Thursday, August 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Stan Hochman: Reserve the statues for those with monumental heart

The Wilt Chamberlain statue captures the many facets of the basketball great.    FILE PHOTO
The Wilt Chamberlain statue captures the many facets of the basketball great.    FILE PHOTO
The Wilt Chamberlain statue captures the many facets of the basketball great.    FILE PHOTO Gallery: Stan Hochman: Reserve the statues for those with monumental heart

THE SANCTUARY of Zeus in Olympiad. That's in Greece and that's where this whole sticky business of honoring athletes with statues got started.

Guy would win four races running naked, get a laurel wreath and a handful of gold coins. Next thing you knew, there was a life-size sculpture of the sprinter in the sanctuary of Zeus.

Philadelphia carries on the tradition in typical Philadelphia fashion, honoring some, ignoring others, igniting noisy arguments.

Take the Wilt Chamberlain statue near the Wells Fargo Center. It is bold, abstract. It has a lightning bolt, two faces of Wilt, enough symbolism for three sermons. And the best thing about it is the bronzed quote that says, "The worth of a man is measured by the size of his heart."

Wilt had a big heart. Sponsored track teams, giving inner-city kids a chance to stretch their legs, fulfill their dreams.

Joe Frazier had a huge heart. How else can you explain how he fought his way to the heavyweight championship of the world, chugging forward, always forward, breathing on the other guy's chest, swinging those short arms until the other guy collapsed or the referee ordered him to stop.

He also had a generous heart. When Muhammad Ali was down and out, exiled from boxing after being charged with draft evasion, Frazier gave Ali money, knowing it would never be returned.

What words for the pedestal under the Joe Frazier statue when it finally gets built? Perhaps, "No shortcuts," because that was his advice when young men came to him and said they wanted to be fighters.

Or, "There is no right way to do wrong and no wrong way to do right," which Frazier was fond of saying. Or his other warning to would-be boxers, that they were contemplating a career in a sport where "you get your brains shook, your money took and your name written in the undertaker's book."

And what pose for the statue? This is a left-hook town. That was a brutal left hook Frazier hit Ali with in the 15th round of their first fight. It was like a scythe, a machete. And it put Ali on his backside, the red tassels on his boxing shoes shimmying until the referee counted four. Ali got up then because he had plenty of heart, too.

Did you see Philadelphia's Danny Garcia spin Erik Morales like a top when he hammered him with that left hook in Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago? So, maybe they ought to sculpt Frazier throwing that left hook.

And if they had enough money and enough chutzpah, maybe they would recreate in bronze that most memorable moment in that most memorable fight. Uh-huh, Frazier finishing the left hook, Ali on his backside, stunned.

A two-person statue? Why not? There's this 18-foot statue in Paris of an infamous headbutt. It shows the French captain, Zinedine Zidane, driving his head into the chest of Italian defender Marco Materazzi in retaliation for trash talk involving Zidane's sister.

It happened in the 2006 World Cup final, Zidane's final match, blotching a brilliant career that had transformed the son of Algerian immigrants into a national hero.

Soon, Philadelphia will have its own larger-than-life two-man statue. This one will depict Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent clutching Lord Stanley's Cup after the Flyers won their first championship.

They didn't get to skate a victory lap that first time, because fans and photographers and security folks cluttered the Spectrum ice. But the moment will be forever memorialized by a huge statue near Xfinity Live!, the entertainment complex that replaced the Spectrum.

It's about time. We did have the handsome, generic sculpture of a Flyer scoring a clutch goal, but anyone whoever tugged on an orange-and-black sweater knew it was really Gary Dornhoefer scoring that overtime goal against the North Stars in the '73 playoffs.

We also had a singer, Kate Smith, whose rendition of "God Bless America" brought good luck to a bunch of toothless Canadians.

We have a sculler, Jack Kelly, near the river. And Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton and Michael Jack Schmidt, the greatest third baseman to ever play the game, in or near the ballpark. Harry Kalas, too, the announcer who loved saying "Michael Jack Schmidt" during games and warbling "High Hopes" after games.

We have Chuck Bednarik on the Penn campus, and did they ever seriously consider doing that one out of concrete, reaffirming the nickname, "Concrete Charlie"?

We have a real fighter in Joey Giardello in South Philly. And a fake fighter in Rocky Balboa near the Art Museum.

And now, hopefully, we will have a statue of a real honest-to-goodness heavyweight champion, Joe Frazier, who represented this city with grace and dignity and courage.


Contact Stan Hochman at stanrhoch@comcast.net

Stan Hochman Daily News Sports Columnist
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