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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Alexandra Stevenson's "Rebirth" as Julius Erving's Daughter

When I was growing up, I thought that Julius Erving was the perfect basketball player, someone who had an amazing skill set: otherworldly leaping ability, huge hands, quickness, the tenacity to battle bigger players for rebounds, the vision/hand eye coordination to make great passes, a solid shooting stroke. He was quite literally poetry in motion as he glided to the hoop for a slick finger roll or a powerful slam dunk over anyone who dared to get in his way.

I used to dream of playing alongside Erving with the Philadelphia 76ers and I even remember calculating how old he would be if I left school early and went to the NBA (hey, I was just a kid and you can't begrudge a kid his dream). I was so disappointed when I saw a 33 year old Erving tell Cheryl Miller (then a college star at USC) that he had no plans to be a "marathon man" and that he knew that the end of his career was approaching (Erving retired four years later).

In the great, underrated TV show "Wiseguy," Ken Wahl's character Vinnie Terranova spoke about dreaming as a kid of playing center field for the Yankees. Someone asked Terranova--who was in his early to mid 30s--when he gave up that dream and Terranova immediately replied that he had never given it up. That pretty much sums up how I feel about playing alongside Erving--and if you believe in Hugh Everett's "Many Worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics--then perhaps there is some parallel universe in which I developed enough lateral quickness to play in the NBA and Erving decided to extend his career past the age of 40 a la Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

On a less whimsical note, in addition to Erving's on court prowess it also seemed like he was the perfect family man, someone who always made the right moves off the court as surely and confidently as he made the right moves on the court.

Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect player or a perfect man--but being imperfect does not stop someone from being great, nor does it preclude finding redemption for one's shortcomings.

In his famous ESPYs speech, Jim Valvano said that every day you should do something that makes you think, something that makes you laugh and something that brings you to tears (of happiness or sadness). In other words, every day of your life you should experience life with as many senses and emotions as possible.

Tom Friend's story about Julius Erving's reconciliation with his daughter Alexandra Stevenson is a great piece of journalism and as you read it you will surely more than fill Valvano's daily "quota":

Reaching Out

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posted by David Friedman @ 10:06 PM

5 comments

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5 Comments:

At Friday, December 19, 2008 3:46:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

Friend's story was touching. I'm glad Erving and Stevenson are finally building a relationship that should have started 28 years ago. I think the article really captured the fact that not knowing what to do is not the same thing as not caring.

When I was a child I was a huge Magic Johnson fan. I don't think I ever fantasized about being a teammate of his on the Lakers, but I did want to grow to be exactly 6'9" tall, and I used to practice shooting running baby-hook shots. I used to get into fierce arguments with classmates who insisted Michael Jordan was a better player than Magic.

I was shocked when I came home from school one day to learn Magic was HIV positive. When the unflattering details came out about the irresponsible behavior that led to Magic catching the virus, I was really disappointed. As a kid who made sports much bigger than I should have, I felt betrayed.

As I got older, I learned that virtually every beloved public figure, from John Kennedy to Magic Johnson, had some skeletons in the closet. When I hear something bad nowadays about anyone, I just shrug and it hardly affects my view of them as an athlete or politician or entertainer or whatever.

What I don't quite understand is why, after finding out over and over again about the shortcomings of various famous people, we as a society continue to yearn for celebrities with seemingly perfect personal lives. Why do the media fixate on people who seem like great family men when there is a good chance that they aren't? A celebrity's personal life is something the public is never going to know all about, yet we still cannot fight the urge to jump to conclusions based on limited information. Ideally, we should care about the work people do, and not so much about their personalities.

With all the news that has come out over the years regarding Julius Erving's shortcomings as a husband and father, it's kind of strange looking back at the media coverage of his career (especially as his retirement approached). There's a TV special posted on youtube from when he was about to retire, for instance. It spends more time talking about what a supposedly great family man he is than what he did on the basketball court. With what we know now it sounds so silly. Sportswriters should not be in the business of judging athletes as human beings because one, it's not relevant to the sport, and two, we don't have enough information anyway. There is, however, a complete public record of what an athlete does in his profession, and that's what should be discussed.

 
At Friday, December 19, 2008 4:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

Magic's announcement was particularly shocking and distressing because at that time it seemed like being HIV positive was almost certainly a death sentence; it did not seem unreasonable to think that Magic would be dead within a few years.

The way that I cover and write about sports is greatly influenced by an understanding of exactly what you described: only the people closest to these athletes truly know what they are really like as people; members of the media are merely seeing a public image that may or may not reflect reality. I think that some members of the media like to delude themselves to believe that because they have a little more access to athletes than most people do that this somehow enables them to better understand what kind of people the athletes truly are. I've never fallen for that delusion. Watching athletes practice and play and talking to them before and after games provides insight into the nature of their competitive spirit and--in unguarded moments--may provide a glimpse of aspects of their true character but this does not really reveal what they are like on a day in, day out basis. That is why I don't pretend to know such things and why I criticize commenters here who think that they know such things.

As I said in the post, Erving was portrayed for many years as an almost perfect family man. The reality is different but what you said is very profound: "not knowing what to do is not the same thing as not caring."

 
At Friday, December 19, 2008 6:17:00 AM, Anonymous tp said...

The article ends on a perfect note, but I am not too sure I like the way she reached out for him only because she was cash-strapped. She was honest about it, no sugar-coating nor scamming there, and I do realize that parents ate to help out their sons and daughters no matter what. But it has a bitter-sweet taste.

That's something I like. I've not been around pro sports much, but whenever I've had the chance, it turns out that the real story, the complex dynamics where nobody is really ood or totally bad and everybody is partially to blame for something, that real story is so much more fascinating than the usual hero-worship regularly passed around as sports journalism. The way sport issues are transformed into moral issues without any ellaboration (I don't mean Mr Halberstam at all, quite the contrary) bores me to tears.

I want to know how and why a team or an athlete won, and I don't want to be told that it was because he or she or they are humble and hardworking and karma makes sure that good guys win because good guys win. Everybody is flawed, and the story that fascinates me is how somebody managed to overcome his or her flaws and win.

Give me bittersweet every time.

 
At Friday, December 19, 2008 9:17:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

As I stated in the ABA post before this post, WOW. All of you have stated it beautifully.

 
At Saturday, December 20, 2008 12:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

larry bird dr j isiah thomas all dead beat dads you dont have kids and not take care of them good they starting a relationship here bird still been a joke about his and isiah karl malone is a punk how he treated his 3 kids as well and jason caffey 10 kids by 8 women lol.

 

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