When 76ers president Chris Heck thinks about his time spent at the Spectrum, his mind wanders from Big 5 basketball games to a Billy Joel concert to watching the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms.
And, of course, to the premier era of Philadelphia professional sports.
The Sixers hope to recapture that nostalgia with their 2021-22 City Edition uniforms that pay homage to when they played in the iconic South Philly venue known as “America’s Showplace” from 1967-96. They will wear the uniforms for the first time Wednesday night against the Chicago Bulls, then 12 more times throughout the season.
“We want to evoke memories from our fans,” Heck said. “… We try to do the best we can to represent our fandom — sometimes new, sometimes old.”
This Nike City Edition uniform is part of the NBA’s season-long 75th anniversary celebration. The league concocted a “mixtape” theme, inviting teams to mix and match recognizable jersey styles from different eras. Since the Sixers already dabble in giving nods to past decades with their standard home and away jerseys, they “went off the grid a little bit” for this version’s concept and design, Heck said.
Sixers staffers of various ages began brainstorming more than two years ago about the franchise’s historic moments, and how those tell the story of Philadelphia. They began swapping stories about time spent at the Spectrum — the arena where the Sixers played the longest in their history — when some “were drinking beer” and others were “eating cotton candy,” Heck said.
Heck was particularly drawn to the Spectrum’s logo he called “so smart and ahead of its time.” It incorporated the colors of the four main Philadelphia professional sports teams (red, orange, green and blue) from a time when the Flyers won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and ‘75, the Phillies won the 1980 World Series, the Eagles played in Super Bowl XV in 1981, and the Sixers won the 1983 NBA championship.
“Those color panels were all represented there so blatantly, and it was just brilliant,” Heck said. “And we’re like, ‘This is what we’re all about now.’ Even though the creators thought about this in the 1960s, what was true then is true now.”
That badge logo is featured on the side of the uniform’s shorts, while the color panel runs down the side of the top. The bicentennial “76″ is on the other side of the shorts, and the Spectrum “S” is on the belt buckle. Across the front of the jersey is “Sixers” in a 1970s font in red with white trim.
The uniform was designed completely in-house by about 10 people who were “heavily involved from beginning to end,” Heck said. They obsessed over details such as using a crewneck or a V neck on the jersey. They sought player feedback. They also created a white version of the uniform, but chose the navy blue because it “felt just a little more historic in the sense that it was just like a tip of the cap to all things that were grand in sports.”
“Art is in the eye of the beholder,” Heck said. “We feel like these are art projects and they are driven for the fan.”
The Sixers will also complement the uniform with a full in-arena experience for 13 “Spirit of ‘76″ nights.
They created a new custom court, with the Spectrum badge logo in the center, a scripted “Brotherly Love” along the sideline to represent the bond shared with the city’s other sports teams, and “Sixers” in the 1970s script along the baseline. They combed through archived photos and video that will be displayed throughout the games, and accompanied by time-appropriate and local music. They will give a nod to PRISM, the television channel that previously carried Sixers, Flyers, and Phillies games.
Heck called it the most elaborate in-game experience changeover he has overseen in his nine seasons with the Sixers.
“I’m more excited about that than even the uniform,” he said. “… The intro video alone is worth the visit, that’s for sure.”
Monday’s uniform rollout included a photo and video shoot with current players and vintage items from that era. Heck said it was “endearing” to see those Sixers interested in learning about that time in the franchise’s history and reacting positively to the theme. He added that fan response had been “overwhelmingly positive” in the opening hours since the unveiling.
Even coach Doc Rivers, who jokes he can never recall what color jersey the Sixers wore for any given game, appreciates the concept. It made him think about the way former public-address announcer Dave Zinkoff used to elongate “Julius Errrrr-ving” during starting lineup introductions, and how Rivers was tasked with guarding Dr. J in one of the first starts of his NBA playing career.
“Which didn’t go well for me,” Rivers said with a chuckle. “It went very well for him. I think we were trying to keep Dominique [Wilkins] out of foul trouble, so I was the sacrificial lamb.”
That’s just another example of how the Spectrum — and the Sixers’ new jerseys that honor America’s Showplace — can evoke memories.