Originally arise in Esquire in February 1985 and anthologized in Teenage Hipster in the Modern World, a arch accumulating of Mark Jacobson’s non-fiction. Reprinted actuality with the author’s permission.
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Michael Jordan is absolutely the greatest basketball amateur of all time, but Julius Erving, the incomparable Dr. J, is my best favorite. No one anytime gave me as abundant amusement watching any affectionate of game. Aback his retirement, Julius has been the accountable of a cardinal of cutting headlines, absolutely the array of actuality he approved to abstain during his career. He accustomed the tennis amateur Alexandria Stevenson to be his out-of-wedlock daughter. Later, his son Cory collection his car into a basin in Florida and drowned. These are unfortunate, sad events, but alike added so aback affiliated to accession like Julius, who was already so calmly perfect. I’ve accounting abundant accessories on sports figures, best of them basketball players, but Julius charcoal my cardinal one. The actuality that he acclimated to aces me up at the Philadelphia alternation base in his Maserati, about absurd for a current-day player, is still one of highlights of my career.
I went for a ride through burghal Philadelphia with Julius Erving in his Maserati the added day, and with anniversary casual block it became added apparent: Julius cannot drive actual well. It wasn’t a catechism of adventuresome acceleration or abandoned signals. Rather, he seemed unsure, tentative. His huge, acclaimed calmly afraid the council caster a bit too tightly, his ample arch craned uncomfortably adjoin the abruptness of the windshield. He accelerated with a lurch; there was no bland blitz of power. Accessible openings in the breeze of cartage went concealed or untried. All in all, it reflected a absolute absence of feel.
This addled me as amusing—Julius Erving, the aces Doctor of the court, active a Maserati with an automated transmission.
Just an hour before, I’d compared the act of seeing Julius comedy basketball to Saint Francis watching birds in flight. It was my Ultimate Compliment. Aback a anchorman with pretensions meets an Official Legend, abnormally a Sports Legend, it is binding to concoct the Ultimate Compliment, article aloft a banal “gee whiz.” Article forth the curve of the baronial Mailer’s apropos to Ali as a Prince of Heaven, whose actual boring acquired men to attending down. Or, perhaps, Liebling’s advertence that Sugar Ray Robinson had “slumberland in either hand.” Saint Francis was what I’d arise up with.
Viewing Dr. J move to the bandage aggressive what I absurd to be an awe agnate to what Saint Francis acquainted sitting in a acreage with the sparrows active overhead, I told Julius. It was as if a dark had been parted, affording a blink into the Branch of the Extraordinary, a astonishing advice that ennobled both the aloof and the watched equally. What wonders there are in the Kingdom of God! How august they are to behold!
“What you do affirms the supremacy of all beings,” I told Julius as we sat in the offices of the Erving Group, a captivation aggregation advised to advance about the abounding of basic Julius has accumulated during his career as Dr. J. Ample gold-leaf plaques calling Julius things like TASTEE CAKE PLAYER OF THE YEAR dot the walls. “Seeing you comedy basketball has accomplished my life,” I finished.
“Thanks, acknowledgment a lot,” Julius said politely. Afresh again, Julius is consistently polite. It was obvious, my Ultimate Compliment acutely did not beating his socks off. It was as if he were saying, “Funny thing, you’re the third guy who’s told me that today.”
Every austere bandage fan remembers the aboriginal time he saw Julius Erving comedy basketball. My grandfather, a abundant New York Giants baseball fan, apparently had the aforementioned activity the aboriginal time he anytime saw Willie Mays go aback on a fly ball. There was Julius, mad-haired and scowl-faced, accomplishing what anybody away did, rebounding, scoring, passing, but accomplishing it with the accents confused from the accustomed but now absolutely arid position to a new, consistently added blood-tingling about else. Who was this man with two Jewish names who came from genitalia alien with admiral far greater than the bitter Trailblazer?
Flat out, there was annihilation like him. No one had anytime taken off from the abhorrent band as if on a dare, cradled the brawl aloft his head, and not arise bottomward until he comatose it through the hoop. Not like that, anyway. Julius acknowledges a debt to Elgin Baylor, whom he calls “the bigger gazelle, the aboriginal of the gliders,” but, to the abashed observer, the Doctor seemed to access from alfresco the boundaries of the bold itself. His body, automated like none afore him, accessory by accoutrements best and calmly bigger, soared with an able-bodied atrocity akin abandoned by the mystical, aberrant ballista of Bob Beamon bottomward the Mexico Burghal runway, or by the agreeable flight of Bruce Lee.
Has any added abandoned in aggregation sports radically adapted the abstraction of how his accurate bold should be played to the bulk Julius has? Jackie Robinson? Babe Ruth? Jim Brown? A added adorning allegory would be accession like Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio was impeccable, the nonpareil. He was artlessly better. Yet there is article abstruse about Joe DiMaggio. He did what anybody away did, but with incomparable excellence. Joe’s exemplariness is to be admired, but it doesn’t activity a accomplished affairs of reform. His abundance is a asleep end, specific to Joe and Joe alone. Julius, on the added hand, may not acquire invented the bang dunk, the feel roll, or the dark rebound—the absolute aerial bold in general. But he absolutely affected it, and by accomplishing so he arise that others could chase in his footsteps, alike exhausted him. Seeing Julius fly to the bandage advance the news: it can be done, so do it. Nine years ago Julius appeared abandoned in his adeptness to go pyrotechnic at any time. This accomplished year, however, lined up adjoin a army of his anapestic offspring, “human highlight film” youngbloods like Dominique Wilkins and Larry Nance, Julius was agreeable to accomplish his final attack a active foul-line takeoff: the “classical” dunk, a bit of archaeology approved by the ancestor of the form.
Befitting the matter-of-factness of a fable discussing his craft, Julius is not falsely bashful about his contributions to the game. In the analytic appearance he employs aback delineating the x’s and o’s of his profession, he says, “I’d say I’ve had an aftereffect in three basic areas. First, I acquire taken a abate man’s game, ball-handling, passing, and the like, and brought it to the advanced court. Second, I’ve taken the big man’s game, rebounding, shot-blocking, and been able to assassinate that alike acceptance I’m abandoned six-foot-six. What I’ve approved to do is absorb those two types of games, which were advised to be separate—for instance, Bill Russell does the rebounding, Cousy handles the ball—and amalgamate them into the aforementioned player. This has added or beneath afflicted the analogue of what’s alleged the baby advanced position, and it creates a lot added adaptability for the abandoned player, and, of course, creates a lot added opportunities for the accomplished team. The third affair I’ve approved to do, and this is the best important thing, is to accomplish this affectionate of basketball a acceptable affectionate of basketball, demography into annual a bulk of showmanship that gets bodies excited. My all-embracing ambition is to accord bodies the activity they are actuality entertained by an artist—and to win.”
Then Julius activity and says, “You know, the amphitheater bold … refined.”
In Roosevelt, New York, the lower-middle-class, abundantly atramentous Affiliated Island association area he grew up, there is a amphitheater with a assurance that says THIS IS WHERE JULIUS ERVING LEARNED THE GAME OF BASKETBALL. Herein lies Julius’s triumph. He auspiciously transmuted the atramentous amphitheater bold and brought that bloodthirsty burghal basic to its best awe-inspiring fruition. He, already and for all, no axis back, blackified pro basketball.
He did it by banishment the analogously staid, grind-it-out, coach-dominated NBA to absorb with the old ABA, a semi-outlaw alliance that played the run-till-you-drop “black” amphitheater bold with a blatant red, white, and dejected ball. Julius was in the ABA, and the older, added accustomed NBA could not acquiesce a abnormality like Dr. J to abide alfresco its borders. Best assemblage feel the NBA captivated the accomplished blue ABA, with its three-point shots and asinine mascots, aloof to get Julius. Already they did, the absolute artefact of pro basketball was refocused. Surprise! The ABA, absolute abounding performers from Podunk Inferior Academy and some who never went to any college, had a lot added than Julius Erving. Abounding players affiliated abominable by the NBA assumption became stars, the beaming “Ice,” George Gervin, and Moses Malone amid them. And there was a lot added running. Afore the alliance there was abandoned one constant fast-break aggregation in the NBA, the Celtics. Now, with the ABA bodies around, it seemed as if the accomplished alliance was running, arena the amphitheater game, Julius’s game.
This is not to say Larry Bird isn’t great, no bulk area the bold is, on the aback backyard of Buckingham Palace or up in Harlem, but blackification was inevitable. No one will absolutely abjure that the majority of atramentous players jump college and run faster than the majority of white players, and that’s what pro ball, as it’s currently constituted, is all about—running and jumping with finesse.
Many bodies acquire wondered if all this active is such a acceptable thing. Aback the alliance and the takeover by the “black” game, the pro activity has suffered reversals. Attendance is asperous and TV ratings are down; rumors of boundless amusing evils amid the players abound. It is difficult to acquire any all-embracing chat about the cachet of the alliance afterwards advancing up adjoin the Problem. A alliance official says, “It’s race, authentic and simple. No above activity comes up adjoin it the way we do. It’s aloof difficult to get a lot of bodies to watch huge, intelligent, millionaire atramentous bodies on television.”
When presented with the angle that by adorning his art he may acquire served to attenuated its appeal, Julius says, “It’s unfortunate, but what can be done about what is?” Well, at atomic the access of the amphitheater bold has exploded several pernicious myths. If there is one affair Julius and his followers (Magic Johnson comes to mind) acquire accustomed afterwards a doubt, it’s that aloof because you comedy “flashy” doesn’t beggarly you’re not a aggregation player. No best is it affected that the amazing is really, at its root, aloof asinine showboating calmly thwarted, in the crisis times, by the cunning of a baby man chewing a cigar on the apprenticeship lines. Julius’s teams acquire consistently won.
For the bandage fan, though, acceptable the best admired account apropos Julius Erving charcoal in that aboriginal adverse moment of discovery, that aboriginal blink into the Branch of the Extraordinary. This has to do with the attributes of the fan, the bandage fan in particular. All aggregation sports acquire their cognoscenti, gamblers poring over the abrasion lists, nine-year-old boys with batting averages memorized, but somehow the array of fan admiring to pro basketball is in a hardly added affected class, sweatier, seedier perhaps, but absolutely committed. This blazon of bandage fan I’m talking about isn’t abundant altered from the applesauce buffs of the 1940s and 1950s, white bodies digging on an about atramentous world.
How Julius, the Official Legend, comes into this is that he approached the beady alertness as Rumor. He was a secret. He wasn’t a well-publicized aerial academy brilliant like Kareem; he went to the University of Massachusetts (a academy with no basketball reputation) and afresh played two years at one of the ABA’s best alien outposts, the Virginia Squires. There was no activity surrounding him, no Brent Musburger hyping the admeasurement of his smile. The Doctor was article for the grapevine.
It cuts both ways. Probably, by somehow blockage out of the accent (that was easier in 1970) and by allotment not to go to a “big program” academy area a abrupt Adolph Rupp ability acquire fabricated it a assumption to actual all that boy’s aberrant habits, Julius was larboard abandoned to actualize his wholly new thing. And by advantage of this anonymity, the bandage fan was able to arise aloft Julius as a amazing begin object.
Magic Johnson, Sugar Ray Leonard—no one is animadversion their talents, but they accustomed on the arena angry in a bow, awash to anyone aural afterimage of a TV. They will consistently backpack that stigma. Julius, however, charcoal consistently cool. You had to assignment to see Julius, seek him out. There wasn’t any cable; maybe you could bolt him on an absolute base that had been hustled into acrimonious up one of the abundant ABA All-Star games. Alike afterwards he came from the Squires to the Nets, afresh the ABA New York entry, the bandage fan had to ply the abandoned parkways to the Nassau Coliseum to sit with four thousand bleak faces cogent affliction that they weren’t examination a hockey game. You had to go out of your way to see Julius. But it was account it. Aback you saw that Rumor was Fact, and a far added arresting Actuality than imagined, afresh you acquainted like you had your little band with Julius, that he was in your heart.
That Julius has maintained the affection of comedy this affiliated is gravy. How do you admeasurement the account one gets from seeing admirable things happen? Sometimes I acquisition myself idly replaying some of Julius’s added alarming moves central my head. The one adjoin the Lakers in the championship a few years back, the one area he goes abaft the backboard and comes about for the about-face layup? Ones like that accompany tears to my eyes. Really.
Of course, it can’t last. Aftermost division Julius’s club, the Philadelphia 76ers, for whom he’s played aback the alliance alliance in 1976, were burst by the decrepit New Jersey Nets, crude to the Garden State from Uniondale, New York. It was an upset. The year afore the Sixers won the appellation in a abreast walkover. Of the thirteen amateur they played in the championship rounds, they won twelve. The Sixers didn’t arise abutting to repeating. Julius did not acquire a decidedly acceptable series. There were several reasons. For one, it had been a arduous division for the Doc. Abundant Sixer injuries affected him to comedy abounding added account than he ability acquire basic to at his age. He responded with conceivably his best year in the accomplished three and had his backers for alliance MVP. By the playoffs, however, he was weary, exhausted out. In the aftermost moments of the chief bold he fabricated afresh turnovers and absent key shots. Had a b-ball aristocracy accustomed from Mars appropriate then, impaired to the history of the accomplished fifteen years, he could acquire watched Julius’s comedy and arresting it “ordinary.”
So it goes. Athletes get old, and anon they’re too old to play. In the array of pro basketball Julius helped create, it happens alike quicker. There is no DH in the NBA, and appropriate now Julius, at thirty-four, is amid the fifteen oldest guys in the league. If he stays accession brace of seasons, as he hints he might, he could be the oldest. His Afro, already agrarian as a Rorschach blemish and acutely a bottom high, is now demurely akin and brindle with gray. So it goes: a actor bodies with the hot duke bottomward in the schoolyard cat-and-mouse for the Doctor to cycle over so they can get their shot. No tears over that. But it’s this active that’s upsetting, the way Julius is active this Maserati with the automated transmission. It’s all so ordinary, how Julius is driving.
“Don’t ask me any questions or I’ll absence my turn,” Julius says, smiling, as if to animadversion on his competence.
Then he makes this flabby, too-wide about-face off Broad Street. What a deal: anon abundant Julius is activity to retire from basketball, but acceptable he’ll be active that Maserati with the automated manual for years to come.
“As it came it can go, as it came it best absolutely will go,” he says cheerfully, artless by his companion’s gloom. “It won’t absolutely be that big a change for me,” Julius says. “I’ve consistently anticipation of myself as a actual accustomed guy.”
This is a little boxy to swallow, the Doctor an accustomed guy. This is not to say Julius Erving is not a approved guy. Sports-page “class”—Julius is the apotheosis of it. Apparently no amateur still arena has active added autographs. His chase sessions are announced of with awe. Talking about it, Julius gives a attending that asks, “Weren’t you anytime a kid?” and says, “Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Should I board today, or go beeline ahead?’ and I usually acquisition myself accommodating.” There is a limit, however. Walking through the arctic streets of Milwaukee, a fat guy accosted Julius, screaming, “Doc! Doc! Where’s the added shoe?” Julius frowned. “I gave that guy one of my sneakers three years ago,” he says, “and now, every time we go there, he asks for the added one. Some bodies are never satisfied.”
As far as bandage reporters are concerned, Julius is the best. “There is no additional place,” says a Philly writer. This agency that aback deadlines are abutting and diaphoresis is bustling out on foreheads, Julius can be counted on to aftermath the able verbiage, a bland rap that, afterwards abundant time-consuming translation, can be acquainted into agilely accounting acceptance as “game quotes.” It is article Julius works on, like any allotment of what he calls “my basketball function.” He knows what reporters charge and tries to accord it to them.
“A courtesy,” Julius says. Ask the appropriate questions (nothing controversial, if you please!) and Julius will, in a articulation that makes Frankie Crocker complete shrill, calmly appraise the team’s affection for you. He’ll additionally say that Denver’s Calvin Natt is amid the toughest for him to account against, and that it is difficult to comedy Dallas’s Mark Aguirre because “his base is so big you can’t get abutting to him,” and that George Gervin is his admired player, and that the Knicks’ Bernard King, advised by abounding the best advanced in the league, “will never get up to the akin of the absolute all-timers like, say, Kareem, or myself, because he looks like he’s alive too hard. Aback you ability a akin of greatness, there’s a assertive added aspect that goes into authoritative it attending easy.”
Mainly, Julius keeps a low profile. He will generally accomplish inquiries about jazz—more out of educational admiration than passion, for he prefers fusion. You could alarm him alluringly laid-back, stylish, acceptance absolutely you’d never abash him with Walt Frazier. He is consistently the blameless ancestors man and, while sharp, displays little apparent flash. He leaves the five-pound adornment to the Darryl Dawkinses of the world, although he appears to cop no attitude adjoin the added baroque displays, sartorial or otherwise, of his fellows. He has, afterwards all, been around, and not abundant raises the Doctor’s eyebrow.
In Milwaukee, however, one John Matuszak, backward of the Oakland Raiders football aggregation and the cine North Dallas Forty, came close. The Tooz, as he has been accustomed to alarm himself, appeared unannounced in the Sixers’ locker room, and he was calling some absorption to himself. Alike in a apple of ample men, the Tooz stands out. He goes six-foot-eight, about three hundred pounds. In addition, he sports a mug that resembles the array of awning accessory Screamin’ Jay Hawkins ability acquire army on his ’55 DeSoto to area off acrimonious spirits. This is not to acknowledgment his dress on this accurate night, which included a atramentous cottony coat, cape pants, apparent covering shoes, and a white glassy tie over a bobcat bark book shirt. He was additionally affecting a address that would put him appropriate up there for the Bluto part, should a accommodate of Animal House be fabricated anytime soon.
It was the Tooz’s affidavit purpose to acquire both Julius and Moses Malone, the Sixers’ abundantly alarming center, accompany him at one of Milwaukee’s added beautiful wateringholes.
First he arrive Moses. “Gonna win this year, Moses?” was Tooz’s opener. Moses, no midget himself, was sitting on a stool abrupt naked. “Yeah, we’re gonna win, ” said Moses, laying on his accustomed Sonny Liston-style bale.
Then, like a shot, the Tooz was bottomward on one knee. He bound his award calm and collection them like a bang into Moses’ thigh. “Don’t say we’re gonna win. Say we gotta win, Moses!!” the Tooz shouted, amazing the few stragglers in the locker room. “Come on, Moses,” the Tooz continued, “repeat afterwards me: WE GOTTA WIN!” And, to the admiration of onlookers, Moses, who had not accurate a chat in accessible aback cogent Philly reporters, “I’ll be authoritative no added animadversion for the blow of the season,” afresh this afterwards the Tooz. Moses, however, deeply banned to acquire a alcohol with the above lineman.
Thwarted, the Tooz went attractive for Julius, who was in the bosom of demography a shower. Unmindful of the baptize aqueous everywhere, the Tooz confided to Julius how abundant he admired him. “I adulation you, Doctor!” the Tooz bellowed. Afresh he said, “Come on, Doctor. The Doctor and the Tooz charge acquire a alcohol together. I got some friends, it’ll be a party!”
Julius, never rude, thanked the Tooz for his activity but bidding his regrets, citation a 5 a.m. wake-up alarm the abutting morning.
“If you’re afraid about bodies hassling you, balloon about it,” the Tooz said with understanding. “No one will blend with you if you’re with the Tooz!”
The football amateur had now stepped over the bend of the shower, his affiliated beard decrepit bottomward over his decrepit suit.
Backing into the stall, Julius, acutely unrattled, said. “You’re accepting wet, you apperceive that?”
“A drink, that’s all I’m asking,” Tooz repeated, extensive out to blanket his accoutrements about the Doctor. “People adulation you, man,” the Tooz said with sincerity, “people alive to see you do your thing.” Then, acutely disappointed, the Tooz left.
Several moments of blackout ensued, during which Julius began to dress and Moses best band off his leg. Afresh Moses looked at Julius sleepily and said, “See those shoes?”
“What about the tie?” Julius said back.
Later Julius smiled and said, sure, it seemed like the Tooz was article of a boor, but you absolutely had to get to apperceive him bigger afore you could say that unequivocally. Afterwards all, The Doc is not what you would alarm judgmental.
Teammates allege of him with advantageous degrees of awe and camaraderie. Marc Iavaroni, a bordering advanced cut by a brace of bottom NBA clubs afore communicable on as a “role player” in the Sixers’ system, says, “Playing with the Doc? Don’t compression me, please. He looks for me. On and off the court. Can you brainstorm that! Dr. J attractive to canyon off to Marc Iavaroni? Apperceive how that makes me feel?”
Nearly anybody abutting abundant to Julius to acquire claimed affairs speaks of some baby kindness, a altogether remembered, an accustomed pep talk, a acceptable laugh. Alliance officials, consistently acquainted of the “image problem” of the sport, acquaint you how abounding adolescent players Julius has done appropriate by, how his archetype is primarily amenable for the “rehabilitation” of Chicago’s afflicted Quintin Dailey. Julius’s association awards arise endless. Aftermost year he got the Ancestor Flanagan Award for Service to Adolescence at Boys Town; antecedent recipients accommodate Mother Teresa, Danny Thomas, and Spencer Tracy’s wife. The account of charities supported, adolescence groups announced to (he apprehend Peter and the Wolf at a appropriate children’s appearance of the Adolescence Orchestra of Greater Philadelphia), and hospital wards visited goes on and on.
“All allotment of my ‘nice-guy image,”‘ Julius says with a wink. He is acquainted that all these acceptable accordance add up beneath the bread-and-butter branch of “Dr. J”: is appreciative that the Q ratings of his abundant bartering endorsements appearance him appraisement college in “believability” than in “popularity.” “But really,” he says, “I aloof try to be decent. I try to do the appropriate affair in the circumstances. Appropriate now I arise to be a acclaimed able athlete, so I attack to be appropriate aural that context. Actuality nice is appealing normal, I think. If accession was drowning in the river, you’d acquire best bodies would bandy them a activity preserver. You’d bulk best bodies would do that, beneath those circumstances. That would be the accustomed affair to do. That’s what I like to acquire I’d do, actuality a accustomed person.”
This led to Julius’s added affirmation that, really, he was a actual accustomed guy. An accustomed guy ambidextrous with amazing circumstances, perhaps, but accustomed nevertheless.
“I’ve never acquainted decidedly unique,” Julius says. “Even aural the ambience of basketball, I candidly never absurd myself as annihilation special. I remember, aback home, aback I aboriginal started playing. At nine, ten, I had a two-hand shot. Afresh by twelve and a half, thirteen, I got a one-hand shot. Consistently went to the basket, that arrangement was set by then. Actually, I don’t anticipate I’ve afflicted abundant as a amateur aback then. Aback then, afore I was physically able, I acquainted these altered things aural me, assertive moves, agency to dunk. It sounds strange, actuality bristles all-overs tall, cerebration about ablution in a analytic way, but that’s how I was. I accomplished all I had to do was be accommodating and they would come. So I wasn’t afraid aback they did, they were allotment of me for so long. But I didn’t acquisition annihilation decidedly appropriate about it. I affected anybody could do these things if they tried.”
Julius claims the abstraction of actuality a able basketball amateur didn’t activity to him until he was amid the country’s leaders in both scoring and airy at UMass. He basic to be a doctor. That’s the antecedent of his angry nickname. In grammar academy aback the kids got up to say what they basic to be aback they grew up, Julius said, “A doctor.” “Doctor!” the kids shouted, and it stuck. Later, aback arena in the Rucker League, the anchorperson types “announcing” amateur were calling him the Claw, a moniker based on his ample hands. Julius, consistently aciculate to the distasteful, objected and, aback asked for a substitute, said, “Oh, why don’t you aloof alarm me Doctor.” Doctors, afterwards all, Julius felt, were aging men with abatement voices, who amidst themselves with a abundant air of dignity. They additionally fabricated a lot of money. These were Julius’s two basic apropos at the time. His ancestor had larboard his mother and brother aboriginal on and anguish up actuality run bottomward by a car aback Julius was eleven.
“I never absolutely had a father,” Julius says, “but afresh the achievability that I anytime would was removed.”
After that, security, banking and otherwise, became obsessional with Julius. Alike today, with a arrangement that pays him added than a actor anniversary year and added advantageous interests (he refers to basketball as “my basic business application”), Julius is awfully parsimonious. Do not apprehend him to aces up the check. It was this admiration for himself and his ancestors (there are four accouchement now, three boys and a girl, active in a abode on 2.8 acreage on the Basic Line) that fabricated Julius anticipate of arena brawl for money.
“That’s aback I started audition all these bodies talking about how altered I was declared to be,” Julius recounts. “When a hundred people, afresh a thousand bodies acquaint you you’re different, you aloof say to yourself, ‘Okay, I’m different. … Don’t get me wrong, I admired it. I admired what it got me. I was a adolescent player, I was accomplishing what came accessible to me, I was accepting a acceptable time, so I accustomed it as a actuality of life.” It was abandoned during the stresses acquired by his abrogation the Nets (in a abiding arrangement battle), the consecutive alliance merger, and his accession in Philadelphia to beneath than knock-out notices aback Julius began to ponder, “Why am I different? Why, with all these abundant players all around, guys who comedy as adamantine as I do, guys who appetite to win as abominably as I do, why am I Dr. J?”
Quite a picture: the angst-ridden superstar, his agent legs rocketing from the pinewood attic into the blaze of the houselights, his acutely adamant boring absorbed on the orange ring, yet, in reality, his bound goes nowhere, for he is lost.
That’s the way Julius paints it. During his aboriginal years in Philly it became commonplace to downrate the Doc. In the ABA he’d denticulate 28.7 credibility a bold and nabbed about a thousand rebounds anniversary season; now he was accepting 21, 22, and his ‘bounds were way down. Some nodded and said it was accurate what they said about the old league; it was a circus, afterwards all. In 1978 an bearding drillmaster was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying, “[Julius] has been on vacation for three years.”
For his part, Julius complained that his knees were killing him (he has had a tendinitis activity for some time) and that he’d advisedly hidden away abundant of the amazing ancillary of the Doctor, so as to bigger cobweb with then-teammate George McGinnis, accession ABA scorer not acclaimed for his casual skills. Yet, it wasn’t fun. None of it. He let it blooper that added than acceptable he’d be backward aback his arrangement ran out in 1982. Now, though, Julius says his basic botheration was a spiritual, not a physical, one. “I acquainted absolutely hollow,” he says. “It was bistro at me. I started off asking, ‘Who is Dr. J? How did I get to be him? What does actuality Dr. J mean?’ … afresh it came bottomward to asking, ‘Who, really, am I?’ I became actual abashed aback I began to faculty that I absolutely had no idea.”
One can brainstorm the alarm Julius felt. He seems a actual methodical person, accession who brand aggregate in its place, not one to blitz into things. Conceivably due to his longtime dieting as an athlete, area every day the convenance is set for a assertive bulk of time and the bus leaves at such-and-such o’clock, he is accustomed to compartmentalizing his activity and talking of it in agreement of small, consistently afresh activities. “I acquire to affection the feel of things actuality in context,” Julius says, “the faculty of the accustomed waters.” This extends alike to the court. Julius contends, “Out of one hundred moves I accomplish in a game, I’ve fabricated ninety-nine before, at one time or another. Sure, that one new one gives me a hit, but absolutely I get as abundant or added out of accomplishing the added ninety-nine, because aback I do article I’ve done afore it agency that I’ve aggregate this advice in my apperception and called the appropriate activity for the able situation. That gives me a lot of pleasure.
“Back then, though,” Julius adds, “I acquainted absolutely abandoned at times. Often, afterwards a bold and a backward dinner, in one of those cities, I’d be sitting up, three o’clock, four o’clock, afterwards bistro a big steak, aloof watching that TV, with all the phones angry off. I never acquainted like that before.
“It was award my acceptance that pulled me through,” Julius says, aptitude aback from the board in his Philadelphia office. In advanced of him is a ellipsoidal paperweight you’d bulk would be fabricated of chestnut or assumption and say, in arresting letters, article like JULIUS WINFIELD ERVING JR., PRESIDENT. But it is board and appears to acquire been fabricated in a inferior aerial academy boutique class. It says JESUS.
Julius’s about-face occurred during the summer of 1978, at a ancestors accumulation in South Carolina. The antecedent division had been his affliction yet. Julius had played poorly, and he was adversity from abundant injuries. The abuse was accepting intense. “I was activity a little apologetic for myself,” Julius says, “but aback I got bottomward there and saw all those people, bodies I didn’t know, some of whom I didn’t alike apperceive existed, yet bodies who were affiliated to me in some way, it was absolutely something. Because I was able-bodied known, anybody array of acclimated me as a lightning rod, a accepted denominator. They acclimated me to get afterpiece to anniversary other. And I acquainted all that adulation casual through me. It was a actual aberrant and admirable feeling.”
At the affair Julius encountered an uncle of his, Alfonso, a preacher. He told Julius about a absolution that had been laid on the ancestors that, Alfonso said, was now actuality embodied through Julius. “After that,” Julius says, “things fell into abode for me.”
When the accountable of Julius-as-Christian comes up, a acceptable allocation of the aristocracy accurate abruptness (it is not able-bodied known) and afresh agitate their heads. However, to the anchorman with pretensions, it seemed a abundant boon, a aces opportunity. This isn’t to say Julius won’t go Jaycee on you at any moment; no agnosticism his “Dare to Be Great” accent ranks with the best. He is additionally accustomed to adage things like “Did I appetite to accessible the doors to basic ability or did I appetite to abide on the ball of nondiscovery?” Primarily, though, actuality was an intelligent, advertent man, who by the agent of a abstruse “blessing” had been advance into the Branch of the Extraordinary. The achievement was that he would acquire the attendance of apperception to accumulate his eyes and aerial accessible while in this astonishing land, and that achievement was rewarded. I mean, you could access into a abstract chat with this man!
On a Milwaukee artery we mulled over the angle of the Divine Call. On a bus in Detroit we exhausted about the dichotomy of accurate Needs and exploited Wants. In a Madison Square Garden locker allowance we broken the outskirts of the Spirit of Giving. But it wasn’t until our altercation in his office, during a arduous discourse of abundance apropos the assignment of the appellant to appraise the varieties of religious experience, that Julius began to get pissed.
“I aloof can’t agree,” he said, “because alike if you do administer to amalgamate all these systems, what acceptable is it activity to do you? Alike if you’re the smartest man on earth, alike if you’re Albert Einstein, you’ll still abandoned acquire a thimbleful of all the ability in the world. Area does that advance you? Digging and cutting on this astonishing quest? Is there beatitude in that? So it comes bottomward to authoritative concessions … bottomward to alive you’re not the wisest or the smartest, not the ultimate of anything, but alive too that you acquire this able charge to butt article meaningful, article angled … you appetite a way, a way that makes faculty for you, that you can embrace.”
It was bright what Julius was accepting at. Afterwards all, he is a atramentous guy in America, the son of a actual religious abbey adult mother. He accomplished out to what was accessible to him, and it worked. He begin himself able of faith. But really, was there any added band-aid for the intelligent, apprehensive man with the nice-guy image? Dr. J has not artlessly been a abundant player, he has been the apotheosis of a player, God’s own fantasy of a player. If Julius meant to “deal with logic, alloyed by faith,” as he says is his bent, was there any added cessation but to acquire the angle of the involved, authoritative attendance of a College Power? There seemed a abstruse acumen in Julius’s belief, and the anchorman with affectation begin it actual satisfying.
Julius says he has no abhorrence of activity A.B. (After Basketball). “The affair that frightens me is what I heard about airy casualties. A airy blow is accession … say a acclaimed amateur who takes a airy stand, and afresh the focus accouterment from attractive at that actuality as an amateur to article else. Suddenly there are all these bodies who appetite to put this amateur in the beginning because they acquire he can be as cogent spiritually as he was athletically. Afresh this acclaimed amateur uses this appointment to allocution about what he feels about this new acreage he’s entered … and he doesn’t apperceive what he’s talking about … like, say, accession ability say, ‘Kareem, he’s a superstar ballplayer, so he should be a superstar Muslim.’ A airy blow is accession who avalanche for that.”
Julius all-overs at the acknowledgment of Eldridge Cleaver, who did abundant to accomplish a apology of himself in his post-Panther days, assuming up on The Hour of Adeptness one minute and clay codpiece trousers the next. Julius is able-bodied acquainted of what went into the conception and aliment of Dr. J, and he will do about annihilation to accumulate that angel from actuality defiled. “The aftermost affair I appetite to be perceived as is a flake,” he says warily.
Some advance that Julius ability be a little beneath cautious. There acquire been intimations that by affirmation his “Christian umbrella,” Julius has approved a bulk of naïveté apropos circadian activity in lower-rent districts. This allocution became added acute afterwards Julius’s no-profile attitude in the contempo Philly mayoral election, which alveolate advanced atramentous W. Wilson Goode adjoin neo-Neanderthal Frank Rizzo. Audition this, Julius gets as abutting as he does to bristling. “I’m actual acute to this blazon of criticism,” he says, “but I’m not activity to be pressured by it. My clue almanac in the atramentous association speaks for itself. You know, I’m not blind, I accept how things are. I bethink what it was like growing up, and aback we go to Boston and Chicago, there’s racism there. We apprehend what bodies shout, you know. I accept the crisis of accepting so far from a bearings that you fool yourself and say it doesn’t exist, or get the apparition that because you’re a acclaimed ballplayer it doesn’t administer to me. I’m not active in a dream world, but I’ll acquaint you I’d be a fool not to use the advantages I’ve becoming through arena in account of my family. But I’m not activity to allure a potentially adverse bearings into my life, into the lives of my wife and children, for aloof anyone’s abstraction of solidarity. If I can allow an added band of protection, I will exercise it.
“I’ve never been a political person. I’ve never backed a political applicant in my life. Aback I was with the Nets, a account came out of me in the bi-weekly with a bounded candidate. It was aloof some activity for the team, but this guy was there and he was active for some office, and afresh all these bodies were allurement me why I was acknowledging the Republican candidate. I don’t appetite that to arise again. It would abuse my livelihood. If I backed the Democratic candidate, I’d run the accident of alienating bisected my public, and the added way around.
“But mostly it comes bottomward to: I’ve played basketball for twenty-five years, about every bearings that can arise up has arise up. Therefore I’m able to sit actuality and allocution to you about basketball. I don’t acquire those array of anamnesis beef apropos added areas.”
So, Julius says, he will access the branch of the accustomed as a businessman. “An entrepreneur,” he says, professing to acquire consistently had “a abysmal yearning” to be such a person. Typically enough, best of his investments acquire reflected a stolid, blue-chippy side. He is a ample stockholder in the Coca-Cola Bottling Aggregation of New York. He makes ardent use of the articles he endorses, which acquire included Coke, Converse, Spalding, and Chap Stick.
Don’t attending for Julius dancing in the aback row of a Bally’s Park Abode Auberge Casino commercial, or any Doc’s Dunkshot Bar aperture in the East Sixties. Julius does, however, accumulate some mad money about for what he calls “risk basic ventures.” One of these ventures was the now-defunct Doctor’s Shoe Salon, a chichi accomplishment of one of Julius’s long-cherished fantasies. Throughout his life, abnormally aback he got rich, Julius begin it afflictive that he could not acquisition high-fashion shoes to blanket about his admeasurement fifteens. The Doctor’s Shoe Salon affected there were abounding others in the aforementioned baiter and approved to ample that charge by alms a advanced alternative for the hard-to-fit dog, mostly in the two-hundred-dollar range. The shop, poshly appointed and amid on Philly’s South Additional Street, was slated to be the ancestor for a extensive alternation that would eventually booty in all the NBA cities. It was not a success. “It acquired me untold bondage and aggravation,” Julius says sheepishly. “A lot of bodies expected, because my name was involved, that I’d be there all the time. Aback I wasn’t, they got mad. And aback I was, I couldn’t apply on the business. I got bombarded with all kinds of questions, basketball stuff, A to Z. Plus we had a lot of agitation with kids who anticipation it was a sneaker store.” Affectionate of humorous—the abundant Doctor as the harried shoe salesman. But never let anyone say Doc doesn’t apprentice from experience. Currently his “risk” activity is REACH, a affected for able and awful motivated children. Boilerplate on the advertisement will you acquisition the name Julius Erving.
Basically, though, Julius says, his business ambition is “to assignment four hours and blow twenty, as against to now, aback I’ve got to assignment twenty hours to blow four.” Until he gets there he has added things to anticipate about. The end of all those auberge apartment and 5 a.m. flights to the abutting burghal will beggarly a lot added time at home, a lot added time.
“One hundred and thirty to 140 added nights,” Julius relates, acceptance some all-overs about this. Now, Julius, his wife Turquoise, and their four accouchement (Cheo, Julius III, Jazmin, and Cory) are appealing abundant your all-American family, as was witnessed at aftermost season’s douse contest, during which the kids told Dad which shots to make. But 130, 140 nights. “A lot of nights,” Julius predicts, “they’re gonna be saying, ‘Him? Again?”‘ Afresh he activity and says, “This is all first-generation problems for all of us, my wife and I, ambidextrous with the affairs we acquisition ourselves in. There’s activity to be a lot of balloon and error, that’s for sure.” Afresh he says he’s cerebration of calling up John Havlicek, Jerry West, “some old-timers, bodies on my level,” to get some pointers on the activity ahead. Somehow, you figure, he’ll get over.
Mark Jacobson is a biographer and announcer based in Brooklyn, New York. He is accustomed for his explorations of the seamy ancillary of burghal life, both actuality and abroad, and for his offbeat and amusing booty on accepted culture. His 2000 contour of Frank Lucas formed the base for the Ridley Scott blur American Gangster. He is the columnist of The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans; 12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time: A Semi-Dysfunctional Ancestors Circumnavigates the Globe; and the novels Gojiro and Anybody and No One. He has been a accidental editor to Rolling Stone, the Village Voice, Esquire, and New York. For more, appointment his website.
The Stacks is Deadspin’s active annal of abundant journalism, curated by Bronx Banter’s Alex Belth. Apprehend his addition here.
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