Friday, January 27, 2012
Game 19: Wells Fargo Center
Sixers 89, Bobcats 72
PHILADELPHIA — Recently, there was a small controversy in Los Angeles because Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the only NBA player to win the MVP Award six times, did not have a statue of his likeness outside of the Lakers' arena, the Staples Center. As far as controversies go, it was pretty tame, but there was a point…
If Kareem can't get a statue, who can?
One of the problems in the whole thing that it was Kareem doing the complaining. Even if the guy deserves a statue, a bobblehead doll or fat head poster, you don't go around complaining when one isn't there. That's just gauche.
In Philadelphia there is nothing to worry about as far as public artworks around the arena. In fact, there is just one statue of any former Philadelphia athlete and it's the biggest and bestest of them all.
Indeed, Wilt Chamberlain, the Overbrook High graduate and Hall of Famer who played for both the Warriors and the 76ers, has some sort of avant statue on the south side of the Wells Fargo Center. Sculpted by Omri Amrany and unveiled in 2004 (five years after Wilt's death), the statue shows two images of the man. One is a bust of Wilt's head and the other is of him rising with the basketball as if to throw one down. The part that seems odd — aside from the two faces of the man — is the whisps flowing from the ball and Wilt's body as if to show motion and flight.
It's odd because there is no need to show the motion with such graphic detail. If there is a picture of a man holding a ball above his head while his eyes are focused on something in the distance, movement is assumed.
Anyway, Amrany seems to have cornered the market on sports stadium sculptures in the U.S. He is also the artist behind statues of guys like Michael Jordan at the United Center, Pat Tillman in Arizona, as well as several statues of Washington baseball greats at Nationals Park. Those, just like the one of Wilt, also show those waves of motion.
Interestingly, Philadelphia was once the city with the most public art outside of Paris, but of all the statues, sculptures and murals, sports figures are barely represented at the complex in South Philly. Aside from Wilt, there was a statue of Julius Erving outside of the Spectrum. However, since the Spectrum has been torn down, the statue of Dr. J has been removed. One can assume that Doc will find a new home, but for now we're still waiting.
The Phillies seem to have done a pretty good job with the artworks celebrating the greats of their franchise. Outside of the ballpark, there is a statue of Mike Schmidt, Robin Roberts, and Steve Carlton, which is aptly out past left field. Inside the stadium, a young and speedy Richie Ashburn is shown running the bases from a perch in center field, while his old broadcast partner, Harry Kalas, has a home on the concourse close to the restaurant that bears his name.
Otherwise, the only controversy seems to be that the statue of Wilt doesn't do justice to arguably the greatest basketball player who ever lived. For his time Wilt was an athlete beyond reproach. He was a track star, a volleyball pro and even dabbled in boxing. The only thing Wilt couldn't do well was shoot foul shots.
But if the Wells Fargo Center is going to be around for a while, maybe there ought to be some more artwork around the building. The arena is set on the former spot of JFK Stadium, which hosted 42 Army-Navy games, Live Aid and the famous Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney fight for the heavyweight championship of the world in 1926. Tunney won the fight with a 10-round decision, setting the stage for the rematch at Soldier Field in Chicago. That one turned out to be the famous "Long Count" fight in which Dempsey knocked down Tunney, but because he would not move to a neutral corner, the referee delayed his 10-count. Tunney had plenty of time to rest, regroup and take the fight from Dempsey in a unanimous decision.
Maybe a Bobby Clarke statue or one of Bernie Parent celebrating the Flyers' last championship in 1975 would look good outside of the building? Or how about one of Charles Barkley rising for a two-handed tomahawk slam? Either way, there is plenty of concrete and open space down there just waiting to be accessorized.