The Spectrum was old before its time.
It was too small, and it wasn't long before modern arenas with luxury suites and fancy scoreboards made the building obsolete.
But the memories live on for the former 76ers who played there, as well as their fans. They will get their final chance to bid adieu to the building tonight, when the Sixers host Chicago.
The Spectrum opened in 1967, and it always seemed to have a star-crossed relationship with the Sixers, unlike the building's other main occupant, the Flyers, or the memorable NCAA tournament games played there.
The championship season of 1982-83 is perhaps the greatest Sixers memory at the Spectrum. There also was Darryl Dawkins shattering the backboard and Julius Erving's array of high-flying dunks.
But as Pat Williams, the Sixers' general manager from 1974 to 1986, put it, "It wasn't all peaches and cream there. The Spectrum was antiquated shortly after it opened, and selling pro basketball in Philadelphia was never easy."
There was the 9-73 season in 1972-73, still the worst record in NBA history; the nearly empty building for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1981; and the final five playoff-less seasons before the Sixers moved to the Wachovia Center in 1996.
The Spectrum is scheduled to be demolished this year, and be replaced by a retail and entertainment complex called Philly Live!
Williams and the Sixers who played there will be sad to see it go.
"I went to a Rick James concert down there," Dawkins said. "I remember working with (longtime statistician) Harvey Pollack and (former Sixer) World B. Free. We played 1-on-1 every day, before and after practice. There were some great people down there.
"To see it come down, it's hard. You can't stand in the way of technology."
Dawkins, of course, is responsible for many of the memories -- both good and bad. There was the night in 1977, during Game 2 of the NBA Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers, when he and Maurice Lucas got into a fight. Dawkins' brothers came down from the stands to help. They were stopped before getting to Lucas.
Dawkins was ejected, and he was fuming in the locker room because his teammates didn't back him up.
"I caused some major-league destruction," Dawkins said. "A toilet came off the wall. Water was flowing everywhere. Guys were coming into the locker room, and they had their gator shoes floating around. I was so mad. Oh yeah, I'm part of that destruction down there.
"(Shattering the) backboards? Accidents happen. You just have to see if they can happen again. I had the ability to do that."
Hold your ears
Mostly, the Spectrum was known for noise. The building, which seems like it can fit inside the Wachovia Center, was so small that it felt like the fans were right on top of the court.
"You could feel the floor vibrate," Dawkins said. "It would get so loud in there, you'd turn around and you're just running down the floor giving everybody high-fives."
Added Williams: "When it was packed, you would get eaten up by the sound. When the team was really good, no sporting arena was more heart-pounding, noisy, intense or intimidating."
Erving was probably the most revered Sixer in the Spectrum. He played there from 1976 until his retirement in 1987.
The memories began his very first night.
Williams had spent the final weeks before the start of the 1976-77 season frantically trying to work out a deal with the former New York Nets, who were looking to sell Erving's rights to the highest bidder.
Finally, the night before the season began, the deal was consummated. Erving had missed all of training camp, and nobody knew if he would play or not.
At the last minute, Erving decided to play. He was introduced to the crowd, which stood and cheered. Then season-ticket holder Steve Solms ran out to center court and presented Erving with a doctor's bag.
"I remember that night vividly," Williams said. "The doctor was finally in the house."
Wilt Chamberlain played for the Sixers during their first season in the Spectrum, and he still holds the team scoring record with 68 points in a game. Charles Barkley, Moses Malone, Cheeks and Bobby Jones were some of the other great Sixers who played there.
Bad memories, too
But there were many forgettable players and forgettable seasons, too.
Sixers president and general manager Ed Stefanski grew up in Philadelphia. He was a teenager when the Spectrum opened, with the Sixers trying to defend their championship.
He attended a playoff game that first season against the Celtics, with the rivalry between Chamberlain and Celtics legend Bill Russell as fierce as ever.
"Those games, you just knew that you needed to win," Stefanski said. "They were so intense. But there was no question that the Spectrum became Julius' building. Wilt was only there one year.
"Once Erving left the building for good, it seemed that the magical moments left with him."
That's why no one lamented the move across the parking lot in 1996.
The team was horrible, and the building was about half-filled.
"You move on," Stefanski said. "I haven't been in the Spectrum in years. And people who say they're sad about the Spectrum closing probably haven't been there in years, either.
"I don't think any of them will trade it for the Wachovia Center."
Maybe for one final farewell, they will.
Friday, March 13, 2009