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“I feel like I'm home.”
That's how Hal Lear began his speech before a crowd of his basketball contemporaries on Wednesday night, the eve of his #6 jersey's ascension to the rafters.
It was hard to argue with that logic, as he deliberately paused every so often throughout the course of his public address to acknowledge the various family members, friends and mentors who helped to shape his basketball career some 50 years ago.
Among them, Philadelphia basketball guru Sonny Hill, as well as former Temple greats Bill Mlkvy and Mark Macon.
They were spread out around the banquet hall -- his supporters, for many years, now supporting him in reflecting on a record-breaking career.
From the podium, Lear made sure that the ceremony was as much about them as it was about his storied Temple career.
“I'm deeply humbled by this occasion,” he began.
“Basketball, as you know, is a team sport. Life is a collaborative and team affair also. We get there with so much help you cannot believe.”
Lear certainly didn't need much help on the court in his heyday.
Named the 1956 NCAA Final Four MVP despite not appearing in the title game, Lear finished out his Temple career averaging 22 and 24 points per game in his junior and senior seasons, respectively. He is one of only three Owls to average 20 points per game in two different seasons.
Lear also continues to hold the single-season scoring record with 745 points -- and, even more impressively, he did so in an era before the establishment of the three-point line.
But as impressive as Lear's basketball pedigree reads, the genuine appreciation for the joys of life inherent in Lear's character is perhaps more evident.
“Hal told me that, of all the awards and accolades he received at Temple, nothing was more meaningful to him than the scholar-athlete of the year award he received in his senior season at Temple,” Athletic Director Bill Bradshaw said.
Current men's basketball head coach Fran Dunphy
attested to Lear's character in his brief speech, recalling the first time he and Lear met.
“I had heard his name over and over and over again by many people who were older than I and had more understanding of what a great player he was. But I wanted to meet him,” explained Dunphy.
“I get over towards Hal and I went to introduce myself and he says 'Hey, Coach Dunphy, how you doing?' I couldn't have been more honored.”
“He was a true gentleman,” Dunphy said.
That's why, on Wednesday night, Temple pulled out all the stops to recognize Lear's legacy at Temple University
At the halftime intermission, before a crowd honoring him with a standing ovation, he sauntered down a red carpet rolled out to the Liacouras Center's midcourt. At the other end, former Temple greats Mlkvy and Macon awaited his arrival.
As he joined them, the lights dimmed and a spotlight shone on the banner -- his banner -- bearing the #6, a number now retired from circulation in Temple basketball history, unfurled in its new home.
It hangs now in the upper rafters of the Liacouras Center next to, most appropriately, the banner bearing the late Guy Rodgers' name and number.
The duo often referred to as the “greatest backcourt combination in Philadelphia college basketball history” became united in eternity.
For a moment it seemed that time stood still.
Surrounded by some of his family and a few of his former teammates, Lear stood at center court and, in a moment where he was meant to be the center of attention, paid tribute to his dear friend and former teammate.
His gaze turned up to the banners, lingering on their shared space, the seemingly infinitesimal gap that separated his number from Rodgers' and smiled.
Tonight, number six came home.
By Kami Mattioli, Owlsports.com columnist