IT TURNS OUT THE OLD building still had a little bit of magic left over from the good old days.
With members of the 76ers' 1966-67 and 1982-83 NBA championship teams in the house last night for the final professional basketball game to be played in the Wachovia Spectrum, the current edition of the team blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead, but regrouped to pull out a 104-101 victory over the Chicago Bulls. If it didn't exactly kindle memories of the Sixers' powerhouses of Wilt and Doctor J, at least it had the electric feel of a playoff game. A sellout crowd of 17,563, many decked out in vintage jerseys, didn't so much walk down memory lane as loudly parade down it as if it were New Year's Day, not Friday the 13th. All that was missing was a Mummers string band.
"The atmosphere was actually better [than at the Wachovia Center]," said Sixers guard Andre Miller, who had 13 points and a season-high 13 assists. "It was louder. It had that old-school basketball feel."
Maybe Comcast-Spectacor ought to consider putting off demolition of the place so that it can be used as an occasional good-luck charm. Future Sixers teams would play selected home games here and get the sort of boost that the Flyers always got whenever Kate Smith, the human good-luck charm, came out to sing "God Bless America."
Not that that would ever happen, of course, but these Sixers - several of whom had never set foot in the Spectrum until Thursday afternoon's practice - were reminded that buildings are not just made of bricks and steel. They're also the repositories of history, of ghosts good and bad, of that intangible quality we call tradition.
"You didn't feel [the energy] in warmups, but you did as it got closer to tipoff," said forward Andre Iguodala, one of the heretofore Spectrum virgins who had 25 points, six rebounds, five assists and a crucial block of a three-ball launched by Bulls bombardier Ben Gordon with 51 seconds remaining and the Sixers protecting a 101-98 lead.
A half-minute later, Gordon got another good look at the basket and buried a triple to even the count at 101, the 16th tie in a seesaw game that also featured 16 lead changes. But the Bulls (29-37) weren't only jousting with the Sixers; they were challenging destiny. And destiny, in this instance, would not be denied.
After Iguodala sank one of two free throws to put the Sixers up, 102-101, with 22.1 seconds to play, the Bulls' wondrous rookie guard Derrick Rose - who had already wowed the crowd with a couple of driving layups that included one double-clutch number that might even have impressed Julius Erving, who was among the old champs who came back for the last hurrah of their hoops home - went hard to the hole, where 6-11 center Samuel Dalembert awaited.
Dalembert plucked the petals from Rose, triggering a fastbreak that ended with Thaddeus Young throwing down a dunk for his career-high and Sixers' season-high 30th and 31st points with 16.6 seconds to play. All that remained was for Gordon to toss up a 28-foot prayer at the buzzer that went unanswered.
Of course. The basketball gods couldn't possibly have heard the pleas of the visiting team on this charmed night.
"He hit a couple of layups on me," Dalembert, who finished with eight points, 19 rebounds and four blocks, said of Rose. "That got me mad. I knew he was going to try to take it to the rim and challenge me, but I was ready for him."
Coach Tony DiLeo said if it wasn't the Sixers' best performance of the season, it had to be one of the most thrilling.
"Was that exciting enough?" said DiLeo, whose team again crept over .500 at 32-31 with its second victory in a row. "That was an exciting win on a special night. That's the way they write it in the books, I guess."
If not in the books, at least then in a Hollywood script. Think "Hoosiers," with a cheesesteak flavor.
The Sixers won't have much time to enjoy the moment, not with the Miami Heat and their own miracle man, Dwyane Wade, coming to the Wachovia Center for an afternoon game tomorrow. That will precede a 7-night, five-game road trip to the West Coast. But, hey, the Sixers will always be able to say they had their Spectrum moment.
Moses Malone, the star center of the '82-83 championship team, channeled his inner Knute Rockne in delivering a pregame pep talk that might not have been long on eloquence, but got right to the point.
"He said we had the opportunity to be winners," Miller said.
Any other words of wisdom from the man called Moses?
"He said, 'Put on a show for us,' " Iguodala said.
On more than a few plays, the Sixers did just that. Iguodala corkscrewed his body like a junior-grade Doctor J in tossing in a variety of dunks and degree-of-difficulty layups, and Miller, showing no signs of a strained right calf, did a pretty fair imitation of Maurice Cheeks in delivering the ball to his teammates in their favored spots.
Young, meanwhile, channeled . . . well, there isn't really anyone who immediately comes to mind. But the southpaw second-year man out of Georgia Tech, who scored a career-high 29 points in a win over Toronto on Wednesday, eclipsed that against the Bulls with an even more impressive outing. He sank 14 of 21 shots, hit his only three-pointer (the Sixers were just one of three from beyond the arc) and continued to look like a cornerstone for the rebuilding of the franchise.