Former Villanova Star Howard Porter Dies After Beating

While not strictly “criminal law” related,” I post this because it is a significant Philadelphia story. For those who are Villanova graduates, as I am (Law, ’92), we are grieving this tragic, tragic death.  below the fold is today’s Philadelphia Inquirer story.

Howard Porter, one of the all-time greats of Villanova basketball, died Friday at 58 after being severely beaten and found in a Minneapolis alley last week, university officials disclosed today.

Mr. Porter resided in St. Paul, Minn., where he worked as a probation officer. He reportedly suffered brain damage in an assault. Police said no one had been arrested and they had no suspects.

“The entire Villanova family is saddened by the news of Howard’s death,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. “Howard provided so many Villanovans with thrills on the basketball court playing for Coach [Jack] Kraft. Since his playing days ended, he has been an outstanding role model for our current players and coaching staff.

“Howard was a kind, gentle, and humble man who loved his family and Villanova. We will all miss him.”

Mr. Porter’s basketball career and life were filled with peaks and valleys, including a run to the NCAA title game that was later vacated, a battle with drug addiction, and a remarkable recovery. But his ties to Villanova were always a point of pride to him, his friends said.

“I thought he very much relished it,” said Tom Ingelsby, a teammate of Mr. Porter’s. “He was a very proud graduate and was happy to be welcomed back in.”

In 1971, Mr. Porter, a 6-foot-8 forward, helped guide Villanova to the NCAA final at the Astrodome in Houston, where the Wildcats lost to UCLA, 68-62.

Mr. Porter fell out of grace for a time with Villanova, after it was discovered that he had dealt with an agent as a student. The NCAA vacated Villanova’s runner-up status and Mr. Porter’s award as most outstanding player in the Final Four.

From 1968 to ’71 at Villanova, Mr. Porter averaged 22.8 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. In the championship game, he played 40 minutes and collected 25 points and eight rebounds.

In 1997, the Wildcats retired his uniform number. His No. 54 jersey hangs from the rafters at the Pavilion.

“I watched him play and idolized him as a kid,” Wright said.

After a seven-year NBA career with the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons, Mr. Porter began abusing drugs.

The native of Sarasota, Fla., underwent rehabilitation in Minnesota in 1989 and fell in love with the area, deciding to make it his home.

“Teammates never had any problems with him at all,” Ingelsby said. “He was just a really great guy.”

Ingelsby expressed pride at the way Mr. Porter turned his life around.

“Every time I had seen him, he was in great shape,” Ingelsby said. “Everything in his life was positive. He was starting a new life with his wife. He was very enthused about the possibilities of his future.”

Wright was happy to welcome Mr. Porter back into the fold.

When Mr. Porter walked into the Pavilion in 2001 for a legends gala, 30 years after helping Villanova’s basketball team reach the championship game, Wright recalled Mr. Porter’s happiness and humility.

Wright was eager to introduce his players to Mr. Porter.

“They saw a big, handsome, classic guy in a derby hat and shirt and tie,” Wright recalled. “He was very humble, almost shy. It was really cool for guys to see. There was a kind of class about him. It shows the guys this is what you can become.”

In the early 1970s, Mr. Porter was the big man on campus.

“He was a player with tremendous talent,” said Rosa Gatti, a student at the time Mr. Porter played and later the Villanova sports information director. “It was an exciting era and a great achievement by the team.”

The details surrounding Mr. Porter’s death remain a mystery.

Mr. Porter was hospitalized after he was found unconscious in an alley without identification on the morning of May 19. Mr. Porter vanished about 9 p.m. the previous day after leaving his home in St. Paul.

His car was discovered May 20 and police asked the public for help in finding him.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Mr. Porter suffered a severe brain injury.

According to former teammates, Mr. Porter’s wife, Theresa, and family members were by his side at an undisclosed Minnesota hospital.

It remained unclear whether Mr. Porter’s death was linked to his job as a probation officer for Ramsey County, a position he had held since 1995.

Wright said Mr. Porter will not be forgotten at Villanova.

“He is a beloved figure here,” Wright said. “The way he had come back and been embraced, it’s increased his legend. This is tough.”

A few years ago, Mr. Porter attended a conference on sports and spirituality at Neumann College, where former Villanova teammate Ed Hastings now works.

“He had been through a lot,” Hastings said. “He really talked about how significant his faith was, especially when he was really down. He talked also about how significant his teammates were.

“The great thing for me is he just went through some hard stuff, but he just turned his life around. Part of it was his faith and part of it was his wife, Theresa. Another part of it was the work he was doing.”

Playing alongside Mr. Porter was a dream come true for Hastings.

“We were just in awe of him,” Hastings said. “He was just 6-8, but his shoulders were huge. He was a tremendous rebounder, a great shot blocker and a great shooter. He wouldn’t just tip a blocked shot. He’d put them 10 rows up.”

Facing UCLA did not give Mr. Porter the jitters. He was confident, as always, Hastings said.

“He was not intimidated by Sydney Wicks or Curtis Rowe or the UCLA mystique and John Wooden,” he said. “It didn’t bother him. He was awesome in every sense of that word.”

Funeral arrangements were pending. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made in Mr. Porter’s name to Villanova’s V Club.

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2 Responses to Former Villanova Star Howard Porter Dies After Beating
  1. May 28, 2007 | 2:32 am

    I am so pleased to see an article about Mr. H.P that didn’t focus on the negative. Everything you wrote was exactly what was previously written in the local newspapers here in MN. But your article was much more tasteful. Mr. Porter was a great man in the community and will be missed by all. I responded to a comment in a local paper that was stated “Just tell me, how does a cocaine addict turn probation officer?” My response was “WITH GOD’S GRACE ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE” Mr. Porter took the time, every time, to speak with the youth and young adults of the community (male or female). He didn’t try to sugar coat his past mistakes nor make light of his trials. Mr. Porter did make sure to leave FAITH with those he came into contact with. He assured them that God made a way out of no way for him and that God would do the same for you. My family will continue to pray for Mr. Porter’s entire family, his employee’s, his work log members, the community and whoever is responsible for this senseless tragic. Howard you will be missed all over the world:)

  2. June 6, 2007 | 6:24 pm

    I believe God used Howard Porter and it sounds like he was a caring human being and did so much good for others.I believe he did give a lot of young people hope. This is a tragedy..I pray for his family.