Jim Lynam took two steps at a time going up Section 110 of the Wells Fargo Center. The clock was ticking, and if you're a basketball guy, you respect the clock. Lynam was due on the air at Comcast SportsNet but he wanted to talk to a New York Knicks assistant coach, and then get in and see the Knicks head coach.
Lynam knew when to fast-time it back up to the studio connected to the arena, greeting security guards on the stairs, using a key card to get into SportsNet's office from the concourse - checking the door behind to make sure it locked - changing out of his purple sweater into a pressed white shirt, next stop the set for the Sixers pregame show.
From court conversation to studio chair, seven minutes. The old St. Joseph's guard always understood how to push it, how to see the whole court even in the transition game.
The sport never falls behind. Lynam might be Philadelphia's ultimate lifetime basketball guy. West Catholic legend. St. Joseph's star. St. Joseph's coach, including when the Hawks knocked off No. 1 DePaul in the NCAA tournament. Sixers assistant. Sixers coach. Sixers general manager. You hear Lynam, you hear basketball and you hear Philadelphia. Even his Wikipedia page says, "Lynam is known for his distinct Philadelphia accent."
Away from this job, there's still hoops. Lynam caught half a dozen high school games and some practices this season at the Glen Mills School in Delaware County. He'll drop into the gym at his local high school, Penncrest.
"He may show up with his Wawa cup and sit in the upper deck," said Penncrest High coach Mike Doyle. "Or he may be in the corner talking to me and my assistants."
Lynam is first-generation basketball, the oldest of 11. His father worked for Baldwin, which made locomotives "down here by the river," Lynam said, adding in addition, "He was a moonlighter. He could do anything, literally. . . . He'd be 100 today," he said of his father, who died in 2002.
If Lynam is still doing this next season, he will be talking about the 76ers as a 76er himself, turning that age in September.
This may seem like a show up and do it kind of gig, cushy in retirement, and Lynam himself says it isn't heavy lifting - he'll talk hoops with you for free - but he is in the building for six hours, and on the air for up to two hours of it, between the pregame, halftime and postgame shows. He takes notes all game, important ones in red, more important ones in green. He's got a laptop going to see the live stats, a clicker ready so he can roll back and see a play. This night was the one when newcomer Justin Anderson heated up against the Knicks so as the shots started falling, Lynam looked at Anderson's NBA stats, but also Anderson's college stats at the University of Virginia. The percentages differed, the college number much higher, so Lynam brought that up on the air.
His preparation level had to go up a little this night, Lynam suggested, because his daughter Dei was away doing a telecast of the Delaware 87ers.
"If you wanted to lay back a little bit, I could do it much more readily when she's here, because she knows her stuff, does her homework."
Laying back isn't really Lynam's thing, though. Ask him a question, get your answer. He'll get out of his chair to make a basketball point. Bring up Carmelo Anthony and he'll take you to China, to a hoop tour, and a Slavic coach's great love of Carmelo. The story will have a point, and usually a punchline. He's a dot-connector. That Knicks assistant played at Loyola Marymount and it turns out Lynam originally got the LMU job instead of fellow Philadelphian Paul Westhead after they were both fired as NBA coaches - Lynam by the Clippers, Westhead by the Lakers - but a Sixers job opened so Lynam came home.
"In the little subset world of professional basketball, everybody who's in it, there's ties with so many people," Lynam said.
Take Penncrest's coach. Mike Doyle's wife Kelly is the daughter of the late Jim Boyle, who played at West Catholic with Lynam and succeeded Lynam as St. Joe's coach. Doyle played at what was then Philadelphia Textile for Herb Magee, another West Catholic teammate.
"It goes further," said Doyle, going back to his teenage years, a summer in Ocean City, two guys left on the court at sundown on 34th Street, just Doyle and Lynam's son "H." They stayed buddies. Doyle got to know dad, too.
Another scene: Lynam is walking the track above the basketball court at Rocky Run YMCA on Route 1 in Lima. He sees a kid down on the court - "just by sheer accident," Lynam said. The kid's pretty good. Lynam goes down and introduces himself. He later called Doyle - "there's a seventh-grader that's going to your school." The seventh-grader, Tyler Norwood, was Penncrest's star player when the school won this season's District 1 title.
Then there was Glen Mills. Last summer, playing golf at the course run by the school, Lynam noticed the kids acted polite. He called the Glen Mills coach, asked if maybe he could show up sometimes, just to offer some thoughts.
"By accident," Lynam said of how it started.
That Okafor play
Remember that defensive "play" by Jahlil Okafor that went viral? Lynam was working that night, a producer came in and showed him the play, said, "This is blowing up on Twitter."
"Play it again," Lynam told him.
Lynam told producers how he said, "If you're going to run it, I can't defend it. I'm just giving you a heads up. I'm not going to try to bury the kid, but if you're going to show the play, I'm going to talk about the play."
Before the next game, it was still a talking point. In the pre-show meeting with SportsNet producer Sean Kane and Rob Ellis, hosting that night, Lynam said he wanted to provide a little context.
"We, as coaches, we look at body of work in a game, obviously if you're a full-time player, there's 100 plays I could talk about," Lynam said.
On the air, when they got to the play, showing it and what Okafor said about it the next day, Lynam said, "Let's try to put it into context, Rob. Now Jahlil, saying retreat - yes, you want to keep the ball in front of you. But that's not enough. . . . It's very, very difficult, the job he's trying to do, to keep NBA penetrators in front of you, keeping them away from the rim. To have a chance of doing it, you must have solid, sound technique. Which means hands up, knees flexed, and ready to move as quickly as you can. And that might not be good enough. But if you don't have those prerequisites, you have absolutely zero chance of stopping a ball from getting from there by you and to the rim."
Off the air Lynam had said, mentioning it in one segment was enough. "I'm going to take a stand here. He's been beat up enough." Who would be player of the game? Lynam picked Okafor.
"Not to soften the blow," Lynam had said in the pre-show meeting. "I think he's going to respond."
Lynam didn't spend hours around Penncrest's team. He spent more time, he said, around the team at Glen Mills, a school for court-adjudicated offenders. He did call Doyle before Penncrest's district final, had a suggestion for guarding Upper Merion's big man, headed for Holy Cross.
The suggestion was about how Penncrest's own post defender was going for the steal too often, that if he didn't get it against this guy, it's a dunk.
"He sat on it the entire game, 11 seconds left, finally goes for the steal, makes a steal," said Doyle, who wonders how it would have played out if Lynam hadn't called him, since the final score was 39-37. (That seventh-grader Lynam once saw at the Y, Tyler Norwood, now is an 11th-grader and had 26 of Penncrest's 39 points).
Doyle tells new assistants about how when he was an assistant himself at St. Joe's and Lynam was coaching the Sixers, he watched Lynam explain to Charles Barkley which hand the ball should be in and which arm he should use for protection going in for a dunk. He watched Barkley work on the same play 20 times until he said, "Got it." Don't assume new players have all the fundamentals, Doyle tells the new guys.
The coaching fraternity is small, and Doyle said other coaches in this area "are great, amazing," but of Lynam, he said, "He's Michelangelo. He sees the game at like a different pace. You're like a third-grade student. How did I not see this?"
No playing favorites
Lynam is willing to be impressed. When Anderson, who got under Carmelo Anthony's skin defending him that night, gave props to Dario Saric in the postgame interview, Lynam got out his red pen - DEFLECTS PERSONAL PRAISE!
There's no playing favorites for him when dissecting a play. It's just basketball. Lynam likes Richaun Holmes a lot, loves the energy Holmes bring to the Sixers. But when Holmes strayed a couple of steps out of place defending a fastbreak, Lynam, watching in the Green Room, pointed it out.
"It's like a cat in the jungle," Lynam said of Derrick Rose seeing exactly where Holmes was positioned. "He sees Holmes is out of the play right now," Lynam said after he had grabbed the clicker to rewind. "One guy can't guard him."
That one guy was Sixers guard T.J. McConnell, but it could have been anybody, Lynam pointed out, as Rose went in hard for a layup. "See Holmes try to swoosh in and guard him . . . Too late, dude."
Lynam had eaten a ham-and-cheese sandwich his wife had packed him, and made it up to the Comcast suite during the first half for some crab fries and a live look at the game. Back in the office, he grabbed a cup of coffee, decaf. "Independent of this, I'm a late-night guy," he said.
Off the air, he sounds like on the air. "I've grown to love Saric." On Robert Covington: "I've got news for you. Brett Brown said a week ago he's a keeper, and they're going to have to pay him to keep him."
By March, does this feel like a grind?
"You talking about me or the players?" Lynam said after that 90-minute post-game show.
"Nah, no," Lynam said. "To be honest, it never affected me."
Even at that, this gig, he said, isn't the same as coaching. He understands this transition game, too.
"They'll be back in here tomorrow at 7:15 breaking it down - I don't have to worry about that. That's a different beast there," Lynam said as he loosened his tie and packed up his colored pens and notebook and laptop. He was out to the parking lot, making sure the door locked behind him.