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Norm Eavenson, 74: "Sort of a Renaissance man"

11/15/2021, 2:00pm EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
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Norm Eavenson was a man of many worlds. Not words — though he wasn’t lacking for those, either.

“Norm is sort of a Renaissance man,” his friend Larry Otter said on a late Sunday phone call. “He was into sports, he was into music, he was into politics and collecting...he had all these other interests.”

A widely-respected basketball scout known for his affability, objectivity, wits and his always-present blue chair, Eavenson, 74, passed away on Sunday afternoon due to complications arising from COVID. He was double-vaccinated, ready to get the booster shot, but got sick before he could.

(Photo Courtesy Kaitlyn Fedor/The Hoop Group)

Those of us in the basketball world knew Norm as one of the most well-respected and admired scouts in the business, a decades-long presence at amateur gyms all over the Mid-Atlantic Region, more than five dozen Division I schools subscribing to his reports. He was kind, friendly, and unflappable, always bringing along his binder with printed-out rosters ready for him to take notes on with a blue or black pen — seated, almost always, in his trademark folding blue chair. Even if you’d never talked to Norm, you knew who he was, sensed that he was important, that most of the time he belonged more than anybody else in the building.

But what wasn’t obvious to the grassroots basketball community was that Norm was just as influential and well-respected in other circles vastly different from the world of athletics. There was his love for music and live concerts, his political ribbon and button collection, a keen eye for smart, well-written, gripping television, and all things sports. 

Even though he spent countless hours each week scouting talent for his Middle Atlantic Recruiting Service, he still found time to devote to his other interests, never taking any of them lightly.

“When Norm was in, Norm was in 100%,” Otter said. “It was music, it was basketball, it was politics and political collecting.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Mike Jensen, in a wonderful pair of profiles on Eavenson written in 2017, quotes Eavenson as saying his political button collection was “top-five,” even if he wasn’t willing to say his collection was the best. (Mike also wrote his own lovely story about Norm today, and I’m sure between the two of us, we haven’t even covered 1% of Norm Eavenson.)

(Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

And while he was just as respected in that arena as he was courtside, he didn’t feel the need to share his hoops exploits with his fellow collectors. His worlds, largely, stayed separate — not that he wasn’t happy to talk politics (or music, or television) if asked. Norm just didn’t feel the need to show off, didn’t want to bring any extra attention to himself.

“I’m just now learning the breadth of Norm’s fame in the basketball arena,” Otter said. “At political shows we talked politics, we didn’t talk basketball...The people in his political world didn’t know about Norm and his basketball world.”

That being said, there was a little bleed over on occasion. Otter said that Norm didn’t typically talk about prospects or rankings, didn’t discuss the latest transfer news or any of the other gossip which goes along with that particular world Eavenson lived in. But, Otter recalls, there was a time when Eavenson told him “there’s this kid over at Lower Merion named Kobe Bryant that you might want to watch.”

Eavenson was born Sep. 26, 1947, an only child. Never married and with no children, Norm’s interests and passions were his world. In recent years he’s gotten into English Premier League football, traveling across the pond to take in a few games while seeing them play in New Jersey a few years back.

The connection to basketball ran deep. That’s why he started going to high school games for fun, why he started taking notes, how he got connected to scouts back 40 years ago, how he got into the business and carved out his own, incredibly valuable role in the local, regional and national landscape.

“His love of basketball goes back to when he was a kid,” Otter said. “He used to take the train, when they had the trains from West Chester into 30th Street [Station], walk over to Convention Hall to watch the Philadelphia Warriors; he told me stories about seeing Chamberlain and Russell go against each other at Convention Hall.”

(Photo courtesy Toomey Anderson)

Otter, an attorney who specializes in election law, met Eavenson at a political button collecting convention in 1971, the pair both graduate students in political science at Villanova University at the time. Eavenson, who got his undergraduate degree in history from Gettysburg, went on to teach history at Kennett High School, retiring a little more than a decade ago after 37 years. 

The two became close friends, Eavenson spending holidays with the Otter family for the last several decades. The two had almost-identical birthdays — Otter’s is two days after Eavenson’s, on Sep. 28 — so a shared birthday dinner was another regular meeting.

His affinity for concert-going was legendary: from the Grateful Dead to the Rolling Stones, Phish and Pearl Jam — this writer can attest to that one, personally — all types of rock and roll in between. 

“Norm always seemed to go to whatever the hot concert was, Norm always had the ability to come up with tickets,” Otter said. “How he did that, I have no idea. Norm knew how to score tickets, that’s for sure.”

Norm’s kindness and generosity were apparent from the stories that poured out on social media. Maureen ‘Mo’ Jones, an ESL teacher from Milltown (N.J.), met Norm randomly at a 2019 concert of Bob Weir and Wolf Bros, striking up a conversation about teaching and children, then stayed in touch afterwards. 

Months later, he reached out, letting her know he had the opportunity to win free tickets to an exclusive Phish concert at the Met in Philadelphia — he’d entered on her behalf, and won. “What a heart rush when I got this email,” he wrote to her about it. Mo, her husband Darrec, and Norm enjoyed the concert together, finding a third ticket to ensure they could all enjoy it together.

“Norm, my friend, you were pure light,” she wrote in a Facebook tribute.

The final words I got from Norm were in a group email sent on Nov. 1, where he requested that if he passed, to please play the Grateful Dead’s Brokedown Palace to know how he felt about the different worlds he lived in.

The song goes, in part:

Going home, going home
By the waterside I will rest my bones
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul

Going to plant a weepng willow
On the banks green edge it will grow, grow, grow
Sing a lullaby beside the water
Lovers come and go, the river roll, roll, roll

Fare you well, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul

The email ended, “I love you all.”

~~~

Tributes to Norm flowed in from all over the basketball community. There are too many to include them all, but here are some:

“Practically every time I went to an event, I would always ask him who he thought I should shoot...he was always happy to give me the full rundown on who the best players were for the evening. He was just so excited by the sport, and excited to share his knowledge.” — Mark Jordan, CoBL photographer

“It’s far too easy to get caught up in the rankings, the influence, the everyday hustle and bustle of this world and lose sight of what’s really important. Mr. Eavenson never once made it about himself. Instead he gave everything to the young men he served and even more to the community he helped mentor. For so many of us he was a kind face in an intimidating crowd, making you feel like you belonged until you learned to believe it yourself. May Mr. Eavenson Rest in Peace and may we all be lucky enough to have the impact on our own part of the world that he did in his.” — Jimmy Fenerty, Temple men’s basketball assistant

“As I started scouting and covering high school games in the Philadelphia area, Norm was a constant figure in every gym. I notably remember sitting with him at the Donofrio Classic in Conshohocken and how much he helped me understand the landscape of the industry. As someone who had not even graduated high school, he showed me respect. It always felt good to go up to Norm and shake his hand, because not only did I appreciate our friendship, but I know that I commanded the respect of everyone else in the gym who saw Norm chat with me. One story I’ll never forget is when someone along a baseline asked what “Imhotep” as in Imhotep Charter meant. Norm immediately responded with a precise answer and I looked it up later on to see that he was spot on. It showed how passionate he was about history in addition to basketball. He is a huge inspiration for many and will be dearly missed.”  — Tyler Sandora, BPA Hoops


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