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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Real NBA: Last Night at the Spectrum

On Wednesday night, NBA TV aired "Real NBA: Last Night at the Spectrum," a retrospective look at the final 76ers game played at the arena that hosted the team from 1967-1996. The 76ers made it to the Finals four times (1977, 1980, 1982-83) during the Spectrum era, led on each occasion by the spectacular all-around play and high flying exploits of the incomparable Dr. J, Julius Erving. Erving, Moses Malone and Bobby Jones were among the Sixers vets who returned to the Spectrum one last time to say goodbye.

Erving led "Real NBA" on one last tour of his old stomping grounds, saying, "As I walk down the steps and I walk into the building now, it conjures up a lot of memories. My first NBA game in this building was a home game against the San Antonio Spurs and I remember very vividly coming down the tunnel. I thought that it was a marriage that was consummated that first night and it was very special because it led to 11 years of glory. The city adopted me and I adopted the things that were a part of Philadelphia, from the Liberty Bell to the statue on top of City Hall. This became my adopted home."

He continued, "I always felt that the Sixers were the patriotic team. Boston always had the parquet floor. You go to L.A. and everything was gold and white with a touch of blue. I mean, our thing was red, white and blue and this floor reeks of that. When you look at our logos, we are true red blooded American by design." It was really something to hear Erving say that, because when I watched him as a kid I had very similar thoughts--seeing him in the old Sixers uniforms that had those patriotic colors, I imagined him to be a larger than life American hero. He wore number six, which I thought was fitting because he was the quintessential Sixer to me (of course, I later learned that he wore number six to honor his childhood hero, Bill Russell). It is interesting that Doc also wore red, white and blue for three years as a New York Net.

Erving recalled, "On game day I was usually one of the first ones here...I had a corner locker. Nobody liked to be next to me because I was always the nicest guy to the media, so they knew that I was going to stay long (after the game)." He rattled off the names of some of the players who shared that locker room with him over the years: "Toney, Cheeks, Jones, Dawkins, Free, Joe Bryant, Mike Dunleavy, Doug Collins, George McGinnis. This was a great time in my life."

Next, Erving walked out to center court and spoke about a very special memory: "When we had big games, right here at center court we would have the two teams lined up. I was always the last one introduced. Grover Washington Jr. would stand here and he would play the National Anthem for us. Every time he finished the National Anthem, he would turn to me and he would always point his finger and I would point my finger back at him. That was the sign that we were ready. We were ready to do battle."

No visit to the Spectrum would be complete without reliving what Basketball Digest once called the "No way even for Dr. J reverse layup," Erving's sensational baseline move in game four of the 1980 NBA Finals:

"There is one significant moment that I think about, Sixers versus the Lakers," Erving said. "On this particular play, I ended up taking the baseline, drove it hard, one dribble, maybe two dribbles. I got some pretty good momentum, so I took off, elevated, found myself soaring along the baseline and I just waited as long as I could until I got to the other side and then I kind of turned back this way and put a little reverse spin on the ball." Of course, even the eloquent Erving does not have the words to do justice to this move (a move that ABA observers swear would not even crack the top ten of the moves that he did as a young player in that league). In order to appreciate this reverse layup, you have to look at it in freeze frame and pause at the moment when Doc is in full flight: it looks as though he is literally walking on air and he is holding the ball in his oversized right hand, which is extended well over the out of bounds line. I once heard Doc say that when he jumped he had first planned to dunk, but then he saw Kareem Abdul-Jabbar come over so he brought the ball down (that is when he was holding it over the end line) in order to pass it but no one cut to the hoop behind Kareem so Erving simply kept flying and shot a reverse. He did all of that moving (and thinking) while suspended in mid-air! Younger people may not understand or believe it, but if Doc were playing today SportsCenter would probably be named after him. There is a very good reason that Al Bianchi (Doc's first pro coach) says that he never had bench players pay better attention to the game during his coaching career than when he coached Erving: no one wanted to miss Doc's next house call.

The Sixers won the championship in 1982-83, setting a record by going 12-1 in the playoffs. Looking at the championshp banner in the rafters, Erving remembered, "That special season for us when we did it started in the offseason. Harold Katz made the deal for Moses Malone, who was the reigning MVP of the league. I was the previous season's MVP. So now you had the MVP from 1981 and the MVP from 1982 playing on the same team in the 1982-83 season. So that's a good start. There was a sense of urgency, a sense of purpose. It really was a no nonsense season. History was made during that year. It is something that I thank God for, because it didn't have to happen but it did. So, I'm humbled by it."

Erving spoke to the crowd before the last game: "More than two decades ago, I was able to stand here in retirement and issue a little challenge for this to become a better franchise. So, as I stand here before you again today and issue a challenge to today's players, who will one day be old like us; we issue a challenge to be great ambassadors and always play hard, give your best, as you are going to do tonight, as you take care of the Chicago Bulls, like we used to."

How could the Sixers lose after that? Wearing throwback uniforms, they shut down the Spectrum by beating the Bulls, 104-101.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:30 AM



At Thursday, March 26, 2009 9:13:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

I DVRed that and watched it and loved it. Thats what NBATV needs to show more of. The history and the essence of the game. It was perfect having Dr. J do the tour. I know they didnt but those Sixers should have won at least 3 titles. I dont think Doctor J gets enough credit for what he has done for basketball. If Doc played today, you wouldnt miss a game. With these players today, you dont get that same excitement that you did when Doc played.

Zinkoff was the best. Being a Knicks fan I loved Condon of course with his "That was Otis Birdsong." But I like Zinkoff because he would say Birdddsong. It was just different. I miss the old PA announcers instead of these yellers and screamers. As strange as it is I liked the way rim sounded when the ball hit the rim. And I like the background music during the game as well. The Spectrum was one of the best.

At Thursday, March 26, 2009 1:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that NBA TV should air more programs like this one.


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