Bill Neal: Sam Clancy — The Legend Continues


 You know how when you’re watching an old movie or reading a historical book and it starts off by saying, “Where do we begin?”  I mean, there’s so much to it, it’s so enormous and amazing that you literally don’t know where and how to start! Well, this is that story, so sit down and rest yourself while I give you yet another story of the legend that is Sam Clancy, better known to you as “Sam Bam!”

It was late spring 1976 when I got the phone call from the late, great Cleveland “Cle” Edwards, one of my early mentors and lifetime heroes, as well as one of the City of Pittsburgh’s all-time great athletes and the Fifth Avenue Archer through and through. “Neal,” as he would call me, “you need to get down to Fifth Avenue High School and see Sam Clancy…he’s special and he’s going to be one of the greats.”

I doubt that Sam will remember the moment that we first met, given all that he has lived through, but the occasion was both ironic and coincidental. When I walked up the stairs of the old Fifth Ave. High, Sam was walking towards me, and given his size, I knew this had to be the guy Cle told me to see. And no, I had not seen him in a game previously. The reason that Cle called me about Sam specifically was because I, we, us were now in the second year of what would be a 40-year run of the Connie Hawkins NCAA/Pro/Am Summer Basketball League.

I was the new program director at “The Y” in Homewood where Connie Hawkins, Kenny Durrett, and Will Graham were working out.  Hawk was in transition from the L.A. Lakers to the Atlanta Hawks and K.D. and Will were maintaining their status and playing summer league ball here and there. In that time the league caught fire and anybody who was anybody played in the Hawkins League because of Connie and K.D. Cle, being the player and coach that he was, thought it would be good for Sam to play against grown men, even though he was a high school senior, knowing that his greatness was about to emerge.

Now it can’t be forgotten that the Fifth Avenue team that Clancy played on was ranked No. 1 in the nation and went on to capture the Pa. state title with some of the city’s all-time greats with the late, great Warner Macklin, David “Puffy” Kennedy, “Dr. Bill” Clark, and Edwin “Breeze” Peoples.


The last point to this deep dive was that I had a verbal understanding with the legendary Mr. Carl Kohlman of Ozanam fame that the Hawkins League would work with college and pro players and Ozanam would handle high school on down. (Actually, and if you know Mr. Kohlman at all, you know that it was a one way conversation and it went by the way that I was told how it was going to be… in a nice manner, of course!)

As it turns out, Sam didn’t play that summer, but the future of it all began the next year when Sam was taking the nation by storm.  Playing coast to coast, becoming a member of the Pitt basketball team under the coaching tutelage of famed coach Tim Grgurich and Cle Edwards, winning Pan American Gold in 1979 under Coach Bobby Knight, and countless other awards to date.

Here are just a few of the never-ending accomplishments: Selected to University of Pittsburgh’s All-Centennial Team, named Awardee of Distinction by the Pitt Varsity Letter Club, inducted to Pitt Athletic Hall of Fame, led Pitt to four consecutive winning seasons, led Pitt to 1981 Eastern Eight Tournament championship, led Pitt to 1980 NIT berth, led Pitt to 1981 NCAA bid, three-time Eastern Eight All League selection.

NOW HEAR THIS…THE ONLY PLAYER IN PITT HISTORY TO SCORE OVER 1,000 POINTS (1,671) AND OVER 1,000 REBOUNDS (1,362). (For the record, these stats alone should get your shirt retired…I’m just saying.)

Drafted by the Phoenix Suns of the NBA in 1981 at a time when ballplayers were locked into positions without exception (Sam took one for the team playing center; if he had played strictly power forward, history would be telling you an NBA story right now.)

Nonetheless, and tremendous athlete that he was, he is then drafted by the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL in 1982 and went on to an amazing 12-season career including being with the Cleveland Browns in one of the NFL’s greatest games against John Elway and the Denver Broncos in THE DRIVE!

With all the guts and glory that would energize this legend’s story, national ranking, global travels, European coaching, Hall of Fame recognition both large and small, including his shirt hung at Ammon Recreation Center, a huge part of his development and allowing us to induct him in the Hawkins League, a league he helped make famous, and of course his first-year induction to the Pittsburgh City League All Sports Hall of Fame.

All that said, I can promise you this. Anyone who knows or has known Sam Clancy will tell you that all the accolades and awards pale in comparison to the real legend of the gentle giant, the kindness, the compassion, the availability, the humility….they’ve been second to none.

From the family from which he comes, most notably his fabulous mother, who led the cheers courtside, his wonderful wife and amazing children…that’s where the legacy gets anchored in and will remain a No. 1 topic of conversation for years to come.

To be sure, it’s a certainty that time will alter some of the facts. More points, perhaps…less rebounds, maybe…who did the most damage, Clancy and Pitt or the great Bruce Atkins and Duquesne University…you should’ve been there!!!

But one thing that will never change and is no longer up for debate will be the renaming of the street where the legacy began, the corner of Bedford Ave. and Roberts St., which fittingly is across the street from the house of August Wilson, one of Pittsburgh’s great literary legends. Sam takes his rightful place among the greats of the region to be immortalized, along with Tony Dorsett, Major Harris, Mike Ditka, and of course, Rooney Way, just to name a few.

And we will all very soon put the long overdue icing on the cake as we collectively rejoice in the raising of his game shirt #15 at the Petersen Events Center.  ALL HAIL TO PITT! ALL HAIL TO SAM BAM!








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