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Friday, April 24, 2009

Rewriting History: Julius Erving's Dunk Over Michael Cooper, According to Inside Stuff Magazine

I was going through my archive of old basketball magazines when I came across the May 2005 issue of Inside Stuff. Page 18 featured a cool frame by frame photo spread of Julius Erving's famous dunk over Michael Cooper:

My favorite part of the play is when Cooper at first looks like he is going to try to block Erving's shot but then Cooper not only lowers his arm but covers his head!

There are two problems with the Inside Stuff feature about this play: one is the bold headline reading "Julius Erving: 1983 NBA Finals, Philadelphia 76ers vs. Los Angeles Lakers." The dunk actually took place in a January 5, 1983 regular season game that the Sixers won, 122-120. Erving's steal and slam put the Sixers up by four points with 1:27 remaining, so it was not only a spectacular highlight but it was also a key sequence in a matchup between the teams that met in the 1982 Finals and would square off again in the 1983 Finals. The second problem is the note in small print that crawls up the side of the page stating "Dr. J is the 76ers all-time leader in blocked shots with 1942." Erving blocked 1941 shots in the 15 seasons of his career during which the ABA and NBA officially recorded statistics in that category (no such numbers were tracked during his rookie campaign), including 1293 in the 11 seasons that he played for the 76ers.

It should not surprise anyone that Inside Stuff was edited by Ming Wong, whose handiwork I have previously discussed here. Apparently, the way to advance in this business is to not know the history of the sport and to produce sloppy work; I guess I should have figured that out early in my career when I wrote for Basketball Digest, a magazine that has since folded: I would submit articles that needed absolutely no editing either in terms of writing style or factual information--something that is a lot rarer in this field than you may suspect--but when I received the issue in the mail I would often find to my dismay that some fool had "corrected" my article by making my prose clumsier and including inaccurate statistics and photo captions. The nice thing about using a blogging platform is that I have 100% control over my content; I am not perfect by any means but at least a mistake posted here under my name is truly my own and I can correct it in an instant when either I or an eagle-eyed reader sees it. I must also add that it is great to work with editors like Sam Amico of ProBasketballNews.com and Tariq Ali of CavsNews.com, both of whom are a lot better at their craft than some people in this field who are much more well known.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:40 AM



At Friday, April 24, 2009 8:18:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

for some reason everyone thinks this was in the nba finals. a few years ago when nbatv was actually good they replayed this game. the best part is when he takes the ball off the dribble and cuffs it and then goes. hes the only one ever to take the ball off the dribble and palm it and do whatever.

At Saturday, April 25, 2009 6:04:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Just keep doing your thing, David.

Your site is an invaluable source of NBA history, interviews, and insight.

I think you will find it interesting to hear the Kobe directly addressed his critics who like to say "MJ would not have done that" in the LA Times.

Here's a quote:

Numerous people have mentioned that Michael Jordan would never allow the Chicago Bulls to lose a game like Thursday night's -- his team would never blow a 13-point third-quarter lead while Jordan made only five of 24 shots.

Bryant shook his head.

"One big difference," he said. "Michael had Scottie Pippen. He had someone who could distribute the ball and keep everyone else involved."

Bryant momentarily sighed.

"Michael could come out and shoot the ball 40 times a game," Bryant said. "I can't do that."

Again, he smiled.

"Having someone like Pippen would be a big luxury for me, because scoring is what I do best, but it's OK," he said. "It's a challenge, and I welcome the challenge."

At Sunday, April 26, 2009 6:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Free Cash Flow:

I saw that quote and plan to use it in an upcoming post.

I don't think that Kobe is as good as MJ was but it is true that for the Lakers Kobe actually has to fill both the MJ "scorer/assassin" role and the Pip "facilitator" role, in addition to being a perennial All-Defensive First Team selection.

At Sunday, April 26, 2009 1:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David you often praise Kobe but occasionally say that he is not as good as MJ was in both their primes. Can you elborate on this(here or in another essay) please? Why do you think that Jordan is the better player? In which areas of the game do you think he has an edge over number 24? And lastly, does Bryant still have a chance of surpassing Jordan in terms of greatness?

basketball fan

At Monday, April 27, 2009 4:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous Basketball Fan:

I've already addressed this issue; check out this 9/15/08 post:

Michael Jordan and Tex Winter Discuss the MJ-Kobe ComparisonsBe sure to read the discussion that followed in the comments section, where I offer additional thoughts about the comparison between MJ and Kobe. I don't agree with people who say that there is "no comparison" (i.e., that MJ was much better than Kobe) nor do I think that Kobe is better than MJ was. Kobe is the closest player to MJ since MJ retired because both players have no skill set weaknesses.

At Thursday, December 16, 2010 12:11:00 PM, Blogger hokwei said...

Hi David,

I love your work. I think you're one of the best hoops writers around. Now, having said that, you said "My favorite part of the play is when Cooper at first looks like he is going to try to block Erving's shot but then Cooper not only lowers his arm but covers his head!". If you watch closely, the only reason Coop ducked was to avoid smacking his dome on the backboard. I'm just saying. Anyway, keep up the great work!

At Thursday, December 16, 2010 3:20:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


If you watch the video closely it is apparent that Cooper elevated with the initial intention of blocking (or at least contesting) Erving's shot but then had second thoughts. Why else would Cooper first lift his arm and then almost immediately bring it back down?

At Saturday, March 09, 2013 5:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am an avid Lakers fan who grew up in the Philadelphia area. I was just going through my collection of ticket stubs from pro games, college games and concerts. I came across the stub from that game and we sat in row 10 right under the basket where Dr. J made that slam. Yes many people believe that game was a playoff game and I correct them all the time. Another tidbit of info on that game, Kareem was on the bench that evening but not dressed as he was suffering from a migraine. The outcome could have been different otherwise!
Also, one more comment, Kobe most definitely is as good as Michael and maybe better! Kobe is more of killer and plays better defense!! Just saying !!

At Sunday, March 10, 2013 12:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Perhaps the outcome would have been different if Kareem had played but that Philly team was on a mission and they swept the Lakers in the 1983 NBA Finals.

Kobe versus MJ is a popular subject to debate but is off topic in this comments section.

At Wednesday, January 01, 2014 1:23:00 AM, Blogger Pablo Novi said...

In the video it sure seems to me that he travels - at the 10 second mark, a repeat view is shown in which he does NOT dribble: he has just landed one foot on the floor, then he steps two more times before rising for the dunk. Travel, no?

I really hate pointing this out: I have always loved Dr. J. Watched many of his games on TV.

At Wednesday, January 01, 2014 10:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


After a player picks up his dribble, he can do a "1-2" step count before shooting or passing (or the player can simultaneously land on both feet, which is known as a jump stop); Erving had long strides but if you watch the video I think that after he picks up his dribble he does a "1-2" count before elevating and dunking.


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