CenterStage: Julius ErvingEpisode with the great "Dr. J" premieres Wednesday night at 10:30 p.m.
How he ended up playing in Philadelphia, and why the 76'ers made sense to him.
Philly came into play because of the geography. I was happy living in Long Island, (playing with the Nets) and I said, well, I can commute to Manhattan, I can commute to Philadelphia, there's no other team in the league where I could commute, because I didn't really want to move. And I literally commuted to play in Philadelphia from Long Island for five years.
Being exposed to prejudice while growing up.
I experienced some prejudice in Long Island, but when I went south, (to South Carolina) it was more obvious, it was more conspicuous, and my cousins, we'd go into town, and literally they would cross the street if we were encountered by a white person. And one of my cousins at one point said, "Well, we got it better than you do because, we go to New York, you don't know who likes you and who doesn't like you. But down here, we know. We know, it's real obvious…" (Who doesn't like you)
The origins of his famous nickname Dr. J
His real name was Leon Saunders, and he came to Roosevelt (High School) sophomore or junior year. We clicked. He actually played varsity basketball with me. But this guy was so argumentative. He always wanted to win, and if it was by arguing, then that would satisfy him. And so I started calling him The Professor, because he, his arguments turned into lectures, and for whatever reason he started calling me The Doctor, and the Doctor/Professor relationship still exists today.
His brother becoming ill, and ultimately passing away, and the difficulty of being away from the family at that time.
He had been sick off and on, so when he had these, you know, pains that nobody could figure out what was wrong, we took him to a lot of doctors, until he succumbed to them, and there was an autopsy, we didn't realize that he had lupus. And he had always been the sickly kid, you know, the one with the asthma, but he always recovered, he always bounced back, he never left us without coming back, and coming back stronger. So, this particular time, you know, there was no comeback. And it was hard. But I knew (my) just coming home didn't solve anything. You know, basketball really was my only option.
On attempting to leave the ABA for the NBA's Atlanta Hawks
So, I'm talking back and forth with my agent about, what, the options are. We got checks bouncing, (in the ABA) so just as a measure of security, we should talk to Atlanta. And Atlanta had Pistol Pete Maravich, and Walt Bellamy, Lou Hudson. The talks become heated up, and before the next season starts, we end up signing the contract with Atlanta. One of the problems with the contract was that the Milwaukee Bucks held my draft rights in the NBA. And Milwaukee wasn't backing down. When it all plays out, I end up getting a signing bonus, $250,000. I got to keep that. I got a Jaguar. And, I got an apartment for five years in Atlanta. Because it went to mediation, and Atlanta got ruled against, and Milwaukee got ruled in favor of, so they said, if we're going to play for an NBA team, you gotta play for Milwaukee. So I would go back to Virginia, but Virginia lasts for one more year.
Making it to the 1976-77 NBA finals against Bill Walton and the Trailblazers, and the defining brawl that broke out in Game 3.
I think the fight was the second most significant influence on the series. The first was having an immature team. We were in tune. I mean, we were playing for our lives. And I get to Philly, and you know, there's Darryl Dawkins. Whoever got it, shot it, right? And I'm like, that's not going to win the championship. And it was hard.
He and Larry Bird did get along.
The irony is, we did get along. It's just that when somebody plays for Boston and somebody else plays for Philly, if you have to get on the court and play with one another, I don't care if it's your mother. You're not supposed to get along.
On Kareem going down in the 1980 NBA finals.
That one hurt because we were prepared, and we were prepared to play against Jabbar. So, you know, Bill Russell, who's, you know, genius of all basketball, he says, any time a super star gets deleted, you suddenly play a team that you've never played before. And the advantage is theirs. And we played a team that we had never seen before. And that one hurt.
On his chances of finally capturing an NBA championship.
I'm thinking it's (the window) closing, but I'm still feeling that we're going to get one. So I was MVP in '81, after the '82 season Moses Malone was the MVP. I go on a trip to China, under the Pro Basketball Fellowship. And we take a trunk full of Bibles, and we're, you know, we're sharing spirituality, we're sharing Christ with Chinese people. And some of it has to fly under the radar. So there's the dynamic of all that. And we're there for maybe three weeks, 17 of us in our party, including Pat Williams. And uh, Pat calls me in one day, he's the GM of the Sixers at the time. He says, "We just got Moses Malone." I said, "What" Give me one of those Bibles. What happened? We're all excited, when we get back, and Moses comes in, he has his press conference, and he's like, you know, "I, I'm not trying to shake things up here, it's, it's Doc's team, it's Doc's show, but with me here, it's going to be a better show." And he was right.
Erving saw a lot of himself in Michael Jordan.
I enjoyed watching Michael play. He was a force to be reckoned with. And in looking at him, I saw a lot of myself -- the good and the bad. In terms of frustrations (Jordan was) as driven a person as I've ever seen on a basketball court, and off the basketball court. If you're going to have a spitting contest, he's gotta win. He would bribe the luggage handlers, and then go bet his teammates. "I bet you my bag comes off first." "Oh man, what do you mean?" "I bet you 10 dollars my bag comes off first." Then his bag would come off first. Because he bribed the handler, right? Michael just had to win. He did it as, as no other of the modern era.
His initial take on Charles Barkley was all wrong.
No. I, it wasn't… You know, it wasn't obvious. I love Charles, but he said so many stupid things. Who would figure him… Who would figure him to be the voice of anything credible! Who's going to figure that out? People love him. And he's, he says things, and he's clever, and he has a very, very high IQ. And he's got his own style. Once you bring your own style to the table, you can say stupid things, it's OK. I mean, the expectation, people would be a little disappointed if he didn't say something that was a little counter-culture or, or what have you. So, every time I'm around him, I, sometimes I just shake my head. This is the guy we used to call "biscuit head" when he was sitting in front of the bus with Clemon Johnson, and they had the two biggest heads on the team. And they wanted to sit in the front. Like, down in front!