An early Christmas for Clarence ‘Eggy’ Tillman
Christmas came early for former Clarence “Eggy” Tillman.
On Tuesday, Tillman, who became a household name and a Philadelphia schoolboy legend in the 1970s as a member of the West Philadelphia High School Speedboys basketball team, received a motorized scooter to help him get around.
“I am at a loss for words,” Tillman said. “This is such a blessing. I’m very thankful and grateful to everyone who helped in getting me this scooter. I love you all.”
A fluid 6-foot-8 forward who could hit a jumper from either side of the basket with accuracy, Tillman complemented Gene Banks and Joe Garrett in 1977 as West Philadelphia rolled to a 30-0 record and was named the nation’s top-ranked team.
When Banks and Garrett graduated along with Mike Nichols and Darryl “City Lights” Warwick, it was Tillman who helped keep West Philly’s winning tradition going.
Back then, Tillman ran with the grace of a gazelle and walked with the stature of a king. Now, he has been slowed by several severe physical ailments, leaving the former hoops star is virtually incapacitated.
To help their former teammate and friend, Banks, Garrett, former Rutgers standout Kevin Black and others created a GoFundMe account to raise money to purchase a handicap scooter for Tillman.
A fundraising fish fry was held in October at 22nd Street Cafe, 1262 S. 22nd St. The 22nd Street Cafe is owned by former Southern High, La Salle University and Sacramento Kings star Lionel Simmons.
“You talk about taking care of our own, Lionel Simmons put the stamp on that,” said Banks, regarded by many as one of the greatest high school basketball players to play in Philadelphia. “Lionel stepped up big time. Not only did he allow us to use his facility, he also made up for the remaining funds when the goal was met. That’s big time love right there and I’m humbled by his act of compassion and generosity.
“Lionel isn’t going to brag or bring attention to what he did. He did it because that the way we were brought up, to look after each other. It’s what we learned playing in the [Sonny] Hill League and from people like [the late] James Flint and Tony Samartino. Those were lessons that were meant to help you in life.”
Former Overbrook High School basketball legend Ricky Tucker, the first player from Philadelphia to be successfully recruited by a Big East Conference school when he decided to go to Providence College in 1979, said there’s something special about the city’s basketball community.
“On the court, it’s hard fought but off the court, there’s nothing but love and respect,” Tucker said. “We’re all for one. It’s always been that way. It’s the way we were brought up and its something that’s passed on to the younger guys.”
Tillman was a McDonald’s All-American basketball team selection as a high school senior. He was one of two Philadelphia players selected to the 1978 team. The other was Roman Catholic’s Reggie Jackson who would play at the University of Maryland.
Tillman went on to play at the University of Kentucky before he transferred to Rutgers University. He would later spend several seasons playing professionally in Europe, South America and the Caribbean. He graduated from Alvernia University with a degree in behavioral health in 2010.
He spent several years as a drug counselor before being shuttered because of his ailments.
On Dec. 26, Tillman, Banks and Simmons will be inducted into the second class of the Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Fame at HERO Community Center, 17th and Tioga streets. Tillman and Banks will go in with the Class of the 1970s. Simmons will be entering with the class of the ’80s.
Now the only thing that’s stopping Tillman from riding is a ramp. He needs a ramp installed at his Southwest Philadelphia home so that he can take the scooter out.
“We’re working on getting that,” Banks said. “Once he gets that, Eggy will be mobile again.”
The thought of being mobile excites Tilliman.
“It’s going to be great,” he said. “So many people are helping to make this happen it’s unbelievable. I am really touched by all of this.”