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Jerry’s journey

Jerry Rullo, first from right, enjoyed a fruitful life on and off the court.

Photos provided by The Rullo Family and Franny Foy

When pondering the life of Generoso “Jerry” Rullo, one could say that his first name served as a perfect match for the personality that came to endear him to so many acquaintances over his 94 years. Kind, caring, and compassionate, the ever-generous figure and last surviving member of the 1947 Philadelphia Warriors, who won the inaugural championship in the Basketball Association of America, the precursor to the NBA, died Oct. 21 at Penn Medicine Rittenhouse.

“There is no denying that he was among the most amazingly selfless people ever to come into my life and the lives of countless others,” Franny Foy, a longtime friend and admirer, said of the product of the 3400 block of Wharton Street. “He always thought of the needs of others and wanted for kids all around to have great opportunities.”

The Schuylkill resident was a boy when he met Mr. Rullo and fondly recalled helping him to line the field for athletic action at Markward Playground. Foy picked up points on how to show civic pride, too, reveling in raising, lowering, and folding the American flag and donning a dog patrol shirt, which the mentor had made for him and peers, as he rode his bicycle through the green space to keep it safe and clean. For the longest time, Foy possessed no intense knowledge of the Gray Ferry native’s hoops history, and even when it became apparent, Mr. Rullo preferred to concentrate on the present and the maturation of local youths.

“You had to needle him to get stuff out of him,” the Markward caretaker said. “That was one identity for him, and in the other one, the one that we all saw for so many years, he really left his mark.”

More than 600 mourners attended services at St. Gabriel’s Church on Oct. 26, with sons Jim and Jerry delivering a touching tribute to their patriarch.

“We were all fortunate for his presence,” the former, also the head men’s basketball coach at Neumann University, said of his fallen father. “His loss will be great, but we’ve all been able to obtain some closure in hearing so many heartfelt stories about his effect on the lives of so many people. I’ll always be proud to tell my stories about him, too.”

The narrative for Mr. Rullo reveals that he enjoyed considerable success as a John Bartram High School student, captaining the basketball team and capturing a baseball championship. Temple University became his collegiate stop, and he added soccer to his endeavors. A solid contributor to the Owls’ ’42-’43 and ’43-’44 basketball clubs, he became an even more valued participant in the fight to preserve freedom, serving in the United States Army during World War II. He graduated in ’47, the same year that the Warriors became a great trivia question answer.

Mr. Rullo appeared in 50 games that year, averaging 2.5 points per tilt for the franchise, which downed the Chicago Stags four games to one to secure the historic title. The guard continued his career as a member of the Baltimore Bullets; the Philadelphia SPHAS, whose deep ties to South Philly include its competitive origins at Seventh Street and Snyder Avenue and a historical marker for founder Eddie Gottlieb at Broad Street and Snyder Avenue, the dedication for which Mr. Rullo attended in May 2014; the Trenton Tigers; and the Sunbury Mercuries, for whom he also coached, winning several Eastern League crowns. With his professional stint as a basketball practitioner complete relatively early in his life, he turned to carving out the existence that will forever win him favor among his survivors.

“You just wanted to be around him,” Foy said of the figure who worked for the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department for 33 years, a treasured run that yielded supervising and coaching responsibilities at Markward and local location Murphy Recreation Center and Lanier Playground. “There was never anyone with a greater understanding of fairness and the importance of being there for a kid.”

“He absolutely wanted everyone to achieve whatever a desired goal was,” Jim Rullo seconded of his dad, who coached boys’ and girls’ basketball, baseball, and softball, purchased shoes for children to compete, and formed adult baseball, basketball and touch football leagues. “There are probably people out there who will remember him only as an athlete, but that’s not who he was first and foremost. He was someone who cared about using his competitive fire to inspire children to do their best.”

Mr. Rullo kept very active until the last two years, Foy, who honored the revered motivator by joining the funeral service as a pallbearer, stated, impressing the 48-year-old with his youthful exuberance, particularly for street cleaning.

“He had so much life to him,” the reverent product of his guidance said of Mr. Rullo, citing his love for refereeing, which enabled him to oversee Big 5 action and occupied him until his late 80s, as proof of his devotion to clean play and respect for one’s opponent. “He hasn’t been gone for two weeks yet, and already the void feels big.”

Foy will miss phone calls and stops at Markward the most, declaring that although media outlets will make mention of his being the last link to the NBA’s beginnings, everyone else will see him as the first connection to communities built on giving children ample chances to enjoy fruitful upbringings.

“I feel the same way,” Jim Rullo, who tabbed himself “blessed and grateful” through Facebook in response to “the outpouring of love and support,” said. “That’s who my father was — someone who wanted you to be better today than you were yesterday.” SPR

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com.

Jerry Rullo, left, and first from right in the second image, enjoyed a fruitful life on and off the court.

Photos provided by The Rullo Family and Franny Foy

Jerry Rullo

Photos provided by The Rullo Family and Franny Foy

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