By AARON BRACY
He is known as The Guru, The Godfather and Mr. Women’s Basketball.
And if you think Mel Greenberg has a lot of nicknames, well they pale in comparison to the number of Halls of Fame in which he is a member.
Outside of players and coaches, no one has done more for women’s basketball than Greenberg. Actually, there probably aren’t many players or coaches who can say they’ve done more for the game than him.
When hardly anyone gave women’s sports any attention, Greenberg did. He started the first women’s college basketball poll in 1976 at the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 years before retiring in 2010.
It morphed into the Associated Press poll, matching the one in men’s college basketball, two years later. But Greenberg had established himself as the preeminent authority on women’s basketball.
However, even Greenberg didn’t think a women’s basketball poll would work when presented with the idea by then Inquirer sports editor Jay Searcy.
“He says, ‘What do you think about a poll?’ I went, ‘I think you’re nuts,’” Greenberg told Bracy Sports Media (full interview below).
Even some within the women’s game didn’t want a poll. Greenberg remembers calling the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) to let them know about the poll and the response he got was, “Women should not get involved in newspaper games like polls, which will lead to the evils of the men’s athletics.”
But Greenberg said there was a strong push on the East Coast, particularly from the likes of Immaculata and Queens College, to move forward with the poll. After attending an Immaculata postseason banquet, he felt strongly that the poll was something in which he should do.
Not only did creating a poll give women’s basketball new-found notoriety, it created jobs for media members and sports information directors. It also made Greenberg the center of women’s basketball and the darling of coaches who wanted to get into the poll. Even though it wasn’t his poll anymore when the AP took control, Greenberg had — and still has today — a strong voice in the voting process.
Coaches knew whom to contact when trying to argue their case. In fact, there was a young coach at UConn named Geno Auriemma who would call Greenberg.
“In the early days he lived off me,” Greenberg joked about the Norristown native who has gone on to capture 11 national titles. “Try getting him on the phone today.”
Greenberg earned the respect of so many that he has been inducted into no less than six Halls of Fame, and became the first writer to be enshrined in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007. Also, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association honored Greenberg by naming its media award the Mel Greenberg Media Award. Of course, Greenberg was the first recipient in 1991. He presents the award annually at the Final Four.
To get an idea of how much the women’s basketball community thinks of Greenberg, legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt hosted Greenberg for a reception after the 2007 Hall of Fame honor … at her house!
Always thinking like a reporter, Greenberg figured he could get his next scoop from Summitt at the party after she had downed a few drinks. It’s one of the many great stories that Greenberg tells.
Mention something to Greenberg, who now covers women’s basketball on his website, and he has a story. And a story about a story.
One of the funniest tales he tells happened at the 2018 Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame banquet and doesn’t involve women’s hoops. Greenberg was being honored in a dignified class that included Brian Westbrook and Allen Iverson. During his speech, Greenberg fumbled his lines a bit, to which he joked, “Sorry, Allen, I didn’t practice this.”
If anyone in the room felt uncomfortable about Greenberg’s joke that referenced Iverson’s famous press conference, Iverson put everyone at ease and brought the house down during his speech when he said, according to Greenberg, “Now Allen gets up there. All the sudden he goes, ‘Mel Greenberg, I never practiced either.’”
The place roared.
Greenberg also will tell you about encounters with Charles Barkley, his role in all of the Inquirer’s Pulitzers, the time he submitted the wrong lineup as manager of Temple’s men’s basketball team and many other stories.
Mostly, though, he’ll talk about women’s basketball. He knows everyone and anyone, and has longevity that is unmatched. In fact, when longtime Villanova coach Harry Perretta retired after last season following 42 years on the Wildcats sideline, Greenberg affectionately told him this:
“Hey pal, I was here before you came, and I’m going to be here after you leave.”