Julius “Dr. J” Erving left an indelible impression on the game of Basketball. His dazzling style of play largely facilitated the merger between the ABA and NBA in 1976. An All-Star in every year of his professional sixteen-year career, he was the first to bring the field of play “above the rim” and in doing so, changed the face of the game forever. His grace and style continue to make him one of the game’s true ambassadors.

While others played the game of basketball on the ground, Julius Erving performed above it. When he went up in the air, he stayed there for long periods of time, seemingly an irresistible force of nature as he improvised some acrobatic maneuver. He pushed the envelope of physical probability, soaring to unprecedented heights with a basketball in his size 11 hands. While he scored 30,026 points as a pro, he probably drew at least double that number in “oohs” and “ahs” for his in-flight sessions.

Sure, there have been many outstanding leapers in basketball, but only a select few brought the art to a new level in the pros. His predecessors in gravity defying were Connie Hawkins and Elgin Baylor, his successor was Michael Jordan. While Erving was in the air so often on the court, his feet were planted firmly on the ground off it. Unlike many athletes, he never got a big head. He was articulate, friendly and uncommonly modest. While Dr. J exhibited the flash and style of playground basketball, he displayed the intelligence to direct his skills toward winning, a goal that seems to have been lost on many of today’s players. The 6-foot-6½, 200-pound forward put his stamp on the New York Nets’ two American Basketball Association titles, and he guided the Philadelphia 76ers to an NBA championship in 1983. Erving won four MVP awards, three with the Nets and one with Philadelphia. He is one of only four players to crack 30,000 career points (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Karl Malone are the others). Erving averaged 28.7 points and 12.1 rebounds in his five ABA seasons, winning three scoring titles and being named first- team all-league four times (he was a second-team selection as a rookie). In his 11 seasons with the 76ers, he averaged 22 points and 6.7 rebounds, and was first-team all-NBA five times and second-team twice in his first eight seasons. His 16-year pro averages were 24.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists.

While he will be forever Dr. J — a high-school teammate gave him the nickname Doctor and an ABA teammate added the initial, making it Dr. J — he was born Julius Winfield Erving Jr. on Feb. 22, 1950 in East Meadow, N.Y. When he was 13, his family moved to Roosevelt, also on Long Island. Starring as a senior at Roosevelt High, he earned a scholarship to the University of Massachusetts. As a sophomore and junior (freshmen were ineligible then), he was a model of consistency, recording 51 double-doubles in his 52 games. He averaged 26.3 points and 20.2 rebounds, one of only five players in NCAA history to average 20-20 for a career. When the Virginia Squires offered him a $500,000, four-year contract after his junior year in 1971, he jumped. As a rookie he averaged 27.3 points and 15.7 rebounds. A year later, the financially troubled Squires dealt Erving to the Nets, getting $1 million and two players in return. Playing back home on Long Island, and with New York City so close, Erving became more visible to the media and public. His game also took off. He won his three ABA MVPs (sharing it with George McGinnis in 1975) and averaged 27.9 and 29.3. At the first-ever slam-dunk competition at halftime of the 1976 All-Star Game, Dr. J made the mother of all dunks — his famous court-length, take-off-from-the-foul-line showstopper. The Nets went from 30-53 B.D. (Before Doctor) to 55-29 and the 1974 title. They also won the championship in 1976, with Erving scoring 226 points in six games against Denver in the Finals. “He destroys the adage that I’ve always been taught — that one man can’t do it alone,” said Nuggets defensive standout Bobby Jones, who attempted to guard Erving.

That was it for the red, white and blue basketball. A month later, the NBA absorbed four ABA teams, including the Nets. The deal forced Nets owner Roy Boe to sell the rights to Erving to Philadelphia where he became an instant gate attraction and spokesman for the league. Three times in Erving’s first six seasons, he led the 76ers to the Eastern Conference title. Each time, though, they lost in six games in the Finals, including blowing a 2-0 lead to Portland in Erving’s first season in 1977.

But in 1982-83 there was no stopping the popular Erving and the 76ers, who had obtained Moses Malone before the season. Philadelphia had a league-best 65-17 record and swept through the playoffs, winning 12 of 13 games. Erving scored seven straight points in a 98-second span late in Game 4 in the Finals to lead the 76ers to a sweep of the defending champion Lakers. Dr. J’s only NBA MVP had come two years earlier, in 1981, when he became the first non-center in 17 years to win the award. Erving retired at 37 in 1987, still averaging 18.1 and 16.8 points in his last two seasons. Aside from his broad business interests, Erving was a TV studio analyst for NBA games on NBC and he became an executive vice president of the Orlando Magic in 1997. Magic president Pat Williams, who as 76ers GM brought Erving to Philadelphia, said of him,

“You’d have to use words like electrifying, revolutionary. There’s never been anybody quite like him, including Michael. If Julius was in his prime now, in this era of intense electronic media, he would be beyond comprehension. He would blow everybody away.” -Larry Schwartz, ESPN SportsCentury





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