20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Monday, February 21, 2022

NBA TV Celebrates Julius Erving's 72nd Birthday by Airing "Sir Charles and The Doctor"

Julius Erving turns 72 tomorrow, and NBA TV provided a birthday gift for basketball fans by airing "Basketball Stories: Sir Charles and The Doctor," featuring a conversation that Erving had with Charles Barkley (Barkley celebrated his 59th birthday on February 20). Erving and Barkley were Philadelphia 76ers teammates from 1984-87, Erving's final three NBA seasons and Barkley's first three NBA seasons. 

Barkley remembered that before he joined the 76ers he was nervous about meeting Erving for the first time. Barkley asked his college teammates how he should address Erving, and they told him they were not sure. Erving took all of the pressure off by approaching Barkley, and introducing himself. 

Thinking back to his first meeting with Barkley, Erving said that he did not follow college basketball very closely, but his philosophy was always to "extend a hand of friendship" to rookies who joined the 76ers. Erving recalled that there were questions about how Barkley would fit in with the 76ers, and that the 76ers had drafted Barkley hoping that Barkley could provide rebounding. 

Barkley said that every NBA team needs helpful veterans like Julius Erving and Moses Malone, who were Barkley's mentors early in his pro career. Erving agreed that veterans should help young players, but he pointed out that not all young players will listen to advice from veterans.

Barkley told Erving that Moses Malone provided a very blunt reply when Barkley asked Malone why he was not getting more playing time. Malone said, "Young fella, you're fat and you're lazy." Malone offered to help Barkley improve his conditioning. Erving said that as a professional athlete it is important to be in good enough condition to deal with the physicality of the game and to avoid injuries. Erving noted that Barkley, Wes Unseld, and Shaquille O'Neal are among the few players who could carry a lot of weight but still be mobile and avoid serious ankle or knee injuries.

Barkley soon got into better shape, and established himself as a threat to take a defensive rebound and go coast to coast for a dunk. Barkley's direct approach did not fit in with Coach Billy Cunningham's concept of how to play the game. Erving said that Cunningham's philosophy was "Get the rebound, make the outlet pass, and fill the lane," but Barkley's philosophy was the shortest distance between two points was a straight line--so Barkley just grabbed the rebound and dribbled down court without making the outlet pass. Erving said that Cunningham told him that he was going to retire because Barkley was driving him crazy. Cunningham retired from coaching after Barkley's rookie season, and Cunningham never coached again in the NBA, though he was part of the Miami Heat's ownership group for a while. Cunningham has the second highest regular season winning percentage in NBA history (.698, just behind Phil Jackson's .704), and he led the 76ers to one championship and three NBA Finals appearances in eight seasons.

Barkley said that he would have scored 2000 more points if Maurice Cheeks would have passed to him more often on the fast break. Erving laughed, and he said that Darryl Dawkins also thought that Cheeks had a "Dr. J eye," but Erving added that Cheeks loved getting assists and Cheeks knew that if he passed to Erving then the ball was going in the basket with no nonsense.

Barkley remembered that the intensity of the Philadelphia-Boston rivalry surprised him as a rookie. Barkley asked Erving to talk about what that rivalry meant to him. Julius Erving versus Larry Bird was the NBA's best rivalry in the early 1980s, but Erving is too modest to say that. Instead, Erving replied,  "Respect is more important than popularity." Erving remembered how the Boston fans chanted "Beat L.A." in the waning moments of game seven of the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals after it became clear that the 76ers were going to beat the Celtics and move on to face the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Erving finished with 29 points and was the CBS Player of the Game for game seven, though it must be noted that Andrew Toney (game-high 34 points) was also sensational. Erving said that Boston hated Philadelphia and Philadelphia hated Boston, but "When I say 'hate' I don't really mean hate. We all survived it. Everybody got their trophies, and their stats, and life goes on." Erving's approach to life and basketball is different from the Michael Jordan "I took that personally" meme.

The conversation shifted to the beginning of Erving's pro career. Erving described how he signed with the ABA's Virginia Squires after his junior year at the University of Massachusetts (UMASS). In typical Erving style, he said that Charlie Scott was the best player on the team, even though it is obvious that Erving quickly established himself as a better all-around player than Scott. Erving said that he became the team's best player after Scott jumped to the NBA's Phoenix Suns. 

Erving said of going to the ABA, "It was absolutely the right move. I have no regrets about it." Erving won three regular season MVPs (1974-76) and led the New York Nets to two championships (1974, 1976) before the ABA merged with the NBA prior to the 1976-77 season. Erving noted with pride that when he retired he was just the third player in pro basketball history to score at least 30,000 regular season points, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain. Erving expressed frustration that ABA statistics are disregarded by the NBA and by media outlets, resulting in him erroneously not being listed as a member of the elite 30,000 point club. Erving declared, "The ABA takes a slap to the face, big time...Maybe they'll wait until I die (to count the ABA numbers)."

I have said it for over 20 years, and I will say it again: ABA Numbers Should Also Count. The NFL counts AFL statistics, awards, and championships, and it makes no sense that the NBA ignores ABA statistics, awards, and championships. 

Barkley asked Erving about navigating the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, when Erving was a young adult and Barkley was still a child. Erving said that Arthur Ashe, Reggie Jackson, and Bill Russell provided good guidance. "You don't get through it by yourself," Erving concluded. 

Barkley and Erving talked about mortality. Erving's brother was just 16 when he died from lupus, and Erving's sister died at 34. Erving's son Cory died at 19. Those losses have shaped Erving's thoughts and perspective about mortality. "All of this is gravy," said. "You think about mortality based on what happens in your life. How you react to what happens in your life determines if you are happy."

Erving is proud of how his 1982-83 76ers won the NBA title in dominating fashion with a 4-0 sweep of the L.A. Lakers in the NBA Finals, but he pointedly notes, "Nobody wants to count the ABA. I won two championships in the ABA...If you are going to make me a rookie, then maybe I should have won Rookie of the Year." That latter sentiment is a thought that I have expressed before: if the NBA is not counting ABA experience and ABA statistics, then Erving should have been the Rookie of the Year for the 1976-77 season.

Barkley asked Erving how and when he knew that it was time to retire. Erving recalled the exact moment in the 1985-86 season: "The year before I retired we were in Cleveland. It was a blizzard. The arena was cold. My knees hurt so bad I could not even sleep in the hotel bed. That's when I knew."

Erving mentioned that now players are sticking around to play 20 seasons or more (he played 16 seasons) and he said,  "If I wanted to stay out there, there was a way. But I wanted to go out the front door. I left college early and came in through the side door. That Farewell Tour was second to none."

Barkley said that being a member of the 76ers during Erving's 1986-87 Farewell Tour was a career highlight, and he said that he learned a lot about leadership by watching how Erving conducted himself. Barkley recalled one piece of advice that Erving gave to him at that time: "When you are the leader of the team, you are an amateur psychiatrist." 

Barkley said that he was a great player, but he did not earn a Farewell Tour the way that Erving did. Barkley knew it was time to retire when guys who could not play were outplaying him. Erving said that he had a story along those lines, recalling when rookie Ron Harper dunked on him. Erving was a shot blocker who was not used to players staying in the air longer than he did.

Barkley gave Erving several rapid-fire questions. Erving tapped Kevin Loughery as his best coach, recalling that when he played for Loughery with the Nets, "I had the green light. I had the freedom to express my gifts. That was the greatest feeling." Erving made a similar point years ago in an NBA TV show titled "The Last Night of the ABA": "That was the time when I had the most fun playing basketball. Between age 21 and age 26, I genuinely was empowered with this ability to do anything that I wanted to do on a basketball court and anything that I had ever dreamed of doing." 

Erving said that Moses Malone was the best player he ever played with, and that the teammate he was closest with was Steve Mix, who remains a close friend to this day. Erving's biggest basketball regret is "Not being a little bit more selfish." After Erving joined the 76ers, General Manager Pat Williams instructed Erving that the team wanted Erving, George McGinnis, and Doug Collins to each score around 20 ppg instead of Erving scoring 28-30 ppg like he did in the ABA. Erving went along with this, and the 76ers advanced to the 1977 NBA Finals before losing to Portland, but I agree with Erving that the best player should not have been sacrificing the most. 

Erving said that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the best player that he ever played against: "If I'm starting a team tomorrow, I'm starting with Kareem."

Barkley and Erving ended their conversation by talking again about mortality, and also about legacy. Erving said that he does not focus on what he accomplished or where he ranks all-time: "I don't want to live in the past. I want the carrot out in front of me." Erving hopes that his accomplishments and honors are "inspirational" to his family.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 10:59 PM



Post a Comment

<< Home