In the age of LeBron, many of basketball's greatest stars tend to be overlooked. Michael Jordan still occupies legendary status, but the sheen of LeBron's ever evolving game has started premature conversations about who's better, 'King James' or 'MJ'.
In my mind, it will always be Jordan's world, even if LeBron eventually matches or passes Michael's six championships. The warrior that James is becoming, Jordan was from day one. But regardless of which Skywalker you prefer, there is a man who in his day, set the standard for slam dunks, poise and sheer athletic ability throughout his career, but, until recently, has been criminally overlooked. Arguably the classiest player in the history of the NBA, Julius Erving is back in the spotlight and deservedly so.
Earlier this year, NBATV.com aired a comprehensive documentary about Dr.J's exploits, ending with the 63 year old Hall of Famer showing that he can still dunk with authority. The trailer is below. To see the entire documentary, click on this link.
Dr. J participates throughout the documentary, taking the viewer through the high flying days of the ABA and the frustrating quest for a championship with the Philadelphia 76ers that finally resulted in a win after years of trying.
He also shares the pain of losing his beloved younger brother at a young age, the accidental death of his son and the ending of his first marriage. But the documentary is far from a downer, it's a study of a man who has known triumph and tragedy, accepting both and moving on with the grace that he has shown on and off the court his entire life.
Last month, Dr. J released 'Dr. J- The Autobiography', which goes into more detail about Erving's life, of which basketball, while a major part, isn't the only part of substance or interest. I bought and listened to the audiobook, which Dr. J reads himself. It's the story of a flawed man, who's incredibly hard on himself when it comes to his personal failings. It's also the story of a prideful man, who, while never being boastful, clearly feels that his contribution to basketball hasn't received the due he feels entitled to.
Shortly before Christmas, Dr. J did a book signing at Barnes & Noble at the Grove. The long line, was filled a variety of ages, races and plenty of representatives of both sexes, all excited and queued up to get their book signed and hand shook.
While in line, Tavis Smiley saw me and snatched me out of line, taking me right up to meet Dr. J. Warm and friendly, he was as nice as he was 20 years ago when he and Kareem Abdul Jabbar came to a live 92.3 The Beat morning show remote broadcast to promote to their closed circuit one on one contest (which Jabbar won easily). I gave him a copy of the photo below and he marveled at how young he looked.
The most memorable part of that appearance, 20 some odd years ago, was how kind and personable Dr. J was to everyone at the broadcast, while Kareem sat by himself and was essentially refused to engage with anyone at the event. To see Julius Erving this past December and find him still a pleasant, down to earth guy, was a treat.
After chatting for a minute, we took a photo and I was about to take my leave. He stopped me and said, 'hey man, I really appreciate you bringing me that photo. Great to see you again'. He didn't have to say any of that, but like Magic Johnson said, 'when greatness meets class, that's what God created in Dr. J'.
For a fun, entertaining hour of Julius Erving conversation, check out his chat with Bill Simmons on Grantland's B.S. Report.
My thanks to Master Photographer and very good brother, Arnold Turner for the great shot.