Consider his range. No, not the distance from which he most consistently
can pop in jumpers. Consider his range in the context of whether he will
ever reach his maximum potential, his total capacity to perform on a
Julius Winfield Erving says he has considered his range in that context
and has decided that he has a ways to go before becoming the best that he
can be. But at the same time he says, that at this point in his career,
he's already the best one-on-one player in the game striving to be even
"Mentally your head has to be where you don't place limitations on
yourself," says Erving of the ABA's New York Nets.
"You never say I can't make the steal or I can't hit a three-pointer.
You never deal with negatives. You never give up trying. Over the long
haul that's the way good players are made."
But most fans who have watched him play realize
instantly that the man called Dr. J is far more than a good player, and
much more than a flashy entertainer. On the court he looms as a
stutter-stepping, high-leaping poet in short pants; a soulful artist, who
seems capable of moving his audience with gyrations, surpassing the best
of James Brown. Indeed, in his own way, he is a genuine genius of a
"In each game he shows me some-thing new," says Nets
coach Kevin Loughery. "Look, there's nobody who can do the things with a
basketball that Doc can do."
During his three years with the Nets, Erving has
delighted the Nassau Coliseum fans with an act that includes variations on
a dunking theme by Dr. J. He slam dunks with either hand or both hands,
from either side or on a soaring down the middle drive.
He often leaves his opponents leaning in the wrong
direction and the crowd mesmerized with twisting lay-ups that would have
puzzled Isaac Newton. At times, he has been observed scoring with his body
suspended behind the backboard and his right arm extended beneath it,
parallel to the rim. From that position he rolls the ball off his size-13
hand into the basket, then starts his descent, landing a few seconds
before some fans can close their mouths.
"Julius plays with such flair," says Lou Carnesecca, a
former Nets coach, who now coaches at St. John's. "Yeah, that's the way I
want to put it. Julius is more creative, more imaginative."
"He's got the greatest potential of any forward I've
seen," says Rick Barry of Golden State. "If he works hard he could be the
best forward in the game."
Erving sees his playing style as an integral part of his
total development as a basketball performer. "I developed the dunk shot,"
he says, "because it was a challenging thing to learn to do. After you
learn to do it one way, it's a challenge to learn to do it another way and
right on up. There's an infinite number of dunk shots which i don't
possess. And there are psychological considerations too. Dunking is a
power game, a way of expressing dominance. It makes your opponent uptight
and can shatter his confidence.
"My style is an expression of me as an artist. If I
develop an aspect of my game to the point where I can do certain things,
why not do them? I would relate it directly to other professions like
music and writing. Different people have different styles of expression.
Shakespeare had a way with words so that they could be poetic . . . they
just do it, that's them. The way I play the game, that's me.
"And I wouldn't like to start feeling that I've done all
that I could do and the coming years would be a matter of repeating what
I've already done. I guess it's not such a bad thing to feel that I can
repeat what I've already done, but that's not my goal, to do it over, do
it over and do it over. I want to do it better and do it better. And I
want to have fun too, and you can't have fun unless you're winning."
His first season with the Nets was a definite fun year.
He led the Nets to their first division and league titles, while capturing
his second straight scoring title. He was also among the top 10 performers
in four other categories: rebounding steals, blocked shots and assists.
Erving and his teammates didn't have quite as much fun last season, losing
both their division and league titles to the Kentucky Colonels. And though
Erving continues to provide brilliant individual efforts this season (he
was among the top five performers in seven categories at the All-Star game
break) the Nets were second to the Denver Nuggets in the standings.
He is completing the third of a seven-year Nets contract
worth more than $2 million. In light of the ever-growing problems
confronting the ABA (three teams had folded by January), Erving's value to
the Nets and the remaining seven team league may be immeasurable.
Half-jokingly, Loughery pinpointed Erving's overall
value in an exchange with ABA official Wally Rooney during a game at the
Nassau Coliseum. Erving, at his dazzling best, led the Nets to a 134-130
overtime victory over the San Antonio Spurs, scoring 51 points, grabbing
12 rebounds and adding eight assists. In the process, however, he took a
physical pounding from Spurs rookie forward Mark Olberding. At one point,
Loughery yelled to Rooney, "Hey look, the guy's killing Doc and you know
if Doc gets hurt we can all pack it in and start looking for jobs. If
anything happens to the Doctor the league goes down the tube."
His opponents say Erving is so tough and so valuable
because he is, in essence, a team player. Play him close on the outside
and he uses his quickness to slip by. If he's covered underneath, he flips
the deft pass to the open man for the assist. Relax on offense, and he
makes the steal, blocks the shot or beats you to the right spot for the
"My thoughts have always been aimed toward becoming a
total player," he says. "I'm always trying to reach my outer limits. I
watch the things other players do and try to imitate them. Then you have
to develop your own thing through experience and practice.
"You experiment all the time and develop your game
individuality. You try all these different things and in trying, you make
discoveries about yourself. You realize what you're good at and what your
weaknesses are. Put enough time into it, then you'll be a true individual,
an innovator, and people will take notice and the more gratifying it will
be for you."
His on-court flamboyancy contrasts sharply with his
calm, almost cool off court behavior. He has maintained that seemingly
unflappable demeanor ever since a family tragedy seven years ago.
When he was a 19-year-old fresh-man at the University of
Massachusetts, Erving rushed home one day and discovered that his
16-year-old brother, Marvin, had died of a kidney disease. They were very
close. Beads of sweat form on Erving's nose now as he talks about his
brother. He lowers his voice.
"I cried all day that day he was buried," Erving said.
"I went to the cemetery the first two days after he was buried and I cried
each day. Then I went the next day and I didn't cry anymore. I realized I
didn't have any control over what had happened. I haven't cried over
anything since 1969, and I don't know what it would take to make me cry
again. I don't have any fears. I'm not afraid of dying and for the most
part, I play basketball without emotion. I guess that lessens the
difficulty. That traumatic experience changed my life."
Financially, Erving has moved from being a kid raised on
welfare in a Hempstead, Long Island project to being a 26-year-old
millionaire who will soon seek off the court privacy in a three-acre
$100,000 home in Upper Brookville, also on Long Island. While his success
has prompted an enormous change in his lifestyle, he believes his
childhood value system, instilled by his mother, Mrs. Callie Lindsay,
"I've always been proud of myself for having common
sense, knowing right from wrong and trying to do what was right," he says.
"Those who were my friends, treat me the same. Like you grow up with a
crowd of say 15 people, who you would hang with from time to time, and two
of them are your friends. The other 13 you just grew up with.
"They're the one's who say, yeah I knew him and this and that, now look
how he's treating me, where actually you were only acquaintances. Some
acquaintances put me on the defensive by saying I've changed. It gave me
mental anguish, used to bother me for a while until I thought about the
true facts and recognized that I had gone through some changes. And if I
hadn’t I wouldn’t have grown. Now when someone says ‘you’ve changed’ I say
yeah, I’ve changed.”
“Now I know what the other side of the ocean looks like. I went over
there. I’ve met all kinds of different people. Of course I’ve changed!
It’s not really changing, it’s adding on to what you already have. I still
don’t know what my foundation is all about. I still know where my roots
Erving married Turquoise Brown, a native of Winston-Salem two years ago
and is now living in Lido Beach with “Turk” and his two young sons, Cheo
and Julius III.
Though hampered somewhat by tendentious in both knees, he expects to
continue to play for at least the next five years. In the meantime, he
says this summer he will go back to the University of Massachusetts to
work towards completing his college education.
“There comes a time in everyone’s career when they have to be
realistic,” he says. “There’s going to be ten men picked for every team,
and you must realize that someday you might not be in that top ten.
For some, that realization cones in high school; for others in college
and for others in the pros. I think a great deal of realism has to be
considered when you talk about athletes because you know everybody can’t
make it. And I think it’s necessary to say that to make youngsters aware
of that so they wont put all their eggs in one basket.
A lot of black youngsters have a false perception of athletics. They
see it as a means to an end and often times the end itself. Athletics
can’t be that. Athletics should only be a part of your total existence,
part of your total development as a man or woman.
Consider his words. There seems to be no limits, no boundaries, no
negatives in Julius Winfield Erving’s world.