Created by pop artist Steve Sax, the mixed-media piece will replay Erving’s famous ‘rock the baby’ windmill dunk for visitors to the Haddon Avenue sports museum.
By Matt Skoufalos | Photos by Tricia Burrough
The DePace Sports Library and Museum of Champions won’t be ready to open its doors in Collingswood until September 1—and then, only for a soft launch—but on Friday, the building took delivery of a key piece of art that will set the tone for its main exhibit room.
Crafted by sports pop artist Steve Sax, it commemorates the 1983 “rock the baby” windmill dunk by Philadelphia 76er Julius Erving on Michael Cooper of the Showtime-era Los Angeles Lakers.
Complete with an audio replay of Chick Hearn’s call, which immortalized the highlight, Sax’s recreation is a mixed-media clockwork homage to the original. Its hesitation action even mimics the mechanics of Dr. J’s rocking, windmill dunk windup.
“When you think of basketball, you think of Julius Irving,” Sax said. “When you think of Julius Irving, you think of dunks. When you think of dunks, you think of one in particular.”
The piece relies on a complicated array of gears, timers, and a motor and motion detector; Sax says it took him about two months to produce. It is the first in a planned quartet of works that will hang in the recessed windows of the museum, which is being converted from a former bank building on Haddon Avenue.
The recesses are too high to display shadowbox art, said Eric Katz, Director of Advertising for Dr. Nicholas DePace, the cardiovascular surgeon whose famed memorabilia collection will fill the building.
But they are perfect for interactive portraits highlighting key moments in the histories of each of the four major Philadelphia professional sports franchises.
Sax plans to animate the Flyers hoisting the Stanley Cup from one of their back-to-back championship victories in 1973-74 and Chuck Bednarik’s famous knockout hit on Giants halfback Frank Gifford.
The Phillies subject matter hasn’t been determined yet, but likely candidates include Mike Schmidt or Steve Carlton, Sax said.
An immersive collection
Katz said the display will complement a design for the interior of the space that will feature eight-foot-high Plexiglas slat walls upon which historic memorabilia from DePace’s collection—game-worn jerseys, athletic equipment—will be mounted on acrylic blocks for display.
“You’ll be immersed in the collection instead of seeing it inside of a case,” Katz said.
For a man whose work hangs in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Sax has a sense of the perspective required to curate a high-profile memorabilia collection. Although Collingswood may not ever become Cooperstown, he said the DePace Museum represents an opportunity for the borough to create a unique downtown destination.
“You always need those,” Sax said. “Most small towns are usually pretty boring. Every place you go, it’s the same thing.
“I like the people involved” with the DePace Museum, he said. “I like their vision.”
The bank vault, which proved too costly to incorporate into the opening-day exhibition as a walk-through attraction, will instead be ringed with LED’s, Katz said, allowing guests a glimpse at some of DePace’s rarest treasures, including a Babe Ruth jersey and Ty Cobb and Honus Wager tobacco leaf cards.
Similarly, a proposed elevator allowing access to the second floor of the building was prohibitively priced, Katz said, and would have required complicated engineering work to transverse the vault.
All that could change if DePace elects to part with certain pieces of his collection, however.
The doctor is presently auctioning a Hank Greenberg signed Detroit Tigers cap and a restored and 1932 Babe Ruth hat that was handed down to Yankees manager Joe McCarthy’s paperboy.
“We’re at a point where, looking at this space, we’re most likely only going to be able to show 10 to 15 percent of the collection at any one time on the first floor,” Katz said.
“It’s going to be changing pretty regularly, and his collection changes. It’s a living, breathing thing.”
As the building finds its footing, Katz said the DePace Museum will feature special events, from auctions to autograph signings. The first of those planned attractions will occur during the Collingswood Book Festival, when Philadelphia Flyers Bernie Parent and Dave “the Hammer” Schultz will sign copies of their books from 3 to 4 p.m. October 3.