Jack McCloskey, the former Penn basketball player and coach who went on to have a long and successful career in the NBA, died Thursday in Savannah, Georgia at the age of 91.
McCloskey had been staying at a facility for people struggling with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
McCloskey’s relationship with Penn dates all the way back to 1943 when he dominated as a student-athlete for three different sports. After being recognized as honorable mention All-American in football, he also won letters in basketball and baseball.
Before returning to Penn for the 1944-45 seasons, though, McCloskey was drafted by the Navy. After fighting in World War II for a year, McCloskey returned to the States and decided to leave Penn for an opportunity to play professional baseball with the Philadelphia Athletics. He would not be away from Penn for long, though.
In 1948, McCloskey returned to Penn to finish his degree in education. He then went on to enjoy a successful basketball career in the Eastern Basketball Association before coming back to University City one final time in 1956.
From 1956 to to 1966, McCloskey coached Penn men's basketball to a 146-105 overall record. In his final season at Penn, he lead the Quakers to their first-ever Ivy League Championship. He might have stayed with the Red and Blue longer too if it wasn’t for disagreements with the athletics director, Jerry Ford.
In an interview with the Daily Pennsylvanian in 2013, McCloskey explained his frustrations.
“He [Ford] would not sign that paper [to let the team play in the NCAA tournament]. These kids did not play in the NCAAs. And it was a disaster,” Mccloskey told the DP. “That’s why I left Penn. There was no way I could associate with that man.”
McCloskey’s death not only marks a big loss for the Penn community, it also leaves a big void within the NBA.
After his career at Penn, McCloskey coached at Wake Forest for six years before beginning his journeyman career in the NBA. Starting in 1972, McCloskey held jobs with the Portland Trailblazers, Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Toronto Raptors, and Detroit Pistons.
It was in Detroit where he cemented his legacy as one of the world’s best basketball minds.
Working as the Piston’s General Manager, he built a team that enjoyed nine straight playoff appearances and two championships in 1989 and 1990. During his tenure, he was responsible for the draft selections of future hall of famers like Isiah Thomas and Dennis Rodman and also orchestrated trades for the players that helped ignite the team’s “Bad Boys” era.
Though his accomplishments with the Pistons remain his best-known successes, McCloskey is remembered as an all-time great in Penn Athletics.
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