Big 5 to honor Marvin O'Connor

An area native is building his legacy with a basketball
Hall of Fame induction and humanitarian efforts.

By Joseph Myers

Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 24, 2013

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Marvin O’Connor maintains a basketball profile, but hoisting hopes has come to matter much more than launching jump shots.

Photo by Greg Bezanis

Because many vital figures have offered him guidance, Marvin O’Connor revels in reciprocating altruism. The 34-year-old former basketball standout will enjoy his most prominent opportunity to give gratitude tomorrow, as he and four other personalities will join the Philadelphia Big 5 Hall of Fame during a luncheon at the University of Pennsylvania’s Palestra. 

The honor will mark another boon for O’Connor, whose post-basketball career includes a thriving foray into business and an ambitious plan to open a community center.

“It’s going to be great to be among so many excellent people,” the 2002 Saint Joseph’s University graduate said Friday from his three-year-old food establishment Black Poppy’s 2, 1352 S. 30th St. “My speech will be among the shortest, but it will include appreciation for all my supporters.”

Already a member of his alma mater’s set of immortal contributors, O’Connor, who grew up on the 3000 block of Hemberger Terrace within the since-demolished Passyunk Homes projects, could not immediately fathom a congratulatory Hall of Fame-related text message from Hawks’ coach Phil Martelli last month. Once fully aware, he began reflecting on basketball’s place in his life’s journey.

“The sport has helped me to see many places and meet fantastic individuals,” the 6-foot-4 presence said. “From it, I can say I’ve done much of what I’ve wanted to do, but I don’t want to be capped off. I want more.”

When speaking of additional opportunities, O’Connor quickly noted he does not desire excess for himself, only for acquaintances and, based on his nearly year-old quest to build a Germantown community center with educational and recreational offerings, strangers. He has felt an affinity for communities his whole life, with a deferred dream giving him his current vision.

“I’ve always had it in me to help people, to reach back and provide a more positive vibe to poverty-stricken areas,” the Delaware dweller said. “The urge intensified about a decade ago, and I’ve been tending to it since.”

After his elementary days at Vare Middle School, now Universal Vare Charter Middle School, 2100 S. 24th St., O’Connor attended North Philadelphia’s Simon Gratz High School, helping the Bulldogs capture the 1997 Public League title. After a year at Villanova University, he transferred to Saint Joseph’s, fashioning a fine tenure on Hawk Hill by scoring 1,678 points; earning three All-Atlantic 10 selections and as many Big 5 nods; and capturing the Palumbo Award as the quintet’s top scorer and Geasey Award as its player of the year, as well as the same conference distinction as a junior. That season included his registering a 37-point outburst against Stanford University in the NCAA Tournament and stroking 18 points in the last minute of a game against La Salle University. Crafting a fine senior year, he hoped an NBA franchise would draft him, but he needed to build an overseas reputation when none did.

“I loved the competition,” the guard said of time in Italy, Slovenia and the former Yugoslavia. “Homesickness was the lone drawback.”

Distance proved decisive for O’Connor, who had enhanced his understanding of community structure by majoring in sociology. Returning to America, he opened the now-10-year-old C.O.F.A./Christian Sports Inc. Activity Center in North Philadelphia and looked for more occasions to promote positive messages and enrich neighborhoods.

“I appreciate what people go through, especially families,” O’Connor, who has a wife and a 2-year-old daughter, said. “More folks need to act to create stronger households and communities.”

The enthusiastic individual has expanded his business portfolio to include the aforementioned eatery; its namesake, Black Poppy’s, a convenience store at 30th and Reed streets; and an East Falls-based medical transport company of which he is part owner.

“Being a businessman is definitely a thrilling venture, but I do it mostly to have an opportunity to employ friends, to remove them from negativity often surrounding this area,” O’Connor said.

As active in civic matters as he was when assisting his squads, he decided late in ’11 to take on his biggest project and acquired property in Germantown last February, intending for it to become a community center. Unlike C.O.F.A., through which he offers only aids for the body, the second tract would present benefits for the brain, too.

“I don’t want to provide only recreation,” O’Connor said, “because there’s a point where recreation stops and education kicks in.”

Still in the preliminary phase for the endeavor, which he has learned could cost as much as $1.8 million, he foresees scheduling tutoring sessions for area students, SAT prep classes and G.E.D. instruction. Aware that job creation has proven a key topic among so many movers and shakers, O’Connor has touted vocational training in his talks with politicians and corporations. Though reaching top figures and securing backing have yet to materialize on a grand scale, he has won the approval of residents.

“Going forward, I would love to have something in South Philly, too,” he said of his original turf.

Though other priorities have eclipsed basketball, O’Connor maintains his jumper by playing in multiple leagues. He never allows the game to stray far from his mind, as it has enticed him to aim for more than rims.

“I’ve loved what being a competitor has taught me,” O’Connor, who will become the 50th Hawk enshrined by the Big 5, said. “Aside from looking to come through for ourselves, we’re looking to help others. That’s life in a nutshell.” ■

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