The sun never sets on a champion—Cleveland Edwards dies at age 71 (Aug. 21)

CLEVELAND EDWARDS (Photo courtesy Robert Morris University)

by Bill Neal, For New Pittsburgh Courier

:10—“CLE”…that’s all you have to hear to know exactly who I am talking about. Such is the way of true legends “Mike,” “Magic,” “Cher,” “Franco,” “Ali,” you know when you know!

:09—Unfortunately, I have to inform you that the legend of whom I speak has gone home. “CLE” Cleveland Edwards passed away this past weekend, Aug. 17, in Las Vegas where he has been living for quite some time.

:08—It goes without saying most anybody that is Pittsburgh City League, Fifth Avenue sports, and most importantly basketball, knows “CLE” and without question can tell you story after story about this Pittsburgh icon.

:07—So let’s start with what another Pittsburgh City League legend told me, “K.D.” (That’s Kenny Durrett to those of you just coming out the cave). He said, and I quote, “‘CLE’ is one of the best and toughest athletes the city ever had. He could do it all and don’t get him mad, you’ll have trouble on your hands!”

:06—Popa Banks recounted how he got his start on the Fifth Avenue High School basketball team. As a 10th grader, he was giving “CLE” and some of the older cats all they could handle in some legendary street ball. “CLE” went to then-coach George Cupples and told him Popa should be starting. The rest is Fifth Avenue history.

:05—Former Pittsburgh basketball star and ABA draft pick Kirk Bruce has very vivid memories of having to go against “CLE” and Buzzy Harrison every day in practice. Like they say, if it doesn’t kill ya, it makes you stronger. Kirk, who was a longtime coach, really summed it up when he said “CLE” was everybody’s big brother. He took you under his wing and that made everything better.

:04—“Black Magic”…aka Ricky Coleman, considered by all basketball purists to be the best guard in Western Pa. history, remembers how “CLE” schooled him for an entire summer on how to play tough through contact to protect the ball, stay focused and to finish! Do you all get that feeling by what I am telling you . . . this Fifth Avenue “Brother” is taking time to teach a Schenley “Brother” how to play at another level because they were “Brothers” in basketball. Ricky called him “a warrior with a warm heart!”

:03—Last, but not least, and going back to my opening comment about name recognition, “Quickdraw” …say the name and everybody knows who you’re talking about. Not only quick of foot, but a quick and deadly release to go with it. He played with many of the greats and knew “CLE” well. But of all the great basketball they shared together, “Quick” speaks to what a great guy “CLE” was. Just a great guy that was matter of fact. No nonsense. And if he had you, he had you. If not…watch out!

:02—Of the names I profiled here, I am certainly the least of these, but my story rings true nonetheless. The first comes to my mind as if it happened ten minutes ago. It was East Hills, April 1979. The Connie Hawkins League was in full and massive glory, 1,000 people a night. Connie introduced me to Kenny Durrett for the first time and asked me to put him on a team. Well, my unaware and flat out wrong answer was, “Hawk, we got 16 teams and every team is loaded. I just can’t do it.” “CLE” walks over to me and said, “Neal, take any team in this league, then take any five players off the team and put Kenny Durrett in their place and they’ll be 10 times better!” (FOOTNOTE: Please remember you have to forgive a Brother. I was a football player by way of Penn Hills and Slippery Rock. Forgive me, Lord. I know not what I do!) Secondly, and most importantly, it was “CLE” Edwards that introduced me to Pitt Coach Tim Grgurich. That, in essence, opened my world and eyes to the game of basketball. “Coach Girg” and “CLE” showed me, taught me and allowed me to be a part of the Pitt basketball program and family that continues to this day. They both showed me how to make the Connie Hawkins Summer Basketball League what it became.

:01—In closing, Cleveland Edwards, Fifth Avenue High School basketball legend, high school football player, knocked softballs out the park for the fun of it. Robert Morris College starting point guard. Pitt starting point guard and defensive specialist, assistant basketball coach at Pitt, assistant basketball coach at UNLV where he was an interim head coach and won a national title. C’mon man!!!

:00—GAME NOT OVER, JUST A TIMEOUT. “CLE” now joins Heaven’s Hoopers, but he joins the team as a coach, not a player. Who else can handle these guys…Kenny Durrett, Jeep Kelly, Warner Macklin, Tyrogue “Moon” Howard, Larry “Byrd” Richardson, Sonny Lewis, Armon Gilliam, John “Shanghi” Mathews, Darrell Gissendanner, Maurice Lucas, Chuck Cooper, Ed Fleming, Lenard “Houn” Johnson, Maurice Stokes…We’ll be playin’ all night long!

 

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