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Friday, August 29, 2008

Great Julius Erving Stories

Here are some great links about my all-time favorite player, the one and only Julius "Dr. J" Erving:

The Net-Ripping, Backboard-Shaking, Mind-Blowing Dr. J (Sports Illustrated, December 11, 1972)

Not even two months into Erving's second season, Peter Carry writes, "One school holds that he is already the best forward ever to play the game, another claims he needs a year or two more to polish up his defense and outside shot before he inevitably becomes the best."

Big Julie is Doing Nicely--Nicely (Sports Illustrated, January 14, 1974)

Peter Carry writes, "Julius Erving has brought his Dr. Nicely-Nicely routine back home to Long Island . He has done nicely on the floor, where he has led the youngest starting lineup in the pros—average age 22.6 years—back from a skitterish start and into title contention. He has done nicely off it as well, charming the clergy, his employers, the recently re-elected Nassau County Executive (whom he endorsed after extracting pledges for recreational programs for his hometown of Roosevelt), and even the Madison Avenue types who are after some endorsements of their own. Naturally enough, Dr. J. now spiels for Dr. Pepper."

The Doctor Opens His Medicine Bag (Sports Illustrated, May 17, 1976)

Pat Putnam offers this tribute to Erving's stellar play in the first four games of the 1976 ABA Finals (Erving's Nets went on to win in six games, claiming the final ABA title):

"Too bad, America, but you missed one of the greatest basketball shows on Earth. Or, rather, one just a few feet off the Earth. That was Julius Erving last week, launching himself from various points on courts in Denver and New York, soaring and scoring, passing, rebounding, blocking and stealing—all in the undeserved obscurity of the ABA championship finals. By Saturday night Erving and his underdog New York Nets had Denver down three games to one, which is what can happen when humans go five-on-one with a helicopter.

The games were not nationally televised, but they should have been. Dr. J's heroics merited more than just local exposure. In the first four games he scored 158 points, pulled down 51 rebounds, had 22 assists, blocked seven shots and had eight steals. Most of them came with the Identified Flying Object's feet well off the ground, his body twisting and turning. Even the Nuggets felt like applauding."

"I'll Never Play the Same Old Riff" (Sports Illustrated, May 17, 1976)

Erving tells John Papanek, "I can get a rebound and go. I'll give it off or, if I want, I'll go all the way myself. Once I get into the lane it's history. I'm like a jazzman. When it's my turn to solo, I'm not about to play the same old riff."

The Best the Game Offers (Time, May 24, 1982)

Tom Callahan writes, "It used to be said of Bill Russell, 'He improves every player on the floor.' Now it is said of Bird. And it should be said also of Erving, at 32 the other sublime forward in the game. Dr. J concurs with Bird that the pass means more than the shot and only gives the impression that the 'move' means most of all. Bird recalls Robertson's impeccability; Erving reprises Elgin Baylor's flamboyance. But the subtler moves of Dr. J are the ones the players note and appreciate."

Dr. J is Flying Away (Time, December 22, 1986)

Callahan again strikes the perfect notes, opening this great piece with the following lines: "On the playground, where the move counts as much as the basket, 'winners' out' is the rule. Score the hoop, keep the ball. Win the game, maintain the court. Hold out until dark if you can, or at least until twilight. Julius ("Dr. J") Erving, the most watchable basketball player of the past 16 years, has begun to say goodbye to cities: Portland, Seattle, Oakland, Phoenix. At final stops along the Philadelphia 76ers' way, home teams have been introducing their own players first in order to build a crescendo for Dr. J, the National Basketball Association star who plays for everyone."

Dr. J and Pistol Pete on the Same Team (Basketball Digest, October 2004; reprinted at 20 Second Timeout, November 9, 2006)

I have had the good fortune to interview numerous Hall of Famers, members of the 50 Greatest Players List and other legends but the opportunity to talk hoops with Erving will always be at the top of the list for me--and one of the many highlights of that conversation was when Erving told me the story of the brief time that he was Pete Maravich's teammate with the Atlanta Hawks. I knew the bare bones story before talking with Erving but when I asked him about it he delivered the heart and soul, starting with the earnest statement, "It really was one of the joys of my life to play with Pete, to be in training camp with him."

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:30 AM



At Friday, August 29, 2008 8:35:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

The way he used to take the ball off the bounce, palm it and dunk or fingerroll or do anything else is something that we will never see again. His graceful play is what I miss about the NBA. There is no one in the league today or ever again that has the style and grace like Doctor J did.

At Friday, August 29, 2008 4:14:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...



At Friday, August 29, 2008 4:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

how about George Gervin's fingerroll, that was a thing of grace

At Saturday, August 30, 2008 3:19:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

S. Tiku:

Gervin was of course great as well. He was actually a protege of Erving's, in a sense. They were teammates with the Virginia Squires in 1972-73 and Doc used to play one on one with Ice after practice, just like Pistol Pete played one on one after practice with Doc during that preseason (as I described in the last article listed in this post). Doc told me how much he enjoyed playing one on one with Pistol and when I talked with Ice he told me how much the one on one sessions with Doc helped his game as a rookie.

At Monday, September 01, 2008 8:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

i missed dr j i wonder how much money he would make today my dad told he was great never seen him play only on highlights.

At Tuesday, September 02, 2008 6:31:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Dr. J from his best years ('72-'83) would be a max level contract player (i.e., $20 million-plus per year) and he would annually be battling for the MVP award; he won three ABA MVPs and in 1981 he became the first non-center to win the NBA MVP in almost 20 years (since Oscar Robertson), paving the way for non-centers Bird, Magic and MJ to win MVPs.

At Tuesday, September 02, 2008 8:55:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

Dr. J was God. Athletes who played pro sports in the 70s and 80s all wanted to be and loved Dr. J. Kids all of over the country black and white wanted to be Doc. He meant so much to life. I remember his last game on CBS against the Bucks when he walked off the court and my father just crying and I started crying right after. He meant that much.

If he didnt play in the NBA.....

s.tiku....Gervins finger roll was beautiful because he used to do it from like 15 feet sometimes. He said he took Connie Hawkins, Wilt and Dr J's fingerolls and combined them into one.

At Monday, September 08, 2008 4:07:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I've always been fascinated by basically anything I read regarding Dr. J's time in the ABA. It's as if a mythical basketball player, perhaps the best ever, is being described. I've noticed that people who saw/knew Dr. J from his time with the Nets spoke of him with much more reverence and awe than those who knew him only as a Sixer. Of course, we know why this is the case (the changing of Dr. J's role, as you've mentioned previously). That's part of what makes it so interesting. Imagine if virtually all records and accounts of Michael Jordan's career were destroyed and only a handful of witnesses remained 30 years from now to pass on the tales of a great but forgotten career.

Have you seen any actual games of Dr. J in the ABA? I'm not old enough to have seen any live, and the only ones that classic sports channels replay are Game 1 of the 1976 Finals (second half only) and Game 6 of the 1976 Finals. Of course, Dr. J's performance in the Slam Dunk Competition is often replayed. I don't think I've ever seen the full 1976 All-Star game though (I'm not even sure a tape exists).

At Tuesday, September 09, 2008 2:38:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The five year boundary is very significant; if you look at most of the careers of pro basketball's greatest players you will find that many of their greatest achievements happened in their first five years.

Bob Costas once made the point that Dr. J may be the last truly great athlete who began his career before mass media coverage of sports really took over. Therefore, Erving's early years have taken on a kind of mythological status--except that the "myths" are true: we have the numbers and we have enough video to prove that he really was that good.

I have seen the footage you mentioned plus some footage from other games but I probably have not seen a single game in its entirety from start to finish; complete games are hard to find. The footage that blew me away the most came from the 1972 NBA-ABA All-Star Game. Even in grainy black and white it was breathtaking to see just how explosively fast yet incredibly graceful a young Erving was; he made moves at full speed in the open court that were just incredible.

At Sunday, September 21, 2008 4:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just learned that history buffs can buy a DVD with video for much of the '72 NBA-ABA All Star Game. Rare Sports Films of Naperville, IL offers the entire broadcast up until about 2 minutes are left in the third quarter. It's not listed on their site, but I saw it in one of their flyers.

At Tuesday, September 23, 2008 7:18:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The DVD you mentioned is almost certainly made from the remaining film reels of the game that were filmed for Armed Forces television. At some point, the last reel disappeared, which is why no fourth quarter footage of the game is known to exist. I've seen a copy of the game up to around the point that you described and it really is something to see a young Erving in the open court.


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