record of 68 straight games.
Besides winning those championships, he will also be remembered as the first city coach to take his teams to major national tournaments. “He was like the Abe Saperstein of the Public League,” said former assistant Phil Umansky. “He made us the West Philadelphia Globetrotters.”
When Goldenberg retired in 1990, he had established himself in the same coaching ranks as Connelly and Litwack; he had become a Philadelphia coaching legend.
An event which is right around the corner at the Sports Legends of Delaware County Museum will be the Cavalcade of Stars Luncheon on September 16, 2017 at the Radnor Township Municipal Building located at 301 Iven Ave. in Wayne.
Eighteen former athletes from our new card set while be in attendance, and will make themselves available to the guests who attend. Athletes such as: pro lacrosse player Mike Busza; Eddie Coyle, Olympic gold medal weightlifter; former NFL star, Don Clune; retired NBA referee Joe Crawford; Bo Ryan, college basketball coaching legend; Phil Martelli, longtime St. Joe basketball coach; former boxing great, Mike Picciotti; George Sydnor, former track world record holder; legendary Villanova football coach, Andy Talley; fencing great, Jake Hoyle; former Phillies pitcher, Dickie Noles; Jason Luzak, international soccer star; lacrosse great, Candy Finn-Rocha; Kim McKee, rodeo national champion; boxer Fredia Gibbs; and Mares Stellfox of racing fame.
Also on hand will be former Phillies GM Bill Giles, whose father Warren Giles presented Roberto Clemente with a silver bat for capturing the batting title in 1957. That bat, owned by museum board member Steve Burman, will be on display that day at the museum.
Doors open at 10:30, with the luncheon beginning at 11:00. The cost for the event is $25 and no tickets will be sold at the door. For tickets, please contact Jim Vankoski at 610-909-4919.