Known for his thunderous dunks, impeccable afro, and stylish hi-top Converses, Julius “Dr. J” Erving is considered basketball royalty, especially in the City of Brotherly Love. A devout contributor to the Salvation Army, and fan favorite even long after his playing career, the Doc has obtained the reputation of “class act” both on and off the basketball floor. Last night was yet another display of just that. Steiner Sports, the largest, most-trusted sports memorabilia and marketing company in the country holding exclusive deals with superstar athletes such as Derek Jeter, Henrik Lundqvist, and Chris Paul; held an intimate meet and greet with the Hall of Famer for a group of its most valued customers.
During the live Q&A, CEO Brandon Steiner touched on an array of topics including how he got his nickname, Doc’s all-time NBA starting five, his experience playing with a young Charles Barkley, and life after basketball. Those in attendance also had the opportunity to engage Erving, asking questions of their own; during which he revealed how he scored his 30,000th career point and why Steve Mix was his all-time favorite teammate. SLAM also had the chance to catch up with the living legend before the event to discuss the state of the Philadelphia 76ers, his famous dunk on Michael Cooper and more.
SLAM: As a 76ers legend and an integral part of their championship run during the 1980s, what is your current view on the direction of the franchise and Sam Hinkie’s plan?
Julius Erving: Well, my view is that it’s different. I mean, it’s a waiting game. A new ownership group came in and they wanted to be contenders inside of seven years. So, that was four years ago which means this is year five of what was perceived to be a seven-year plan to be contenders. They [ownership] knew they were going to see a lot of losses, something that long-time Sixer fans are not used to but they recognized they were a seven or eight seed and wanted to be in the top four come playoff time. Now basketball isn’t about putting $5 bills and $10 bills in the corner, you have to put some players out there. It’s not so much about the economics, even though the Sixers are in a great economic position to go out and get maybe one of the top 10 or 15 players in the league via free agency. If they could do that over the next two seasons, that would help mightily.
SLAM: You touch on some good points, because many Sixer fans including myself, realized that as a seven or eight seed the Sixers would never advance past the first round. So they are willing to wait this process out.
JE: Yeah, and that was the mentality of the ownership group. As Wall Street guys and Wharton guys they are used to winning and being successful at the things they touch. They are also used to systematic approaches being implemented and sticking to that. So, I think that is where they are right now.
SLAM: You were one of the few players that was able to sustain top-level star power even after the league merger occurred. What was life like both on and off the court during your time in Philadelphia knowing you were in the prime of your career and arguably the biggest star in the game?
JE: From age 26-37, when I was in Philadelphia I had already settled down and gotten married so I was a family man by that time. Family and friends were on the front line; I had great friendships with Grover Washington Jr., Teddy Pendergrass, Patti LaBelle, and others who were in entertainment. So, we shared a large stage together and did dinners/social events at one another’s homes. Philly was on the map during that time and there was a year where the Eagles, Sixers, Phillies, and the Flyers all made it to the finals. That was great for the city and as a sports fan what more could you want? For me, though I was always conscious that there was life after basketball. So, I incorporated myself and created the urban group and started compartmentalizing my business life with my basketball life and my family life.
SLAM: Due to your size and athleticism you are one of the few players in NBA history that could perform at a high level across all eras. What adjustments, if any however, would you make to your game if you were drafted to today’s NBA?
JE: It’s interesting because teams utilize the three-point line totally different today. Back then, teams would only use it if they were down or in desperation. But now, guys shoot the three pointer as a preference to get the other team in a hole. So probably for me I would focus on being a better player on the perimeter. I made three-pointers over the course of my career but it wasn’t a priority. Also, I always had the mindset of ‘why should I stand out here and shoot a jump shot when I know I can get a lay-up on these guys?’ [laughs]. That’s all I could see from an adjustment standpoint though.
SLAM: One of the most iconic plays in NBA history is your dunk on Michael Cooper. Could you take me through that play?
JE: Well, [laughs] he’s a shot blocker that could leap so he was formidable and I was aware that I was being chased by a shot blocker. We were almost running neck and neck so he was getting his steps together thinking that he was going to go in and catch it or get caught. So, when I picked the ball up I cradled it, moved it forward, then went back and I jumped. When he leaped, his momentum carried him under the basket and he ducked while I was still hovering over him. When he ducked, I just threw it in. It’s been shown so many times now that it’s like Twitter hits [laughs] but I’ve spoken to Michael Cooper a couple times and even though he doesn’t like the play, he likes that it kind of keeps him out there.
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Photo credit: Steiner Sports/Bryon Summers