Didn't get to the Spectrum for the final Sixers game there on Friday night because I was in New York watching Villanova lose to Louisville in the Big East tournament. I don't feel cheated, however. I covered the 76ers for seven seasons for the Inquirer and that, combined with many hockey games, college basketball games, tennis tournaments and whatever else came through, meant I probably worked 500 events in the place.
I loved the place. It has a great mid-level press box, easy access to the locker rooms downstairs and an intimacy that made you feel as if you knew everyone in the building -- and pretty much you did.
I hope you got a chance to read the piece by Marcus Hayes in the Friday Daily News on Charles Abel, the former press box steward, now 75 years old. Marc did a very good job with the story. He not only captured Charlie but, in microcosm, the feel of working the Spectrum. I sent him some recollections upon request and he used a snippet of them, so I'm posting them here. Hey, it's the weekend. You're tired of reading about potential Eagles free agent signings.
Charles was technically the Spectaguard security guy assigned to the press box, but he was much more than that. It was really his private box and we were guests there. He made sure everyone was where they were supposed to be and kept general order, which isn't the easiest thing to do with that group. He handled everything.
I have two specific memories of times he helped me. One of my first assignments with the Inquirer was a Flyers Alumni game against a celebrity team. It was a terrible assignment, but I was trying to impress the bosses and do a good job and it wasn’t going well. Deadline was fast approaching, the game was dragging on and I was melting down in the little workroom just off the press box itself. Charlie asked if I needed anything and I asked if the celebrity coach of the celebrity team – a big television comedy star with some off-camera issues – was hanging around downstairs. I could use a quote.
Five minutes later, Charles had the guy standing next to me while I’m banging away at the computer. “I need a funny quote,” I told the actor, which took a while for him to process because he was absolutely wasted. He turned and looked at Charles, and Charles just nodded seriously at him. And the guy hitches himself up and said something that was printed in the paper the next day. It might even have been funny.
The other specific memory I have is that I got a call after a Flyers’ game one night that my wife was going into labor. I was in that same workroom and I must have looked crazed as I typed. Charles asked me if I was all right and I told him the situation. “Is this your first child?” he said.
“No, the second.”
“You better write quickly,” he said, solid advice, and went off to get me a copy of the final box score as soon as it came out.
Mostly, I was there for Sixers games. I covered the team for eight seasons, and Charles Abel was a constant. In those days, I would watch the first half from the floor and the second half from the press box, so I was near the phone upstairs to file the story. So we spent a lot of time together. It’s a small, intimate press box.
Charles didn’t just know the local reporters. He knew all the out-of-towners, too, the regulars on the beat. He liked it when we did our Charles Barkley imitations and our Jimmy Lynam imitations. When David Aldridge was the Bullets beat writer for the Washington Post, he and I had a routine in which he was David Stern and I was Barkley being called into the league office. It seems like we laughed a lot back then, and Charles had this great laugh where he would tilt back his head and really let go sometimes. He was mostly a very reserved, dignified guy, so that was a goal, getting Charles to really laugh.
I didn’t know Charles’ athletic background, but he knew the sports well, particularly basketball. I’d ask him what he thought of this or that occasionally – this player or that combination of players – and he was a good sounding board. He believed in defense first, which made that particular era of Sixers basketball sometimes difficult for him. It was difficult for all of us, but Charles Abel, unlike the Sixers, was something upon which you could rely.
One more Spectrum story. When the Sixers played the Lakers in the 1981-1982 Finals, Harvey Pollack was still the head public relations guy for the team. In those days, you could sit down with a pencil and write down the names of everyone who would be covering the series. There would be Bob Ryan from Boston and Sam Goldaper from the New York Times and David DuPree from Washington, and so on. It was a very small club.
The day before the first game in Philly, the teams are practicing in the Spectrum and a reporter from the Italian newspaper Gazzetta Dello Sport named Mario walked into the building. He had started coming to All-Star Games and covering the league, the first real European reporter to pay attention to the NBA. He walks in and Harvey screams, "Mario, what the f--- are you doing here? I don't have a seat for you."
And Ryan says, "Harvey, this man is a guest in our country. He has come 5,000 miles to be here. You should say to him, 'Mario, welcome to our shores. I hope your travel was pleasant. What the f--- are you doing here?'"