by Michael Tillery
R.I.P. Bill Davidson. Your teams were your mirror…lock, stock and barrel. The city of Detroit as well as true fans of the NBA will remember what you have given us forever more. Thank you sir. I wish your family peace.
That the Sixers defeated the Bulls 104-101 behind Thaddeus Young’s career high of 31, Andre Iguodala’s 25 and Andre Miller’s 13 assists added to the once in a life time moment. I was glad to be here. Being from the area, there were many events held in the Spectrum that I attended with my family, friends and dates. An era is gone. Since Julius Erving was a huge part of this building’s history, a lot of the following words have him in mind.
I will not let his legacy die.
It’s funny but when I initially heard the Spectrum was closing, it was against these same Bulls. That was the night the Bull Wonder…Derrick Rose put Andre Miller’s lower extremities in traction way before Kobe hustled beneficiary benefits for the relatives of broken ankles.
So I circled the date.
Just to put the night in a personal and most proper perspective, March 13 is the anniversary of my Mom’s death.
No, no don’t get it twisted. This is nothing sad. She was alive when my first Spectrum memories were made so how could this day be bad? I just wanted to give you a reason why every moment of this night is burned into my physical and mental frame and mainly, because of this:
“And now…No. 6…Dr. J…Julius Errrrrrrrrrrving!”
Even if you weren’t from around here you’ve heard that once in a lifetime, we all miss you Dave Zinkoff, player announcement.
Could Zink have been the first Hip Hop hypeman?
He changed the game…No…he created the game. Your emotions were stirred oh so nicely when Doc’s name was heard over the loud speakers. Those words probably stole a lot of teams’ soul before the rock was tossed in the air because when it came down…it was trouble.
You see Kobe’s basketball grandfather loved it when you jumped nonsensical. He hung in the air so long and so strong he could probably buy you and your girl dinner before those red on white Converse leathers hit the floor. Yeah…you were dreaming and when you finally woke from your Doc dinner fantasy, the crowd sobers you with stupid noise as your coach is yelling at you passionately—saliva flying but without sound. You shake the cobwebs only to see No. 6 stroll jazzy up the floor to give Mo Cheeks dap with those colossal hands of his.
The crowd roars as Zink chomps at the bit just for the chance to say the legendary memorable fantastic once again.
No one spoke with Doc but here’s some of the conversation he and I had at the Finals in Boston. I wanted to put Doc’s career in perspective. It seems that over the years his stamp on the game is slowly being erased in nothing but Mike imagery. If there was no Doc, his absence would have altered Mike’s game and there subsequently would be no Kobe because the natural emulation of Michael.
SLAM: Do you think they (Magic and Larry) appreciate that when they came into the League you were in the twilight of an amazing career and when they left, Mike was there? Now it’s Kobe. We talked about this when you were in Philly. Could you elaborate more on that historical connection?
Julius Erving: There are certain players in the history of the League…when you mention their name…Elgin would be in that category…the Hawk (Connie Hawkins)…Dr. J…Michael Jordan…Kobe Bryant. You are talking about the individuals more than the teams. Their individual approach to the game certainly overshadowed the team.
It’s so important for players of that gift to find a way to adapt and adjust and make less more. Kobe has done less this year so the team can do more. They don’t need him to score 81 points any given night. It still might happen over the course of the season, but if it happened in one of these playoff games they probably wouldn’t win that game.
SLAM: With that being said Julius, you didn’t have to develop a jumper as early as Mike and certainly not as early as Kobe. Is that because the team dynamic has changed over the years?
JE: My game evolved in three different stages. Obviously the first five years in the ABA, then the first five in the NBA and then the last six years. I was almost three different players because I had to adjust and adapt. Obviously when we got Moses in ‘83, there was a significant adjustment, but I always played the same position of small forward.
Michael moving to the back court and Kobe who played swing man, those guys were viewed as guards, so hence the evolution. Guards control the game now.
I was the first guy since Oscar Robertson in 1965, who was a non-center to win the Most Valuable Player Award. There was a time in there where the forwards…myself, Bird, Magic to a degree because he was a big guard who played all the positions…were the focus of the League and its championship teams. They had to have that guy, but now it’s the guards.
Magic spearheaded that. Michael moving to the back court and developing a three point shot adding range to his game. In his first five years he posted up more, played the wing, played the corners.
When I was in the ABA I shot threes. I was all over the court. It was a freewheeling and different scenario.
In Philadelphia…especially with Gene Shue…it was a major adjustment. I was willing to do that for the good of the team. We won fifty some odd years in my first year in Philly and went to the Finals (losing to Portland). It validated that it was the right thing to do even though individually I could score at will and on anyone but resting in the fourth quarter was not an option.
SLAM: Doc, I talked to Mo that same day and asked him why he didn’t pass you the ball on that last basket in ‘83. What do you think he said?
JE: (Laughs) I don’t know because I was most definitely calling for it. What did he say he didn’t see me? He just…(laughs more). He didn’t see me. I was yelling.
SLAM: Yeah, he said he didn’t see you.
JE: Usually, you didn’t have to yell at Mo. Darryl Dawkins…(Kobe interrupts to whisper something to Doc)…said Mo had the “Doc eye.” It wasn’t working that day (laughs). I didn’t know he could dunk like that.
But, but…this time Mo Cheeks isn’t there to give him the aforementioned “Doc eye.”
He perfected the hesitation dribble way back. Was it his signature?
The son of the Chicago steal was fired unceremoniously on December 13, 2008…the day a mixture of fan frustration mired in March 13 fan and history unfriendly insensitivity. How could he not be here? I wonder if he and Andrew Toney spoke in the days leading up to the closing—the humble unemotional beings they are—and if the hypothetical conversation had a relevant tint of anger? If not, I’m angry for them. How could they not be here?
Sorry to say it Mr. Snider, but you could have made this happen. Think about the young fan who would have asked his father who No. 10 and 22 were…hypothetically growing and balling and eventually falling into your lap in the 2018 Draft and ultimately becoming the greatest basket scoring assist man ever.
Shame on you for depriving us all of that not so illogical fantasy, for when that pass futuristic is no looked and the pill just bounces out of bounds…out of sight…out of touch…I hope you remember just how bitter the tastes is as you catch a case of Mo Strangler acid reflux.
“I was looking forward to getting a chance to see him and talk to him a little bit before the game. We check up on each other from time to time through text messages. That was my first coach, so I definitely don’t want to lose touch with him. I want to keep that going. He was a good person. Coming into this league, I didn’t know anything about him, but he was like that father who put me up on his shoulders and let me know that I could actually play in this league. I take things with me that he has instilled in me and I miss him dearly.”
Good words Thad the Young one. Think of it this way Thaddeus…you scored a career high of 31. Take away your uniform number and what do you have?
The No. 10. That’s tribute enough.
There was something about this place that took me back to way before the EST’s new wave afro rocked us like only Philly Hip Hop can. The crowd was Brian Dawkins being introduced electric. You couldn’t help but to feel it. One by one past Philly greats were introduced by comedian and great Zinkoff impersonator Joe Conklin. With each applause the crowd grew louder and louder until that legendary whirly dervish appeared from out of the tunnel and the place temporarily fell back to 1983.
The 80’s music (Thad laughed at me when West End Girls played because I knew the words). The old school scoreboard where you could actually see the pixels which made images resemble legos. That Spectrum logo. The smallish press room and even smaller underbelly tunnel leading to the locker rooms that had the feel of a coal mine—loud drips and everything.
Damn was this grand…
When Derrick Rose fell low in reverse for a sickdiculous two handed jam that made the grand ladies in attendance give the stinky face, you knew this night had meaning. His dunk was a reminder the time travel illusion I allude to was no more real than all the real fake Doc afros blowing in a Cheeks led fast break wind. There was no ankle breaking tonight. Andre Miller ripped Pooh’s crossover on a couple of occasions—leading to dunks on the other end—and finished with 13 assists.
SLAM: Dre, how do you connect with a night even though you personally have no connection with the building?
Andre Miller: I was a Laker fan, Mike. I followed it. I enjoyed watching the Lakers/Sixers rivalry. I was young at the time, but I understood what was going on. So, having the opportunity to play here? I enjoyed it.
Ahh the nostalgia. Ooooh, there’s Sonny Hill…a true Philadelphia Freedom institution not a Rocky one. Hmmm, I wonder what he has to say about all of this? What are his seminal moments here I thought to myself? Does he miss Wilt not being here?
Maybe I should ask him, huh?
Sonny Hill: This speaks volumes about the leadership of the organization because when I walked in I could just feel it. You could just feel the building. Then over the course of the game…and leading up to how it ended…that brought back memories of the good times when we were the one of the favorites in the League.
I’ve been around for a long time, so I have a lot of memories. I started my broadcasting career here in 1969. I did that with Andy Musser. It’s good to see him back here. He made it possible for me to be who I am in the broadcast industry. I did the championship game where Doc and Magic were matched up on Mutual Radio. I was instrumental with getting Wilt’s number retired. I was also instrumental in getting Hal Greer’s number retired because of the rift he had with the organization.
Wilt was here in memory. Because of the closeness I had with him, that memory is there. As they say, he’s larger than life. Although he’s no longer living, he’s still larger than life up there (points to the sky). There’s always an ambiance of the Big Fella because he is truly…the one and only Big Fella.
SLAM: Sonny, just for the record because I know who are going to say because of previous conversations, who is the greatest player in NBA history?
SH: Wilt! It’s not even close. Do you know what Oscar Robertson said?
SLAM: Nah, what?
SH: The record book does not lie. He owns the record book.
I didn’t see a shade of Celtic green anywhere in the house…and that’s a good thing…but damnit if I didn’t see Michael Bivins chillin’ next to the Bulls bench. Poison by Bell Biv Devoe was a signature 1990 club track and his presence here tonight was apropos nevertheless.
Let me get an entertainer’s perspective. Every time I see him he tells me to tell SLAM’s Ryan Jones hello.
Michael Bivins: I spent most of my time in this building selling it out with concerts. I remember the rivalry. I feel like I’m a part of history. It’s a historical building. It’s not that I hate on the Sixers, I just wanted to be here and see it go down. I’ve been in here many nights performing, so it means something.”
SLAM: What you have going on now, bruh?
MB: I’m here for the 100.3 music conference, but I feel lucky to be a part of history and be here tonight. Also, I’m trying to get in SLAM magazine for my street ball tournament.”
Andre Iguodala is most definitely one of the best in the L in terms of the crowd pleasing fast break bang. His ferocious dunks are his trademark and the Sixers are known to have someone who could fit this dynamic since Julius spoiled us all.
SLAM: If you think of it Dre, you are that high flyer Philadelphia covets. What team did you like growing up?
Andre Iguodala: I was a Bulls fan.
SLAM: Did you watch any video of Doc’s game?
AI: A little bit. I was too young to follow him. I was a MJ fan but you definitely saw Dr. J in Jordan so you understand the comparisons people make.
SLAM: Put this win in career perspective. Is this a win you will always cherish because of all the nostalgia?
AI: Oh definitely. I got a souvenir I have in my bag that I can take with me. I will frame it and it’s something no one else can say they are a part of as far as being on that court during the last game here.
World B. Free is still a fixture around these parts. He interacts with the community to give the fans a chance to speak with a former NBA player during games here. His rainbow jumper was so sick it made the crowd wet and jump back when the rock smacked the net.
SLAM: World, what’s it like for you to grace this building once again?
World B. Free: As a rookie, we had our bomb squad. The first time I had an opportunity to play with Doc and George McGinnis? It was unbelievable for me. I remember one moment when Doc came here the year after George McGinnis arrived, the crowd was electric. The NBA merged with the ABA and of course it was a sellout crowd. They used to smoke in this building so when they introduced the starting five it was like coming out of the smoke at a concert. When Zink introduced Doc—before he got it all out—a fan ran right down this isle right here and ran dead onto the floor and put a doctor bag right in the middle of the Spectrum logo. Security rushed him out because no one knew what he was doing.”
SLAM: Wow that must have been crazy. I wonder if my Pop was here. In competitive terms, what are some of the games you remember most?
WBF: I remember playing the Boston Celtics here. Boston used to always beat Philly. When I arrived [the Sixers] were 7-63.Our turnaround was when George McGinnis became the man. We were playing Boston—trying to get into the playoffs—and down by 11 or 12 points with about 3 minutes left and ended up winning. I was going nuts on it and had about 17. It was a helluva game. The crowd was going crazy. Everybody had these kind of hats on (he points to his derby). Darryl Dawkins was dunking from everywhere. He was the man. If you missed the layup line, you missed the show.”
SLAM: Your jumper was as unique as we’ve ever seen in the League. What was up with that arc?
WBF: The reason why I put so much arc on the jumper was this: In high school, I had a 44 inch vertical leap but I saw this guy who could shoot the ball way up in the sky. I wasn’t the tallest guy but I knew I could get them with my jumper if I could just get it over them. It started rolling like that and I perfected it. (We laugh and almost simultaneously say “Rainbow!”)
Franklin Edwards, who was a second year player on the championship squad, is standing at half court with a smile that was straight cheeeese. I could feel his thoughts drift back to those seminal moments of his NBA life. He was at peace but I had to capture the moment:
Franklin Edwards: The memories of this place…the camaraderie of the team and just as importantly, the organization. I’ve always felt our team had a love affair with the Philadelphia fans. Tonight is a great honor to be among them again.
We were so focused. A lot of people don’t understand. When you come out early and say the only goal you have is to win a championship, there’s a lot of pressure on you to do it. We did that early and to be able to accomplish that is just an unbelievable feat. A lot of teams don’t get that chance.
SLAM: What’s ironic is a lot of organizations get to multiple Finals or Super Bowls and blow up the organization after what are deemed failures when they don’t get over the hump. That’s stupid. Most teams are sitting their behinds home watching your organization on TV wishing they were you and you help them out by settling back into the pack? How absurd.
FE: Yes, before I got here the Sixers had to battle Boston and then the Lakers and couldn’t get over the hump. I think we knew we were a good team before we got Moses. Moses was the final piece. He gave everyone in the organization and in the city confidence to say that now we have that missing piece. The year before we got outrebounded terribly in the Finals. Moses was the leading rebounder in the League, so we knew we would control the boards.
SLAM: Finally, what’s going through your head right now? Just being here.
FE: It’s unbelievable. Just a rush of memories. Everywhere you go, there’s a rush of memories. This used to be a place where teams in the NBA feared coming regardless of who they were. The Philadelphia fans mad that happen. Whenever I come to this area I think of how it must have felt to come in here and play against us.
Sixers assistant Aaron McKie is from Philly and earns the distinction of playing his high school ball here, collegiate ball at Temple, some great Sixers years—culminating with the 2001 Finals appearance—and finally coaching here. He is the fabric.
SLAM: Aaron, you are from here. What is this moment like for you growing up when the Sixers were spectacular?
Aaron McKie: I really didn’t get a chance to see a lot of games here because my family couldn’t afford it, but of course I watched on TV every chance I got. For me, this moment means a lot because I played some college games here. Big Five games here. We played some Atlantic Ten Championship games here. This place is big. My dream was to one day play in the Spectrum (Derrick Rose walks by to greet Aaron and I and talks a little smack). My dream came true when I played her during my rookie season. I didn’t play here a lot of years because I played across the street. It’s symbolic that I grew up watching the guys who competed here on a regular basis and be a part of it all by coaching. It’s surreal. I can’t even put it into words. You grow up watching your idols and you get an opportunity to work with them. Coaching under Maurice Cheeks. I’m out here with Moses Malone. I’ve sat down and talked to Dr. J about things.”
SLAM: Who was that dude on the ’83 squad?
AM: All of them man! Maurice Cheeks, Doc, Bobby Jones, Moses Malone…you can go down the list. Growing up, you had your favorite team wherever you were from. When you played youth league ball, everybody had those numbers and those jerseys (Sixers greats). Everybody wanted Doc of course and if you got that No. 6 you were Dr. J. that day. If you had No. 10 you were Maurice Cheeks. It’s a special night–not only for myself, but for a lot of others.”
SLAM: Is it bittersweet not having Mo Cheeks here?
AM: It is. He’s supposed to be a part of this. ’82-’83? As an organization though, it’s a business. When times aren’t going right in the business, management feels there are decisions that have to be made. Coach (Cheeks) prepared us for things like this. As my mentor and as my boss, he told us you get hired to get fired. Unfortunately it came at a time where all of this (Spectrum closing) is tied in.
I look off and thought I saw a ghost. Coach! Coach….damn! It was all a dream…
I look off and thought I saw a ghost. Coach! Coach….damn! It was all a dream…
He ain’t here. He ain’t coming. What a bunch of bull sh*t.
Thank you coach for what you gave the Philly fans. You were an incomparable measure of Philly competiveness, excellence, leadership and pride. Sorry you had to be disrespected twice here—one being told you’ve been traded by a reporter in the parking lot and the other being fired from a team that hasn’t quite changed in the standings as a change is supposed to elicit. Mo Cheeks you were a bulldog. You gave me advice when I asked stupid questions and always had time for me when there was none. I’m that kid asking his father who No. 10 was but I caught that no look pass, twirled the ball in my hands, looked around the empty Spectrum and will write about the history of moments like these until the history is mine.