His doctor won’t let him work out at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael 4-5 times a week any longer, but despite recovering from cancer and turning 90 years old this fall, legendary semi-retired boys basketball Coach Elio “Abe” Abrami still gets to the gym twice each week more than almost everyone, even people half his age.
After teaching and coaching boys basketball from 1955-1993 at Emery-Emeryville, Abrami announced his retirement immediately after his team, led by Darnell Robinson (of Arkansas and NBA fame), won the 1993 CIF Division V state championship with a 74-47 victory over Brethren Christian-Cypress.
During his announcement at the press conference after the game at the Oakland Coliseum, all present were touched by the site of the 6-11 Robinson, who was like a son to Abrami, with his arms around his coach as both were in tears.
Don Lippi of St. Joseph Notre Dame recorded coaching win No. 800 when his team won the CIF Division V state championship this season. Abrami got his career coaching win No. 800 in the 1993 D5 quarterfinals, and the state title-game victory was career win No. 802, which at the time was the most in state history.
Since then, six coaches have passed Abrami according to the record keeping of Cal-Hi Sports but Abrami held the record for most wins for five years until he was passed in 1998 by Lou Cvijanovich (829 wins) of Santa Clara-Oxnard.
Abrami has continued to coach at the lower levels and last was a head coach in 2010 when he commuted 25 miles each way from his Novato home to coach the freshmen girls at Tamalpais-Mill Valley for a few years. When Abrami retired for a second time the local community newspaper did a story about him and they received dozens of emails from Tam parents expressing their love and appreciation for his efforts.
No quit in Abe
It had been a few months since Abrami was seen at the gym of the Marin JCC where he loves to do leg pushes, ride the stationary bike and do some stretching. He quit coaching for a time when his wife was sick and then passed away in 2011. After that he was a fixture at the gym up until earlier this year.
It turns out he had blood cancer, but although it was a fight he beat it and looks pretty darn good for a guy pushing age 90. Not only that, but he’s still coaching and coached the past two years on the Tam boys junior varsity team as an assistant. Abrami even commuted to Mill Valley during cancer treatments but when the season was over was when he disappeared for more intense treatments.
“I made it through the season but after that the pills they were giving me weren’t working,” said Abrami, who adds. “I might be back next year to help with the freshmen if they’ll have me and I can do it.”
In a bit of a twist, this year’s CIF Division V girls state championship Coach Donovan Blythe of Eastside Prep-East Palo Alto, is also a cancer survivor, and ironically was an assistant to Abrami on the 1993 state championship team.
“Abe was a good man. He was awesome. I’m blessed I was able to help him accomplish something,” Blythe said. “After hearing he had cancer when I saw his picture on the bike I had to laugh. He looks great.”
Not only does Abrami look great but he’s feeling good as well despite the nearly year-long battle with cancer.
“I guess I’m a bad apple and god didn’t want me up there with all those good apples,” Abrami mused with reference to beating the cancer.
“I’m not doing that bad. In fact, I feel pretty good. Right now the doctor told me to get my exercise and watch my diet,” continued Abrami, who was a four-sport star at Balboa-San Francisco and a member of the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. “I’m coming to work out on Monday and Wednesday. I’d like to come more but the doctor doesn’t want me to push it.”
Besides the six coaches that have passed him already, Lippi will do so early next season.
“Records are made to be broken and I’m happy for him,” said Abrami when told Lippi got win No. 800 in the state championship game.
“It’s great to hear Abe’s doing well and can still work out and still wants to coach,” Lippi remarked. “I was playing basketball on Saturday but at 68 I’m just a puppy compared to him.”
The doctor may not want him to push it too much but when the interview was over Abrami started doing leg pushes like there was no tomorrow. He has to stay in shape because if everything works out the freshmen at Tam this fall will be getting some tutelage from one of the greatest basketball coaches in California history.