Julius Erving: One-Man Franchise
|Vol. 3 - No. 8
Julius Erving: The Nets' One-Man Franchise
He could help New York ABA entry the same way Joe Namath
did in breathing life into the Jets
Original Article By Jim O'Brien, The New York Post
ONLY one of the eight busy baskets at Roosevelt (L.I.) Park was shaking to its very roots in the green-colored asphalt surface of the playing court. A smile illuminated the high, handsome face of Julius (Dr. J.) Erving, who seemed almost embarrassed by his behavior among old buddies.
After a half hour of half-hearted play in a two-on-two basketball game under the lights, in which he'd mostly been going through the motions, pushing up middle-distance jump shots, Dr. J. just reared up like an excited thoroughbred and jammed a basketball with two hands over the back of his head. "Stick it. Doctor!" yelled one youngster. Erving's large hand hit the hoop on the follow-through and sent the supporting structure into convulsions.
Julius Erving was back home playing some pick-up basketball after the Nets had announced they had acquired him - for good, they said, signing him to an eight-year contract for about $2.5 million, if the arithmetic is anything like it was when it looked like he'd be playing for the Virginia Squires and Atlanta Hawks over a similar span.
The Nets needed Erving to turn the corner, the way the Jets needed Namath eight years ago. Erving had played his high school ball in the Long Island suburbs, his varsity college ball for two seasons in the obscure, if beautiful, backwoods of New England, and two years in the ABA on too many nights in Norfolk, Richmond and Hampton, as well as Memphis and Salt Lake City, all minor league baseball bus stops.
In New York, everyone was busy watching Willis and Walt, Dave and Bill, Phil and Luke, Dick and Dean, and Earl the Pearl. No more. The Knicks don't have the only pro basketball team in town. The Nets are now in business, too. They've got to be reckoned with. They'll get their crowd as well, and Dr. J. will deserve the credit. He's the only man, as they say, who has a Ph D in basketball.
The Nets now have a superstar to match against any of the Knicks, or for that matter, Tom Seaver, Bobby Murcer, Ron Johnson, Namath, or Vic Hadfield, as New York headline hunters go. Dr. J. needed New York, as well, though he might not be willing to admit it. He's been operating too long in the twilight zone, his antics in the ABA and Holcombe Rucker League heroics in Harlem appreciated by too few, the way it was for Connie Hawkins before his first season with the Phoenix Suns in the NBA.
Given a running start, Erving can jump from behind the foul line - 15 feet from the basket - and slam-dunk the ball. Leaping, he can reach more than 12 feet off the floor.
Though nearly 6-7, he can dribble like a guard, going behind his back, between his legs. Shoot? Well, he averaged 31.9 points last season to win the ABA scoring championship. He had a .499 field-goal percentage, averaging 12 rebounds a game.
Is there anything he can't do? Several things. He can't play the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on a glockenspiel. He can't smash atoms between his fingers.
But put him on a basketball court and Julius Erving looks like young Elgin Baylor, only more so. Dr. J. has also been compared to The Hawk and to Earl The Pearl. It's been said that Dr. J. does in the air what the Pearl does on the ground. Baylor himself said he could become the best forward ever to play the game. "Don't they say that about everyone who comes along?" said Dr. J. "That's kinda heavy."
So was the burden on his back before the Nets freed him from playing where he didn't want to play, for money less than he could earn elsewhere, and from a series of legal court cases that were a hassle for him. Thomas Wolfe said that you can't come home again, but Erving's an exception to the rule in that respect, too. He looked quite comfortable in his old setting.
"I love the game," he said. "I love to play. I'd play for nothing if everybody else did. But when in Rome, live as the Romans do."
Last February in an ABA game at Norfolk, Va., Julius (Dr. J.) Erving scored a career high of 58 points against the Nets, the same Nets for whom he's now working.
To hear some of the high-wire conversation concerning the city's newest sports superstar, one would think that, indeed, Julius Erving is Superman. That's stretching the truth somewhat, though, in much the manner that Dr. J. himself seems to stretch his body as he soars from the foul line to the hoop for a sensational slam dunk.
People run out of adjectives describing Dr. J.'s antics. He's amazing, incredible, sensational, scintillating, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, but, like Secretariat, another thoroughbred, he's also human.
Nets' owner Roy Boe was off base when he called Erving the "greatest player in pro basketball today."
Erving is easily the most exciting player in pro basketball now that someone has exorcised the soul out of Connie (The Hawk) Hawkins and Earl (The Pearl) Monroe, but the best in all of basketball? Let's wait a while for that one.
Erving has played pro ball for only two seasons. His stats have been super, and he should get better. But it's difficult to dismiss in one swoop the likes of Dave DeBusschere, Spencer Haywood, Billy Cunning-ham, John Havlicek, Rick Barry, or Chet Walker, Jim McMillian, George McGinnis or Willie Wise, for that matter. Wilt Chamberlain, Jabbar, Dave Cowens, Jerry West and Walt Frazier, to name a few, figure as contenders for the greatest pro player around.
Erving, at 22, led the league last year in scoring with 31.9 points a game, was sixth in rebounding, third in steals, seventh in blocked shots, and was high in shooting percentage and assists, but he's realistic enough about his ability.
"I've got a long ways to go," he said. "I've got the physical talent. I can do anything I've ever seen anyone else do. All I'm missing now is the knowledge. I don't play a total all-around game as some do.
"Like DeBusschere, for instance. His value to the Knicks is both offensively and defensively. He goes out and gets the job done every night, and proves his value to the team. I may be better in terms of things I can do with the ball. I can run better than DeBusschere . . . jump higher . . . excite people more. . . I might be more of an attraction, but he might be more of a valuable player."
Wise words from such a young man. Nor should the Nets be conceded the ABA championship or even a division title. But the future . . . well, it's fantastic.
source: Basketball Digest, Special Edition, 1974