Doctor J leads parade of memories tonight at Spectrum
IT'S FUNNY, the things we remember sometimes.
For many fans of Julius Erving, it's not just the gravity-defying dunks that left an indelible impression. It was the hair, that magnificent Afro that rose from Doctor J's skull like a mushroom cloud after a nuclear detonation.
Former Los Angeles Lakers guard Byron Scott is now the head coach of the New Orleans Hornets and before a recent game against the 76ers at the Wachovia Center he recalled Erving's hair-raising elevations.
"What impressed me is that Afro going up, higher and higher, until it was almost even with the rim," Scott said, still incredulous after all these years. "Doctor J would dunk on us, like he dunked on everybody, and then the public-address announcer at the Spectrum [the late, great Dave Zinkoff] would say, 'Julius Errrrrrrrving.' I mean, he'd really draw it out. The crowd would go crazy."
It's a fairly safe bet that nostalgia will be as thick as that vintage Afro, and that the man himself, Julius Winfield Erving II, will again rock the house when he and other members of the Sixers' 1982-83 NBA championship team are introduced before tonight's game between the current Sixers and Chicago Bulls in what is now known as the Wachovia Spectrum.
The Sixers now play in the Wachovia Center, and have since the 1996-97 season. Their new home - if you can call a nearly 13-year-old building "new" - is located across the parking lot from the old Spectrum, which was called "America's Showplace" when it opened in 1967. But the passage of time can render even showplaces obsolete, particularly if they don't come equipped with luxury boxes and other revenue-generating vehicles so necessary to driving the megabucks commerce of 21st-century professional sports.
So the once-gleaming edifice of another era will come down sometime this year, to make way for an entertainment and retail complex that will provide freer-flowing revenue streams to Comcast-Spectacor than were available through the Spectrum's more recent use as a site for games involving the minor league Phantoms and Kixx. Some would call that progress. But in this city, so obsessed with all things historical, from Benjamin Franklin's print shop to the Liberty Bell, the razing of the Spectrum is like the conversion of, say, Valley Forge National Park into golf courses and condominiums.
Shouldn't there be at least some sort of movement organized to preserve the hallowed hall where Christian Laettner hit that turnaround jumper on March 28, 1992, to give Duke a 104-103 overtime victory over Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, arguably the greatest college basketball game ever played? Where the incomparable Wilt Chamberlain played his final Sixers season in his hometown? And where Julius Erving routinely made the impossible seem possible?
In this town, two of the more miraculous plays authored by Erving are the "rock-the-baby" dunk he threw down over the Lakers' Michael Cooper in 1983 and the behind-the-backboard scoop shot he kissed off the glass and through the net in the 1980 NBA Finals.
Magic Johnson, then a Lakers rookie, has seen and done it all on a basketball court, but he maintains that Erving's soar-with-the-eagles scoop is No. 1 on his all-time list of incredible plays.
"Here I was, trying to win a championship, and my mouth just dropped open," Johnson said years later. "I thought, 'What should we do? Should we take the ball out, or should we give him the ball back and ask him to do it again?' It's still the greatest move I've ever seen in a basketball game, the all-time greatest."
There were Ervingesque maneuvers nearly as spectacular, lost in the annals of time, or at least buried deeper in ESPN's tape vault. But those who were there, eyewitnesses to greatness, can never forget.
"They don't talk about it as much, but how about the dunk Doc had on Bobby Gross in Portland?" said Marc Iavaroni, the rookie starting power forward for the Sixers' 1982-83 championship team. "Bobby went up, but Doc just kept going higher and higher and jammed it in.
"Once, in San Diego Arena, Doc dunked on Bill Walton by literally putting his arm on top of Bill. As Bill tried to jump, Doc leveraged him down and dunked on his head."
Of all the returning 1982-83 players the Sixers have made available to the media in recent weeks, the one who has yet to make his feelings known concerning the imminent demise of the Spectrum is Erving. Makes sense; true legends do not bother with preliminaries. The word is that Doctor J, now 59, took off from Florida last night - by jet plane, not from the free-throw line - and will be introduced tonight at the Spectrum to the sort of hero's welcome that should be reserved for classic American originals.
Friday, March 13, 2009