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Monday, September 29, 2014

Julius Erving on Being a Role Model

"I projected in my story about always having the carrot out in front of me, that tomorrow is going to be the best day of my life, and hopefully I can make a difference tomorrow that I haven't been able to make today."--Julius Erving

In December 2013, Tavis Smiley spoke with Julius Erving about Erving's autobiography Dr. J. The wide-ranging conversation reflected Erving's typical depth of thought and abiding grace. Erving explained to Smiley how some mentors pointed him in the right direction at key moments, enabling him to in turn set a great example as a role model after he became an internationally famous athlete.

Here is that exchange, taken directly from the official interview transcript:

Tavis: So I’m watching you, and the one thing I noticed about you, even as a child, was your humility on the court. There is so much--speaking of football, there’s a lot of this in football, and even a lot of it in basketball, but people, athletes, will do something spectacular on the court or on the field, and it’s almost hard to resist doing a dance (laughter) or getting in somebody’s face.

With all the moves that you ever did, you would go to the hole, jump this way, jump this way, turn this way, flip back this way, left hand, right hand, back to the left hand, behind the backboard, put it in.

Whatever it is that you did, you would do it and just run right back down the court. I’ve never one time seen you get in somebody’s face, with all the gift and talent you had. So tell me about that humility. That’s more than just a word, it seems.

Erving: Yeah, the influences on your life, if I’ve been an influence on your life, then there might be a moment in which you get into a situation and you might say, “What would Julius do” or “What would Julius think,” “What would Mom think,” “What would Dad think.”

I had really good influences in my mom, first and foremost. The guy I was talking about from last night, Don Ryan, who was my first coach. The big three over in high school, Ray Wilson, Earl Mosley, Chuck Mcawane (sp), they always said, “Look, win without boasting and lose without crying.”

If you play sports, you’re going to lose sometimes, and I have cried, but I didn’t have control over the tears. But I’ve always had control over boasting, always, because boasting is something that emotions don’t make you do that.

You program your brain to do it, and sometimes when I see it, I crack up, because guys are just following other guys, saying, well, I’m going to make my dance funkier than his dance. (Laughter)

Or whatever, and I’m like, “Really?” So I don’t get too mad at it because I got kids and I got grandkids, and they’re part of that generation that celebrates the moment.

I had some coaches, like “We’re not celebrating unless we win the game.” The game is certainly not over in the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, or through the fourth quarter. It’s not over till it’s over, and if it’s over and we win, we get on our bus and we can celebrate. But prior to that, I don’t want to see it.

Doing things the right way has always been of paramount importance to Erving. Erving's Philadelphia 76ers posted the best regular season record in the NBA from 1976-83 but he never scored more than 45 points in a single game for the 76ers; when his team had the game well in hand, Erving went to the bench instead of artificially inflating his individual statistics: Erving told me that it is "crass" for a player to pad his numbers if the outcome of the game has been decided. When I was a kid, I wished that Erving would play until the last minute and put up 50 points or more but upon further reflection I have gained appreciation for his approach; people who understand basketball know how great Erving was no matter how many 50 point games Erving rang up and the opinions of people who don't understand basketball just don't matter: greatness encompasses so much more than just compiling certain statistics or impressing particular influential commentators. When the Virginia Squires and New York Nets needed a young Erving to post dominant statistics, Erving did just that and when the 76ers asked Erving to blend into a team concept he sacrificed personal glory for group success--and when Coach Billy Cunningham realized that it was a mistake to ask the best player to tone his game down too much, Erving proved that his late 1970s critics had no idea what they were talking about!

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:06 PM