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A Mike Jensen Appreciation Post

11/16/2023, 10:00am EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

The start of one era of Big 5 basketball was the end of another.

As the long-running city series welcomes Drexel, finally including every Division I school in Philly plus the one juuuuust slightly outside of it, it’s losing one of its longtime voices: Mike Jensen, the venerable Philadelphia Inquirer scribe.

In case you missed it, Mike’s leaving the Inquirer as its esteemed college sports columnist after more than three decades with the paper, his final story running Wednesday morning. Our good friend Jeff Neiburg is moving into Mike’s role, and we’re thrilled for him, with no doubts that Jeff will make the beat his own. 

But Mike is a singular voice, every single one of his columns an instant-read. Nobody writes like Mike. Nobody. (Trust me, I’ve tried over the years to emulate his style, falling painfully short each time). It’s great that he’s not going far, writing a book on everything Philadelphia basketball, which will no doubt be a bestseller. 

Of course, folks from all around the Philadelphia basketball landscape and journalists from around the country wanted to wish Mike well. Here’s what they had to say, though I’m going first:

Mike, you’ve set the bar unfathomably high. As a journalist, yes, but also as a human being. Even though we never worked together, I’ve always considered you my biggest mentor in this business — whenever I’d be working on a story, my first question would be “how would Mike Jensen write this? How would Mike approach this?” Which probably explains why I’ve been bothering you constantly for advice for 12 years. 

The time you took for every story you wrote, the care you put into every piece, into every relationship you formed, shined through on the page. Every single thing said below here by all these people is 100% accurate. I know you don’t take compliments well, but you’re really f***ing good at your job. 

Thanks for everything. Looking forward to seeing you at games, Philly Live, and the basketball junkies dinners. Can’t wait to read the book. — JV

~~~

“In nearly a quarter-century at The Inquirer, Mike Jensen is as good as I've ever worked with. Any job. Any time. 

He's Bryce Harper in the clutch, when a big story hits
He's Tyrese Maxey in the draft, although he'd be picked higher
He's Andre Blake for blocking bad ideas
He's Jay Wright, for all the winning
He's Jalen Hurts, for being a wonderful teammate

We like Top 10 lists. Mike Jensen is ...

  1. A GREAT GUY
  2. An A+ journalist
  3. Quintessential in knowing what a good story is, where to find it, and how to tell it
  4. A Philly treasure
  5. The voice of college athletics in the Delaware Valley region
  6. One of the best college sports writers in America
  7. An editor's reporter
  8. A lock for the Big 5 Hall of Fame
  9. Irreplaceable
  10. ... going to be missed. A lot.” — Gary Potosky, Philadelphia Inquirer sports editor

~~~

“I’m sure like many student journalists in the area, I looked forward to bumping shoulders with Mike in a press box or at a practice. Having someone so revered in the profession willing to respect my work and be an inviting presence on the beat when I was a sophomore at Temple just getting my feet wet, gave me a whole lot of confidence. I’ve constantly pointed young writers to Mike’s work when trying to illustrate great storytelling. More importantly, they should follow the way he carries himself and interacts with people.” — Owen McCue, CoBL

~~~

“Mike is Philadelphia basketball personified. He follows in a tradition of incredible journalists covering basketball in this town and he has found a way to keep up and even eclipse some of our all-time greats. He’s one of the finest journalists that I’ve ever encountered, and he makes the game come alive to his readers. When Mike wrote about your team or your players, you wanted to cut it out and hang it up.” — Mountain MacGillivray, La Salle WBB

~~~

“I think there’s reporters and there's guys you know and trust as friends. When Mike and I talk, it’s like, you got what you need? And then we check in on friends, family and perspective, what’s going on in the world. I’ve had exponentially more conversations off the record than on the record with Mike about life. He’s not a reporter to me, he’s a true friend, and we’ve had some great laughs. I think as coaches in Philadelphia we’re fortunate to have had such people who magnify our stories, the positive ones. He’s not hunting for headlines or clicks, he just tells it how it is, and there’s a lot of stories he’s told.” —  Zach Spiker, Drexel MBB

“I had mixed emotions when I heard Mike was retiring. We are losing a staple in the Philadelphia College Hoops scene. His coverage of Drexel basketball has certainly been memorable and a key part of our history throughout his time as a writer. Mike, Congrats on an incredible 35 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer and best of luck in retirement. We can’t wait to see you back at the DAC enjoying Philly Hoops as a fan in the stands.” — Amy Mallon, Drexel WBB

~~~

“When you hear Mike Jensen, you think Philadelphia basketball. He’s contributed to the history of the basketball stories in Philadelphia for so many years and he’s a valued member, a great person, and a trustworthy person that has just left a legacy. Congrats on your retirement, hopefully you get a few weeks off to spend with your family, and enjoy the next chapter of your book.” — John Griffin, Bucknell MBB

~~~

“Mike has an extensive and impressive list of contacts. I think the best compliment is I bet many of them assume he grew up here. That’s how well he knows Philly hoops.

Mike has been a trusted and dependable ear to those contacts. He’s been a well-liked, go-to guy for all his writing colleagues and editors. And he has been a joy to thousands of readers.

Mike has an uncanny ability to tell stories. So if he has a podcast or book to sell down the road, buy in. You know it will be great.” — Pat McLoone, former Philadelphia Daily News sports editor

~~~

“They stormed the freakin’ court in his Palestra finale. Basketball gods are undefeated. I’ll miss being with him at games and talking about stories, though I suspect we’ll still do both. Thanks for everything, Mike.” — Jeff Neiburg, Philadelphia Inquirer

~~~

“Mike has the ability to write very personal stories without ever becoming part of the story! He has allowed so many in the Philly basketball scene to shine. He is the FRAN DUNPHY of writers!! Great writer, better guy.” — Phil Martelli, Michigan MBB

~~~

"To my friend and colleague Mike Jensen, whose writing has set the standard for me in Philadelphia since my first day at the Palestra as a college freshman..."

Click here for Jonathan Tannenwald's full post on Mike

~~~

“Mike Jensen is the best of us—in what he does, in how he does it, in who he is. I’m going to miss working with him more than he knows or would ever acknowledge, and it’s that humility that makes him the best of us. He is a pro in every sense of the word, and his colleagues and readers respect and appreciate him for that reason. There’s no replacing him.” — Mike Sielski, Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist

~~~

“Mike has been a staple in Philly basketball as I have gone through high school, college and now coaching. He is seemingly in-the-know of everything Philly basketball related and our community appreciates everything he does!” — Ryan Daly, Albany MBB assistant

~~~
 

(L to R): Inquirer staffers John Quinn, Joe Juliano, Mike Jensen, Claire Smith, Bill Lyon, Bob Ford, Maureen Meehan and Jim Jenks pose for a photo as Lyon was honored with the Philadelphia Sportswriters Most Courageous award in 2017. (Photo courtesy John Quinn)

“Two thoughts:

Basketball: Eddie Griffin died in Houston.  Troubled guy, one of the Philly native great talents.

Mike goes in cold. It is perhaps the greatest/toughest job in sports journalism. Hop on a plane, moment's notice, new city. Come back with incredibly insightful poignant story basically on deadline for Sunday piece. Knowing what to do, where to go, who to call to make it a great story, not a good story, is rarefied air indeed.

Horse racing: (An aside: great writers work an entire career with an Eclipse award in sight, an equine Pulitzer. Mike won two in three years. Smarty Jones and Barbaro. Probably came real close for a third with Afleet Alex.)

In 2006, the world was entranced with the daily drama of Barbaro. It was a rare story that transcended sports, and Mike was the eyes and ears for the Inquirer. Every day, day after day, how do you cover such a big story, making it fresh, making it real. He did and in the process gained the trust of respect of all the participants, owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson, trainer Michael Matz, surgeon Dean Richardson.

Barbaro developed like a fairy tale, the world watching and hoping for a miraculous recovery. And it began to look that way. By January following the Preakness, hopes were high, Mike won his second Eclipse award and was going to be presented at the annual black-tie nationally televised dinner, the equine Oscars.

Mike, his wife Lisa and I were exiting a cab outside the Beverly Hills hotel when the next couple was getting ready to hop in. It was Roy and Gretchen Jackson. 'Hey Mike!' they exclaimed, like he was an old college buddy. They shook our hands and got in as we exited.

Barely a week later, Barbaro was euthanized.” — John Quinn, retired Inquirer sports editor

~~~

“For years, Mike Jensen consistently captured the heart and soul of everything that is the Philadelphia college sport scene and did it with a sincerity and joviality that gave readers the perfect insight into some of the best moments in our city’s sports history. Outside of his writing, he was and will still continue to be a mentor to so many of us as he enters into what surely will be an exceptional next chapter in his life. I know we’re all excited to see what the future holds for him and his illustrious career.” — Jimmy Fenerty, NC A&T MBB

~~~

“When it comes to basketball in the city of Philadelphia, there is one voice that you know you can always trust, whether it’s about the drama of James Harden or the reasons behind a Big 5 upset in the Palestra: Mike Jensen.” — Rob Dauster, Field of 68

~~~

"I met Mike a little over two years ago, and since then, he’s always been there for me to call, run ideas past and just talk to, even before I was with The Inquirer. I’m beyond grateful I got to cross paths with him and can call him a friend. A true Philly legend." -- Matt Ryan, Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter

~~~

“College basketball players, coaches and fans in Philadelphia were very fortunate to have Mike covering the sport all these years.” — Dick Jerardi, former Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter

~~~

“I wanted to take a minute, Mike, to express my sincere gratitude for the article “A league not just of their own” written by you in July 2017 for the Philadelphia Inquirer. This article, your work, changed my life. You not only helped me further identify my purpose in our community, you reminded me of the blessings ahead and why it’s so important for me to keep going. It has been so rewarding to share my work with the world and I have you to thank for that. 

“I pray that you continue to receive your flowers, you deserve it. The work you do to unite our communities is unmatched. You provide a vital outlet to share information and you truly are the voice of all of us. Your voice has been present, supportive, unbiased and greatly appreciated. Cheers to you now and always and thank you for being a supportive piece of our world. People like you make this world a better place.” — Chelse Hall, Harcum WBB assistant

~~~

“Mike was always hard-working, persistent, fair, and very knowledgeable about college basketball. I have always respected Mike’s insight and research.” — Jay Wright

“I first came to appreciate Mike’s work during my years as a Villanova assistant. His ability to translate the nuances of our game to his readers and share the stories of our guys set him apart in my mind. We’ll miss reading Mike’s insights in the Inquirer.” — Kyle Neptune, Villanova MBB

“Mike Jensen is a tremendous reporter who had a Hall of Fame career.  The thing that I respect most about Mike is that he was fair and he was always prepared for every interview that he did. The Philadelphia media will not be the same without Mike around to cover games. He will be missed by all of us.” — Denise Dillon, Villanova WBB

“I first met Mike in 1996 while working at Basketball Times. I was in town to write a feature on Kerry Kittles and the Villanova SID at the time, Karen Frascona, took us to lunch at Gullifty’s. We covered a lot of ground that day – Kobe Bryant’s name may have come up – and I was struck by Mike’s knowledge of both the local and national landscape. When I came to Villanova two years later, I got to work with Mike more extensively. I always admired his thoroughness as a journalist and his desire to tell the story without putting himself at the center of it. Whenever I picked up a Jensen column, I knew I would learn something I didn’t know before.” — Mike Sheridan, Villanova media relations

“Mike Jensen was a pro’s pro at every turn. His knowledge and versatility allowed him to excel as both a beat writer and a columnist. His columns were always so well written, and he had the unique ability to capture the most pertinent details with just the right amount of words. If Mike Jensen requested a credential, you knew the game and your athletes and coaches would be covered in a first-class fashion. Mike was such a joy to work with. He will be missed by the Philadelphia sports community.” — Dean Kenefick, Villanova media relations

~~~

“Mike, you always found the most interesting stories and dove deep to give even those on the inside fresh insight. You are a highly motivated and skilled writer. You described this era of Philadelphia basketball for us all to better appreciate it. You did it while being trustworthy and kind. I don’t like imagining Philly basketball without you but I know that won’t happen. I thank you for your immense past and future contributions as well as your friendship.” — John Giannini, Rowan College athletics director

~~~

“In my years as a player at Penn, an assistant at Penn and Temple, and a head coach at Colgate, I have always held Mike in the highest regard. I’ve admired his passion, intelligence, and thoughtfulness. Over the decades, as the media market and industry changed, I find it special that he remained trustworthy and embraced and respected Philadelphia and the basketball culture that he’s become a part of as his home.” — Matt Langel, Colgate MBB

~~~

“Long before I became a professional journalist, when I was still in high school, I was in awe of Jensen. The way he wrote, the stuff he was lucky enough to cover and, from a Philly basketball perspective, the way he had the pulse of that hoops-crazed city. The fact we’ve had a rapport the last few years has meant a lot to me, that this guy who I idolized as a young journalist would take the time. Congrats, Mike. Hell of a run.” — Josh Newman, sportswriter

~~~

“There aren’t many like Mike Jensen out there. Few writers possess the ability to tell deeply personal stories, analyze the current state of Philly hoops, and break down a player’s game all in one story. Mike not only did that regularly, but he made it look easy. And he did it all while helping mentor the next generation of local hoops writers.” — Matt Mullin, Philadelphia Inquirer digital sports editor

~~~

“I started covering the Big 5 for the Delco Times when I was a junior at La Salle. It was a dream. I had no idea what I was doing. Being around all these big Daily News and Inky writers that I read every single day was super intimidating. And then I met Mike Jensen at a Temple game. He introduced himself to me — which blew me away cause I was just some clueless college kid. Some people offer to help the young guys coming up but it’s just words. Mike meant it. He (and Mike Kern too) looked out for me. He pointed me in the right direction, made sure I was invited to dinners (and beers) on the road, and was always happy to talk about the craft. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to help the people coming up behind me — just like Mike always did. He’s a fantastic human.” — John Gonzalez, sportswriter

~~~

“Congratulations on your retirement Mike! Mike has been an iconic member of the Philadelphia basketball scene for decades. His inclusive storytelling and reporting have made Mike a must-read. Mike’s insight and knowledge of the local pulse of hoops, both men’s and women’s, has been an integral part of Philadelphia basketball community. Although we will miss Mike, I’m certain his writing and influence on our great game will continue. Slainte’.” — Kevin Lynch, Philadelphia Rise EYBL director

~~~

“Mike is the consummate journalist; he was more interested in getting it right than getting the most clicks. He built relationships that allowed him to provide his readers insight into teams , coaches and players while maintaining the trust of everyone he covered. I enjoyed so much his stories about our great sport. He will be missed.” — Steve Donahue, Penn MBB

“I remember a long time ago having a conversation with Bruce Wood, who at the time wrote for the Valley News and currently does a daily blog about Dartmouth football. We were discussing great writing and he talked about how much he enjoyed Alex Woolf. In particular, he mentioned Alex’s ability to ‘turn a phrase and make something his own.’ It changed the way I write, but more importantly it changed the way I READ…I became way more discerning and appreciative of great sports writing. Mike has been arguably my favorite read since I moved to Philadelphia more than (gulp) 18 years ago. He has his own unique style of writing, a good mix of real flair while still holding that rare ability to hear his voice in the words. Professionally, I’ve always appreciated his willingness to work with me, to bounce ideas off me, to sit on things when asked. He just gets it. 

“Finally, Mike has developed so many relationships around the city that he understands the various challenges—Temple is different than Penn, which is different than Drexel, which is different than Villanova, etc. He is fluent in all of them because he played the long game and took the time to get to know the folks who could help him learn and understand. He’s probably the most informed writer in the city, certainly at the college level, and because of that he has everyone’s trust. What a rare thing these days! I always enjoy conversations with him, texting with him, and reading his work. I’m glad to know that he’s not going away, he’s just moving into a new stage of his career, and I look forward to his future work.” — Mike Mahoney, Penn athletic communications

~~~

“Mike is special and one of the great ones. His career has been amazing and his writing has always been clear, concise and told the story accurately. He always provided extra details of things that you couldn’t get anywhere else. He inspired me to want to be a writer and even when I accomplished my goal of being a sportswriter, he always made time for me.” — Rob Knox, former Delco times sportswriter & athletics communications professional

~~~

“The Philly sports community has been lucky to have someone as knowledgeable, experienced and committed as Mike Jensen. And thank you to him for being one of the early believers and supporters of PYB.” — Eric Worley, Philadelphia Youth Basketball co-founder

~~~

Mike, your dedication to illuminating the world of Philly sports has always been something I greatly admire and appreciate. Your commitment to finding the stories that truly matter and making sure to show love to different generations always showed me how much you cared about the cities rich history and bright future. I wish you the best of luck and am honored to call you a friend.” — Mike Morak, Danny Rumph Classic director

~~~

“Mike was a great colleague and remains a great friend. Always a pleasure to cover something with him. Especially when we could go to Jack in the Box for two-for-99-cents tacos. Yo pal. We will always have Boise.” — Mike Kern, former Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter

~~~

“When I think of Philly basketball, Mike is one of the people I think of. He’s both entrenched in the tapestry of it, but also feels like our curator.” — Elan Vinokurov, Los Angeles Lakers scout

~~~

“As I read the Inquirer growing up, I was always drawn to Mike’s columns. The style. The subject matter. The history that is Philly hoops. His stories were a driving force in my pursuit of becoming a sports writer and I have treasured my conversations with Mike throughout the years. Best of luck in your future endeavors, Mike.” — Rich Flanagan, CoBL senior writer

~~~

“Mike Jensen is a man of the student athletes, coaches and schools, but also a man of the neighborhoods. He did not just deal with the obvious but he would dig down, find a relatable sports story and report from a different angle.

Simply put, Mike is a “good guy” and will be sorely missed, particularly by sports enthusiasts. He is a man of the people, always friendly, bit of a jokester, but always a professional. Thank you for everything Mike, and best wishes with the second chapter.” — Tom Shirley, Jefferson WBB

~~~

"College basketball in Philadelphia is special for many reasons -- the great history and traditions, the storied programs, and the fantastic players who have played a part in creating this beautiful mosaic that is unique to all major cities in America.” 

“Mike Jensen has played a critical role in painting this picture and has worked tirelessly to uncover countless stories that have touched lives and given college basketball fans a perspective of what makes Philly college hoops so great. Congrats, Mike, on a tremendous run. Thanks for always being fair, candid, and perhaps most importantly, getting it right (more often than not) over being first. Much appreciated." — Dan Lobacz, La Salle athletic communications

~~~

“I along with all of Philadelphia, have loved reading Mike Jensen‘s columns and articles for the past 30 years. I was always a big fan and became even a bigger fan when I got a chance to meet him in person at Cardinal O’Hara high school when Mike was doing a story on Sydney Nihill and her sister Hannah

He was an iconic columnist in my eyes, and after meeting him I found him to be a genuine, down-to-earth great Philly guy. I especially love the fact that he promoted women’s basketball by writing many articles/columns on the high school and Big 5. Mike, enjoy your retirement and thank you for so many years of amazing reads.” — Linda Genther, Comets Basketball director

~~~

“In a city full of characters and colorful stories, Mike found a way to cover almost all of them during his time at The Inquirer. He informed us, entertained us, and made us laugh. A good guy in a world full of bad actors, Mike asked thoughtful questions, sought new perspectives to old problems and genuinely cared about the people and places he wrote about. He understood that basketball in this town is a sacred thing — appreciating the nuances that made it special — but never treated it like a relic. I will miss reading Mike every week and wish him the best in his next chapter (or chapters, as it were).” — Barney Hughes, Rosemont MBB

~~~

“It was fitting that on the night Mike was honored for his retirement, Penn pulled off an unexpected upset over Villanova. (If you haven't read his column on the "Palestra magic" in that game, go do that now.) Though maybe Mike expected it. I always admired how much Mike seemed to know and care about Penn, dating back to his days covering some great Quakers teams in the mid-90s. As the best college basketball writer for any newspaper in any city ever (it's a fact, I checked with sources, don't bother trying to verify), he could have easily focused primarily on Villanova and the region's other dominant teams. But he always seemed to want to spread the newsprint around, writing good stories wherever it took him, often away from the limelight, from the Ivy League to the Big East, little underdogs to large powerhouses. And there was always such warmth to his stories, like everyone he wrote about was a friend.

As the best college basketball writer for any newspaper in any city ever (still true), it would have been easy for him to be aloof or not always approachable. But as a person, he's been incredibly friendly and warm too—and delightfully witty and sarcastic. For some reason, I still think about a joke he had in a Palestra column (what else?) when Michigan State lost to Penn State a few years back and Spartans head coach Tom Izzo apologized to the historic gym for his team's lackluster performance. Mike wrote: "Reached later for comment, the building accepted the apology." 

Mike, I just reached out to the Palestra for a comment on your retirement and the building said that it would like to thank you for all your incredible coverage over the years and to please return often—and especially for its 100th anniversary in a few years. (The building added, "I guess Gelston can come too.")” — Dave Zeitlin, Penn Gazette

~~~

“Wow, what can I say about Mike Jensen?

We worked a lot of years together at The Inquirer but I’m not sure of the exact number (more than 30 for sure). We covered a lot of college stories, football and basketball. The best times were on the road for Penn State football or covering Villanova basketball in the postseason. Of course, his sense of perspective when writing the stories was second to none. It reminded me of when the late, great Bill Lyon and I were together at the Masters or the NCAA Tournament and he always would say to me when it came time to write, “Well, JJ, it looks like you’re going to have to carry me again.” Then I would read his story and it was always perfect in content and tone. That’s what it was like working with Mike.

Mike had quite the range when it came to writing about college sports, particularly basketball, from dissecting the Final Four to finding a great column on a Division III team or an obscure player. He always crafted a great story on whatever and whomever he wrote about. But Mike also had an incredible way of collaborating with his colleagues if you happened to be on assignment with him, plus he had a great way of mentoring the interns who have been part of The Inquirer in recent years. He always had time for them and gave valuable advice and guidance.

Of course, the Mike Jensen I’ve known all these years is a Hall of Fame writer and person, and a better teammate and friend who treats people with kindness and respect. He leaves The Inquirer with a rich legacy that can be used as a model for those who will be writing local basketball and football after him. A lot of folks, including myself, can’t wait for his next chapter, or chapters, in the book he is planning to write on Philly Hoops. I hope to be one of the first in line.

Here’s to a great career, Mike. Fitzy and I hope you’ll be able to join us for breakfast on a regular basis.” — Joe Juliano, retired Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter

~~~

"Mike is a wonderful writer and maybe a better reporter. But what sets him apart are the personal traits that enhance those skills — his enthusiasm, his natural gregariousness, his curiosity and his good-natured doggedness.

He can immerse himself in a subject as well as anyone I’ve ever been around. He knows everyone he needs to know and manages to make all of them like him. And he’s always had the ability to know where the story is. The Inquirer and It’s readers will miss him immensely."  — Frank Fitzpatrick, retired Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter

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