Jon Teitel's "Forgotten Legends" Series: Cleveland State's Franklin Edwards

    
December 15th, 2011
In the most recent installment in his "Forgotten Legends" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Cleveland State great Franklin Edwards. Edwards' career scoring average of 21.9 points per game is the best in school history, and after an NBA career that included a championship in 1983 he's worked for both the NBA and Fox Sports Midwest (broadcasting). Edwards' son James currently plays at Lewis & Clark College.

Jon Teitel: Your middle name is Delano. Is that a family name, or were your parents just big fans of FDR?

Franklin Edwards: My dad actually picked the name, as he was a huge FDR fan. He also told me that he wanted a distinguished middle name that separated me from others. He surely accomplished that!

JT: In 1981 you scored a school-record 49 points at Xavier (scoring 31 in the second half). Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone"?

FE: There is an interesting story behind that game. We were an independent during those years and it was probably our best chance while I was at Cleveland State to make a postseason tourney. We needed to win that game but had to do so in a fashion that would draw attention to us as both a school and as a team. My mindset going into that game was to try to do something to keep the selection committee interested in considering us. The game was back and forth the whole time and it was senior night for Xavier. I knew I scored a lot of points but never thought it was that many until the final minute of the game. Two things about that game have always stayed with me. First, we had a 2-on-1 fast break with 20 seconds left. I passed off to a teammate who had just come into the game, and he scored.

Second, that pass gave me my 12th assist of the night. The reason why those two things stand out to me today is because looking at the stat sheet right after that game, I felt that I could have easily scored 60 points if my goal had been to shoot and score every chance I had. The field house scoring record at the time was 50 points, which I could have broken if I had chosen to shoot that final layup. However, I can honestly say 20+ years later that I would not change a thing. I was never the type of player to think only about my own records and accomplishments. I feel that those final few minutes really showed everything about me as a player and person, and I have been able to live proudly and happily with that. I hope this answer is not too long, but sometimes records do not tell the whole story.

JT: Your career scoring average of 21.9 ppg is still the highest in school history. Did you realize at the time how prolific a player you were?

FE: I can honestly say that due to the type of player I was it never crossed my mind at the time. Don't get me wrong, I knew that I was good but I always just tried to be the best player I could be. I must say that when I look back now at some of the things I did and the records I have, I marvel at myself. It never occurred to me at the time I was doing these things and how special they were, but I have far more appreciation for it now. I have been told that there are fewer than 200 players in NCAA history who averaged 21+ ppg for their career, but I have yet to research this myself.

JT: Your #14 was the first jersey to ever be retired by CSU. What did it mean to you to receive such an outstanding individual honor?

FE: Having my number retired was one of the honors that I truly grasped even back then. It meant the world to me if only because it gave me a glimpse into my accomplishments. My attitude was that if they retired my jersey then nobody would ever wear that number again, so I must have been pretty good while I was here! Years later I still realize the true magnitude of the honor.

JT: In the summer of 1981 you were drafted 22nd overall by Philadelphia (nine spots ahead of Danny Ainge). Did you see that as a validation of your college career or the realization of a lifelong dream of reaching the NBA?

FE: I never looked at my career by comparing it to that of others. I always thought it was up to other people to do that. All I wanted to do was give my best every day, improve my game, play hard, and let the chips fall where they may. My validation came from reaching the NBA and having a blessed career. I always thought that I could do it, so proving it to myself was all the validation that I needed. Everything else was gravy in my mind.

JT: In 1983 you won the NBA title as a member of the 76ers. What did it mean to you to win the title, and what was the reaction like in Philly?

FE: Winning the title was an incredible experience. It meant that a kid with a dream of making it out of Harlem could not only do it, but win one of the greatest prizes in sports history in the process. It meant that the name Edwards will always be tied to basketball history. Everyone who looks at the history of the NBA will see that team listed along with my picture and name. I have always looked at myself as an example to kids of the importance of following your dreams. Winning an NBA championship just verified the power and truth in kids' dreams. As far as Philadelphia goes, it was a special time.

The 76ers had fallen short in previous years. They lost to the Lakers in the 1980 NBA Finals and to the Celtics in the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals (the year before I got there). It was a wounded team and city when I got there, which made it all the greater once we won the title. The city was on fire with joy and pride. Everywhere you went people mobbed you with love and joy. I always use this as the best barometer for what that team meant to the city of Philadelphia. Here we are 25+ years later and there is not a single time that I go back to Philly when someone does not stop me on the street to thank me for being a part of that team. That says it all!

JT: In 1986 you finished 6th in the league with 87.4 FT%. Did you consider yourself to be one of the best free throw shooters in the league, and what is your secret for free throw shooting?

FE: I considered myself to be one of the best free throw shooters in the league. I always felt that I should have had an even higher FT% that year, but I got lazy and lost my concentration and missed four or so free throws during the final month of the season. It is wild how things like that stick with you throughout your life! My secret (if you can call it that) was always practicing them the way you would shoot them in games. I tried to shoot 100 every time I practiced, which gave me a good gauge on my concentration level and percentage. Being a great free throw shooter is just about doing many practice repetitions: there is no way around it.

JT: After retiring you worked for the NBA helping to promote education, and later became a college basketball broadcaster for Fox Sports Midwest. Which gig did you like more, and what do you hope to do in the future?

FE: I worked with the NBA and NBA Players Association for 12 years. It was so fulfilling and interesting. I oversaw the Education and Career Development departments. Everything and anything the players and spouses wanted to become involved with off the court was handled by our office. It was incredible. Every day was different. I absolutely love doing color commentary for college basketball games. This is my 18th season doing it. I love the fact that I get to evaluate players, strategies, and game plans. Both jobs have been equally satisfying but in very different ways, so I really do not have a favorite between the two. In the future I look forward to doing more work with high school athletes, as it has always been an area that intrigues me.

JT: Your son James played guard at Lewis & Clark. How proud are you of his success, and which of you is the better athlete?

FE: I am so proud of James. He is doing well and I could not be happier for him. I tell people that James has always been a better athlete than I was.

JT: When people look back on your career, what do you want them to remember the most?

FE: I hope that I am remembered as a person who always cared. I believe that the way someone is on the basketball court closely mirrors the way they are in life. I always felt that my best qualities were first and foremost my unselfishness as a player and person. Secondly, I had the ability and the will to get better and never settle for who I was as a player. My drive to not only be good but great is something that (looking back now) has always allowed me to push myself more than others. There is a saying that goes something like, "the will to prepare for greatness must far exceed the will to be great". That statement would sum me up, so I hope that is what people remember most about my career.

Edwards is also on Jon's list of best pro players in Horizon League history.

Butler: Billy Shepherd (1973)
Cleveland State: Franklin Edwards (1982)
Detroit: Dave DeBusschere (1963)
Green Bay: Tony Bennett (1993)
UIC: Sherell Ford (1996)
Loyola: Les Hunter (1965)
Milwaukee: NO ALUMNI IN ABA/NBA
Valparaiso: John Janisch (1947)
Wright State: Vitaly Potapenko (1997)
Youngstown State: Leo Mogus (1947)