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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Interview with Julius Erving After NBA Cares Program in Cleveland

The NBA and the Cleveland Cavaliers, in partnership with Toyota, Disney, Lenovo and Encyclopedia Brittanica, renovated the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland/West Side Club and dedicated a new Learn and Play Center. This is part of the ongoing NBA Cares program. The ribbon cutting ceremony for the facility was held on Wednesday afternoon. NBA legends Julius Erving, Bob Lanier, Bill Russell, Bill Walton, Austin Carr and Campy Russell headlined the attendees, along with NBA Commissioner David Stern and various other league, city and corporate officials.

Afterwards, the legends conducted some brief, informal media availability sessions. Naturally, I gravitated toward Erving. He spoke with me, the Plain Dealer's Bill Livingston and some Cleveland TV reporters for a few minutes. Here are some highlights of his remarks on a variety of subjects (my questions are in italics, other questions are in regular type):

Does LeBron James need more help to eventually bring an NBA title to Cleveland?

"If they're going to play San Antonio they need more. There are a lot of teams they can beat and there are a lot of teams they did beat in seven game series. They beat Washington, they beat New Jersey, they beat Detroit. They beat some very good teams. Maybe they could have beaten Houston, maybe they could have beaten Phoenix--those are all maybes."

You played in your first Finals in the ABA at the age of 24. What do you think of when you see someone as young as LeBron playing in his first Finals? What kind of memories does that bring back for you?

"Seeing anybody in his first Finals is going to evoke special memories. Even though I was the leading scorer and rebounder on that team (the 1973-74 New York Nets), we had some veteran players, particularly Billy Melchionni, who had great experience; he had been a champion in Philadelphia. Our coaching staff of Kevin Loughery and Rod Thorn were seasoned veterans of playoff wars (as NBA players) and guys who really knew what to talk to the players about in the locker room. I was maybe the horse, so maybe they loosened up the reins and let the horse do what the horse had to do, but the braintrust was way beyond what my understanding of the scope of the situation was."

Overall you had a young team, though.

"Yeah, young players but we had veterans on the floor, Melchionni in particular, and Loughery and Thorn (coaching the team)...I thought we had a nice mix of young players but it's the whole package put together that makes you a team that can be a champion, because we were playing against a pretty veteran team in the Utah Stars, with Zelmo Beaty, Willie Wise, Ron Boone and that crew--they were actually more experienced than we were."

Did you regard it as a big upset--as the commentators did--when your 1976 Nets team beat the Denver Nuggets?

"They dominated us during the regular season but I think that at playoff time us having the championship experience from 1974 really helped. It was something for us to draw on. Brian Taylor played a very significant role during that time, too. The battle with San Antonio before that, going seven games and coming through that healthy, gave us an edge. If you look at the first two games in Denver, I had sensational games, scoring 48 and 45 points, and we got the split. Getting the split was everything for us, because that set the stage; we pretty much played even after that, but we had taken the home court advantage."

What do you look for in Game Four of the Finals?

"I'm not going to be here (laughter). I don't know; I look for a great effort from the Cavs, maybe some great individual play. I don't know if the collective effort of the Cavs can equate to a victory against the collective effort of the Spurs. I think that you might see some pretty good individual efforts because when you get to elimination games--LeBron, maybe Drew (Gooden) or Gibson, might rise to the occasion and have pretty good games. But there is (also) a tendency in elimination games for some guys to disappear and the deletion will probably be greater than the enhancement."

Does some of LeBron's style as a dunker remind you of yourself, particularly his extension and the way he holds the ball over his head with one hand?

"That's a really interesting question. I never really got to see myself dunk a whole lot; I usually just watched the expression on the other guys' faces (laughter)."

But when you see your dunks on highlight films...

"When I see him dunk it is an awesome experience. I think if he went to the Slam Dunk Contest he would win it every year because he jumps so high, elevates and throws it down so hard, with the emphasis and the impact. I've still got scars on my wrists and going all the way up my forearm (from banging against the rim) and I know that he's got a lot of the same. We have to compare them one day. He is an authoritative dunker but he is so much more than just a dunker. He's struggling a little bit with his shot but that will come in time. He will be in many more situations like this and he will learn how to do a little bit less and actually get a little more out of it."

Is this Finals appearance part of the learning curve for James?

"It's a learning curve for the franchise period, so it's a learning curve for everyone who is involved with the franchise even though they've got some members of management and the coaching staff who have championship experience. To be in it where you are the responsible entity (is different). I listened to some of the press conferences yesterday and I didn't hear certain things that I would have expected to hear that would bring it all together."

Like what specifically?

"The defense of what everybody was doing. Everybody was defending his own position, all the way through. Everybody said, 'I did what I needed to do'--but it's not really about what I need to do; it's about what we need to do."

How would you rank LeBron's 48 performance in Game Five against Detroit?

"I saw Andrew Toney score 25 points in a quarter against the Lakers; I probably would equate it with that...I didn't realize what had happened but when we walked in the locker room Darryl Dawkins came over to Toney and said, 'Boy you put something on them tonight.' Then I looked at the stat sheet. I've seen Tracy McGrady--when I was working in Orlando--go on scoring binges like that and of course I've seen Kobe Bryant do it a few times and maybe even Gilbert Arenas. Michael (Jordan) has probably done it but to get them all in succession (like LeBron did, scoring 25 points in a row)--even in my 63 point game in the ABA I don't know if that many of them were in a row. It's probably just a sign of how gifted, how chosen, how talented the kid is, that he can do that when he is the principle playmaker on the team. But there is a time to step up, take charge and just strut your stuff. Kevin Loughery was always good with this. Sometimes he'd say, 'Look, Doc, the game plan ain't working. You've got to make something happen.' I can see Coach Brown over there saying that to LeBron: 'All that stuff we talked about in the locker room ain't working. Give me something.' Boom--that's the green light."

Did Loughery ever kiss you on the floor (like Brown kissed James after the 48 point game)?

"I don't remember being kissed."

Billy (Cunningham) did (after the Sixers won the 1983 championship).

Erving laughs: "Billy did; he gave me a big wet one on the cheek."

posted by David Friedman @ 6:31 PM


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At Thursday, June 14, 2007 12:07:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

Nice interview. As a Dr. J fan, I like the fact that you put up an interviews or articles relating to him every now and then.

I remember after the 76ers won the finals in 1983, Billy Cunningham was running around giving a kiss to almost everyone he saw. It's one of several funny/strange endings to NBA Finals series I remember.

At Thursday, June 14, 2007 12:11:00 AM, Blogger marcel said...

dr j a true legend he was jordan before jordan and a truely great player he's big on lebron like most lebron has some of the same style as a dunker as him

david have you ever ben star struck interviewing anybody and who was your most nervous interview

At Thursday, June 14, 2007 5:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I don't get nervous doing interviews because while I am doing them I am focused on what I am asking and the person's answers, which may lead to different followup questions. It would be more nerve wracking to have to play against these guys, particularly in their primes, but I don't feel intimidated or nervous talking to them about basketball strategies or history.

I also would not say that I get starstruck per se but I certainly feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to interview so many prominent players. Sometimes it seems a little strange to talk to someone who I have seen on TV so many times and who I know so much about but who may know nothing about me before the interview.

Erving is the player I most wanted to have the opportunity to interview because he has been my favorite player since I was a child. Pippen and Bryant are also players who I particularly enjoy watching and who, in different ways, have received what I believe to be unfair criticism, so I enjoyed the opportunity to let them tell their side of the story, so to speak.

At Sunday, July 08, 2007 11:36:00 AM, Blogger Kenai said...

Great interview David, from one Doc and ABA fan to another.Keep 'em coming.

At Sunday, July 08, 2007 7:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you.


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