For someone born outside the Philadelphia area, Ballard Spahr partner and Philadelphia Youth Basketball Board Chairman, John Langel, is about as intertwined with the city’s basketball community as one could possibly be since joining Ballard in 1975. He has spent time as the 76ers chief negotiator in contract talks with the likes of World B. Free, Bobby Jones, and the great Julius Erving. He represented St. Joseph’s icon Matt Goukas’ in the deal that made him the first ever head coach of the Orlando Magic. He has fathered two sons, Matt and Casey, who grew up playing basketball in the Sonny Hill league and went on to star at Penn and Colgate, respectively. The godfather of his two Philadelphia basketball players is none other than former-76ers player and coach Doug Collins. However, for a man so committed to the Philadelphia community for so long, his most ambitious involvement came in December of 2014 when Kenny Holdsman approached him with a unique and bold idea.
“As a result of knowing a good deal about the basketball landscape in the city of Philadelphia, remembering the days of Sonny Hill and John Cheney, and not really seeing the same icons around nowadays, I saw a void and a need in the city that the idea of PYB addressed head on,” says Langel. “We met with various coaches and figures around the Philadelphia basketball scene and the sentiment was shared by all that there was a greater need now than ever for organized structured basketball that helps kids grow, on the court, and beyond the court. So eventually the idea gathered momentum and a group of us just said ‘hey, let’s do this’.”
Within a year, the ever-growing group that Langel and the other board members have been cultivating, has grown into a talented, determined, and influential board of 21 members that possess an impressive variety of personal and professional skill-sets and backgrounds, while all possessing strong ties to Philadelphia basketball and the overall success of our city and region. As for how a board of this quality was able to congeal so quickly, Langel has no doubt about the impetus that made it all possible.
“I think it’s the brilliance of the idea that attracts such a terrific board complement,” says Langel. “Our holistic approach is the key. If it’s just basketball then it’s just basketball and other people can fill that void, but using basketball as a vehicle to start with kids at four years of age and give them health, wellness, education, leadership is critically exciting. As I was hooked by that idea, so were other board members.”
Langel believes that the quality of the PYB leadership team makes the organization well equipped to work through some of the inherent challenges that come with being a brand new start-up with sky-high aspirations.
“I think the biggest challenge is going to be fundraising, as it always will be when you are a new organization trying to raise $25 million and also trying to serve the community in the interim,” he concedes. “However, I think it is important that we have a quality of board that brings such a diversity of thought that we can challenge each other and come up with something that works regardless of the size of the task. We have hired an outside expert to help us create a fundraising strategy. They have challenged us and we have challenged them, and our board has challenged each other and made real progress towards seeing how we will get this done.”
As for Langel himself, a 41-year career at Ballard Spahr is coming to an end next month, as he has announced his retirement from the firm. After the endless hours of groundbreaking legal work that he has put forth over the past four decades, Langel could easily be forgiven for wanting to take a step back from his role with PYB to take some time to relax as he enters the post-professional stage of his life. However, those thoughts have never crossed his mind, and his passion for continuing to grow the organization remains in full force.
“I don’t see retirement as shutting off the valve of what I want to do, it’s shutting off the valve of wanting to simply be identified just as a Ballard Spahr partner,” Langel insists. “I have had a rewarding career and this has been something long in coming that I have wanted to do. I don’t see it as retirement in that I go off into the sunset; I see it as retirement in that I am now available even more for PYB than I have been and can push even harder to help affect positive change in the lives of our city and region’s kids and communities.”
We wish John the best in his retirement and are grateful for his service as a lawyer, business leader, and an active citizen. We are delighted that he will continue to lead our board in these pivotal and formative years of our organization’s growth. The simultaneous building of a high-impact program, organization, and center require the caliber of leadership which an individual like John Langel is capable of delivering.