Stan Hochman: Hand vows to create fitting Frazier tribute

Former champ, and Philly legend, Joe Frazier died of liver cancer on Nov. 7, 2011, at the age of 67. (AP file photo)

JOE HAND IS going to build a statue of Joe Frazier. No ifs, ands or buttresses about it.

Going to hire a sculptor, approve a design, carve it, bronze it, erect it on a lovely spot near Xfinity Live. Unveil it on Jan. 12, 2013. (Maybe Michael Buffer growling, "Let's get ready for humble.")

"We are going to celebrate Joe's birthday right there," Hand said emphatically, ignoring the can't-be-done whispers.

He's going to raise $200,000, choose a sculptor, agree on a pose, get it built, bronzed and fastened to a handsome marble slab, all in 310 days? Don't bet against it!

"We're creating a nonprofit 501(C)(3)," Hand said, attacking the obstacles one by one. "Checks will be made out to 'TD Bank/Frazier Statue.' The bank will handle the money. I don't want anybody seeing me driving a new car and saying, 'Joe Hand must be making something out of that statue.'

"The statue will get built. I guarantee it. Even if we don't raise a dime. I will put up whatever is needed to get the statue built.

"Right now, we're talking about people giving $1,000 getting their names on that marble slab. Or maybe providing a small replica of the statue to people who donate $10,000 or more.

"But nothing will be just my decision. We'll have a board of directors that I hope will include Congressman Bob Brady, union leaders John Dougherty and Sam Staten Jr., plus George Bochetto, the attorney.

"We have talked to three sculptors. We've asked them to submit bids. One of them is Carl LeVotch, who did the Joey Giardello statue in South Philadelphia. He's a boxing fan. He knew Joe Frazier.

"I have a photo I own, the one we used on fight posters back in the day. Joe Jr. thinks we ought to have the Olympic gold medal around Frazier's neck, the first Ring magazine championship belt he won around his waist."

(This disclaimer . . . I have been asked to be part of the process. I would love to see the statue depict Frazier throwing a left hook, his signature punch, the one that knocked Ali down in the 15th round . . . and, oh yes, that was 41 years ago yesterday).

Peter Lyde, Joe's son-in-law, will be consulted. Joe's daughter, Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, is a municipal judge so they are wary of any conflict of interest issues.

The statue will be placed along what the Cordish Companies are calling a Ceremonial Walk, a curved path that leads from Xfinity Live to the Wells Fargo Center.

The path will be bordered by grassy areas, trees, shrubs. The statues of Kate Smith, Gary Dornhoefer and Julius Erving will be brought out of storage and displayed along the walk.

Frazier's statue will be closest to the old Spectrum site. That's where he fought and beat Tony Doyle in that building's first athletic event.

A huge statue of Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent clutching the Stanley Cup is planned for the Pattison Avenue side of Xfinity Live, which currently calls for three restaurants, a sports bar and entertainment venues.

The Cordish folks estimate that more than 8 million fans will be in the area each year, attending Flyers, Sixers, Phillies and Eagles games, plus concerts and other events.

"It's a great spot for the statue," Hand gushed. "Well-lit, with security. One sculptor wants it to be 8 feet tall, but we don't want it to conflict with the others. So maybe life-size, 6 feet tall, is the way to go."

Frazier died of liver cancer on Nov. 7, 2011, at the age of 67. At an emotional ceremony at City Hall, Hand promised to get a statue built. It troubled him that a fictional pug, Rocky Balboa, was already honored with a statue near the Art Museum.

And it baffled him when he heard of a limestone statue of Joe Palooka, a comic strip fighter, somewhere in Indiana.

"Joe never complained, never spoke out," Hand said, "but it bothered me. He won the Olympic gold medal. He became heavyweight champion. Joe deserved the honor. And besides, everything I have I owe to Joe Frazier."

It's an only-in-Philly story. Subway cop invests $500 in Cloverlay, a syndicate of local businessmen and politicians formed to bankroll Frazier in the early days of his career.

"I wanted to buy two shares at $250 apiece," Hand recalled. "I was a cop, making, what, about $4,000 a year. I had to borrow from the credit union.

"I was impressed with the people involved. Dr. Bruce Baldwin, Jack Kelly, Thacher Longstreth, Bob Wilder. I sent a postcard to Dr. Baldwin, asking if I could buy two shares.

"I lived on Jackson Street, in the Northeast. Dr. Baldwin used to live on that street. He wrote back, said I could buy the shares, that it was the least he could do for a Jackson-Streeter."

The rest is gaudy history. Hand volunteered to handle the closed-circuit showings of Frazier's fights. The business, now 40 years old, became Joe Hand Promotions, the largest closed-circuit operation in the world, now transmitting UFC fights to 3,500 bars and restaurants each month.

"Joe was a great guy, willing to do whatever was asked of him," Hand recalled. "He'd visit injured cops at Philadelphia General Hospital. He'd do charity appearances.

"My favorite story involves an invitation to speak at the Union League. Joe said he'd do it. I felt I had to tell him that he might speak there, but that blacks and Jews were not welcomed there.

"He thought about it and he said, 'I want to do it. Maybe after they hear me talk, they'll change their minds.' He spoke. Maybe 30 years later, they changed their policies. But that's the kind of man he was."


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