It was September of my freshman year of college. I took two trains down from University City to see a Bruce Springsteen Labor Day concert at Citizens Bank Park. I had made a quick friend at school who also happened to be a Springsteen superfan (I was destined to become a cranky sportswriter, huh?). As we got off at Pattison Avenue, he pulled out his phone and took a picture of the South Philadelphia Sports Complex with all three buildings housing the city’s four major pro sports teams.
I thought it was weird. He was a New England native and had never seen arenas and stadiums so close together before. I thought nothing of it because it was all I knew as a South Philly native. I was fortunate enough to spend my grade school and high school years walking down to Citizens Bank Park for a summer afternoon Phillies game or a Friday night Sixers matchup, taking in the neighborhood with anticipation and excitement building as I got closer to Pattison Avenue. The walk home felt a lot longer than the walk there after losses sadly.
It’s been a long time coming, but that 4-for-4 Sports Complex South Philly utopia is at its end. On Thursday morning, news broke of the Sixers’ plan to have an arena of their own in Market East. We’ll see if that fully comes to fruition, but it was an inevitability ever since Joshua Harris and company bought the Sixers back in 2011 (that was 11 years ago, really?) from Comcast Spectacor. No billionaire wants to be a tenant of someone else’s building, as the Sixers were stuck into a lease to play at the Wells Fargo Center that ran through 2031. When the Sixers took their practice facility to Camden several years back, it became even more clear that the Sixers weren’t long for South Philly.
I have no qualms with the Sixers’ plan. It’s a more centralized location for the team, connecting fans from across the area via public transportation to 10th and Market. People complain about SEPTA, typically people who never ride SEPTA. I’m on the EL and Broad Street Line constantly. You’ll get used to it. The parking issue (and a general residential displacement issue that’s become a hallmark of Philly real estate) remains to be seen, but, hey, I’m a new-age dude who doesn’t even own a car, so not my current gripe. The idea of grabbing a bite to eat at the Reading Terminal before a Sunday afternoon Sixers game or hitting McGillin’s after a weekend night game sounds great. Pregaming at Bar-Ly, my favorite sports bar in the city, could be a hell of a scene.
I’ll still miss the tradition of the Sports Complex though.
Sure, it’s a bit selfish. I liked the South Philadelphia Sports Complex because I’m from South Philly. The convenience was key to me becoming such a rabid sports fan. I wouldn’t be writing this article and be in this line of work if not for those early experiences that taught me pain, disappointment and crushed expectations well before I hit puberty. Who am I if not for my younger self walking (or stumbling depending on my age…) home after a horrendous Eagles primetime loss?
Again, it’s selfish. If the commute to Market East works infinitely better for you given where you live, it’s more than understandable that you’ll love the new locale.
I will, however, miss walking through the parking lot to the Wells Fargo Center and seeing fans tailgating. I’ve written stories interviewing fans in the lots. I once was those fans! Those playoff tailgates during the current era of Sixers basketball were something that a generation of Sixers fans had been starved for. A day Phillies game that leads to you crossing Pattison and hitting a night Sixers game at the Wells Fargo Center is one of the best spring moves you can make in this city.
The South Philly Sports Complex was mine. I felt like I was a part of it, that it breathed life into me as much as I breathed life into it. I’m a stickler for tradition at the ripe ol’ age of 28. I can’t imagine how cranky I’ll be at 37 when this arena actually opens. I’m from South Philly though. What else would you have expected?
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