The Last WordBernie Offstein didn't only live his life, he had an impact on those he met. Many paid their final respects yesterday to the man known simply by his first name.
By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
Bernie Offstein knew everything and everybody.
He was one of those Toronto originals who needed only one name. He was Bernie.
Some of his friends called him Coach. And he always was around. A man about basketball. Always there for whomever needed him.
It might have been a high school kid, looking for guidance. It might have been a policeman friend calling, seeking advice. It might have been the NBA, asking for a favour. It might have been the Raptors, needing his help.
Or maybe, It was just one of his good friends on the phone -- the regulars of the sporting round table, ready to meet for another late night of arguments, conversation and solving the world's problems at a table full of Chinese Food at Kum Jug Yuen, that tiny hole in the wall on Spadina Ave.
MADE A DIFFERENCE
Some people live in this city. Most people never touch it and few ever make a difference. But then there are those who are unique, who reach out and embrace the city, breathe life into those around him, and make this a better place to be.
Bernie made a difference. He didn't only live his life, he affected those he met and those he believed in and those who needed help. You could tell the kind of life he led when you saw the cross section of people, standing room only and double parked, at Steeles Memorial Chapel yesterday afternoon. This wasn't just another funeral -- it was collection of Toronto who's who.
Together, we laughed, we cried, we remembered a man who rolled up his sleeves for the love of sport and community and never got rich doing it. That wasn't his game. It always was about the people and the sport and what it can do for you, how it can enhance your life and in some cases, make your life.
It always was about someone other than Bernie. A kid. A charitable organization. A tournament in need of help. A volunteer board to serve on. Never about him. It was about Toronto or Canada or Israel or Maccabiah sport or a community centre or a camp. And there always was another game to be played, another gym to work out in, another team in need of a manager or an organizer, a coach or a tour guide.
Outside the very small world of Toronto basketball, Bernie wasn't necessarily a household name but fame, yesterday once again showed, is vastly overrated.
You almost could measure the success of the man when you looked around the chapel and witnessed who was there. There was the police chief, Julian Fantino, and a Police Honour Guard and not far from them, sat Tom Watt, the former Maple Leaf and University of Toronto coach, and across the room there was a row of Raptors employees and Michael Bradley, the injured forward, and Jay Triano, the national team coach, and everywhere there were media.
Not taking notes and snapping pictures. There because Bernie was a friend and a translator and a conscience and the first person willing to explain the language of basketball to those who didn't comprehend.
And around the room, there were so many high school basketball players, adults now, all grown up and dressed in jackets and ties -- all of them once upon a time were Bernie's kids. He may not have had his own but I never met anyone who had more.
Sport was his passion but basketball was his lifeblood. He was a virtual encyclopedia of the Toronto scene. Name a player, a team, a league, a year, a tournament and he would fill in the details.
And as the very successful Humber College coach Mike Katz pointed out in a poignant eulogy, Bernie was the commissioner of Toronto basketball, without portfolio. His mere presence at events validated their importance.
Upon Bernie's death, Steve Nash took the time to call and express his condolences. Bernie, who did security work for the Raptors and the NBA, went to Puerto Rico last summer on his own dime just to run interference for Nash, who was one of the few stars in the Olympic qualifying tournament.
Nash never really got a chance to thank him or to say goodbye. Sadly, not many of us did.