Game Changer: Julius Erving

Philadelphia 76ers v New York Knickerbockers

Julius Erving. Doctor J. The Doc. NBA champion (1983). Two-time ABA champion (1974 and ’76). NBA Most Valuable Player (1981). Fifth leading scorer of all time with 30,026 points (24.2 points per game). Slam Dunk Champion. The first player to dunk from the foul line. Rucker Park legend. Member of the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. Eleven-time NBA All-Star. Five-time All-NBA First team selection. Three-time ABA All-Star.

Julius Winfield Erving II, aka Dr. J, played professionally from 1971-86 in the ABA and NBA. He was the bridge between the old-school grey grainy tape NBA and the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson League-saving era. At 6 feet 7 inches, blessed with extraordinarily large hands, Dr. J is one of the pioneers, if not the professional architect of playing above the rim.

Dr. J’s high-flying game was born on the playgrounds of New York City, and his elegance and eloquence embodied the post-Civil Rights 1960s and ’70s Black Panther Black American experience. He was Afroed and educated, a product of Hempstead, Long Island upper-middle-class working families, spent three years at U-Mass, he took his game to the then rival ABA, the flashier, playground-derived based league. Dr. J was one of the chief reasons NBA and ABA merged in 1976.

The Sixers’ Atlantic Division battles between Celtics and Lakers were legendary. Before there was Bird vs. Magic, it was Dr. J vs. Larry Bird. Arguably the League’s top rivalry, it ultimately led to a famous oncourt melee in 1984, in which Erving delivered a nice three-piece to Larry’s pasty face.

In the finals against the Lakers, Dr. J authored two of the most talked about plays ever: his "Rock The Baby" cuff dunk on the fast-break, of which defensive stalwart Michael Cooper wisely decided to duck out the way. But it was 1980s “Baseline Move” that defied the laws of physics: a behind-the-backboard, out-of-then-in-bounds lay-up around Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Mark Landsberger–a move that still cannot be duplicated or explained some 30 years later.

Doc was also one of the first successful pitchmen, hawking products ranging from Chapstick to  Coca Cola. Erving was one of the first basketball players to have his own signature shoe with Converse (the aforementioned “Docs”). In 1983, he was also was one of the first athletes to have a video game, One on One: Dr. J vs Larry Bird.

With his meticulous Afro, signature white and red leather Converse All-Stars (called Docs, to those who knew and wore ’em), natty off court attire and professorial countenance, he was the less ostentatious heir to Walt "Clyde" Frazier’s scintillating swagger: Dr. J gave birth to the modern day sophisticated athlete.

Say Dr. J’s  name and watch those who know glaze over and practically tear up with reverential nostalgia. Well before Michael Jordan, a generation before Kobe Bryant was even a glimmer in his father’s eye, there was The Doctor. Simply put, Dr. J was the most graceful athlete the world had ever seen.