Just What the Doctor Ordered
Converse and Julius Erving prescribe hoops to Midtown Atlanta.
by DeMarco Williams
Piedmont Park is Atlanta’s outdoor activities epicenter. Concerts. Festivals. Saturdays on the swings. Sunday strolls with Foo-Foo. If it’s a sunny afternoon in the A, best believe Piedmont is probably packed with people.
April 21 wasn’t the prettiest day in the city, but the park was still abuzz. Gray skies and a slight chance of rain couldn’t dampen kids’ spirits on that afternoon. Not with Converse in the house. As a part of the brand’s nationwide commitment to foster community involvement through basketball, Converse partnered with the city of Atlanta to build Piedmont Park’s first b-ball courts.
Aspiring young ballers christened the new hoops haven with a lively open gym. Parents and local dignitaries looked in on the action. Atlanta mayor Kasim Reid, former Seattle Supersonics sharpshooter Dale Ellis and NBA legend Julius “Dr. J” Erving had front-row seats too.
“I’m so glad we finally got a place for the President to play basketball when he comes to Atlanta,” half joked Mayor Reid of the sparkling court with the iconic Chevron logo stamped on it. “With the campaign getting ready to start, we wanted to make sure that when he stopped in Atlanta, he had some place world-class [to play]. Converse has really stepped up from Day 1. That’s why I’m so proud to be here and I wouldn’t be anywhere else today, bringing extraordinary individuals like Dr. J, Julius Erving, to be here, as exemplars for our children and young people so that they know how hard work can pay off.”
Erving, 61 but moving with a cool that cats in their 30s don’t have, spoke to the youth in a tone that felt more conversational than guest speaker-ish. He talked about his early endorsement deal with Converse (“It wasn’t a lot of money at the time, but really, it’s been priceless”). He even explained why he gave Serge Ibaka so-so marks for his free-throw line jam at February’s dunk contest (“He had a crash landing, so I had to give him an eight”). Still, the lasting memory from the speech was when the former Philadelphia Sixer reminisced about the park he played in as a kid in his native Long Island.
“I spent a lot of time on the swings,” recalled the 1981 MVP and 11-time all star. “As a matter of fact, that’s exactly where I learned how to fly. Because I used to get on those swings, back and forth, back and forth, and kept it going as high as it could go, and then I jumped out. And when I jumped out, it was like, ‘Thousand one. Thousand two. Going through air. Thousand three. Thousand four…Crash!’”
After telling a few more stories, posing for a couple of pictures and nailing about 15 out of 20 bank shots during a quick demo, SLAMonline and the hardwood immortal spoke briefly about the game he helped define. Here are the highlights…
On Converse’s community efforts:
I look at these youngsters out here, this whole band of ballers, who are part of Converse’s open gym program, and it makes me feel proud. Makes me feel proud to know my part, and Converse is very instrumental in managing the program, opening the program, and seeing through on having more than 50,000 kids across the country participate in open gym programs.
On his childhood:
One of the reasons I was able to do the basketball thing, was because I had a park. It was a park right next to my housing projects. My routine every day during the school year was to come home, do my homework, let my mom check it. She used to check my homework, and then she said you can go play. Play to a kid—anybody 16 and under- is like a ‘Get out of Jail’ free.
On the Sixers’ chances vs. the Miami Heat:
I think, when you are over-matched, the coach steps in, goes over some strategies, probably does things that will work short-term But it’s hard, you know? Sometimes it’s hard to overcome. Nobody wants to get swept. You always want to feel like you have a chance of winning when you go into a ballgame. And you know, [the 76ers] got to their playoff spot by beating some teams that they weren’t supposed to beat on certain nights. Maybe that’s what happened here.
On the League’s questionable future:
Well, I think if they can get past this year, and avoid a lockout, then they won’t have the stigma of fans being turned off. If fans get turned off by the sport, it really takes years to get them back, so that’s what you really want to avoid at all costs. And if you are going to handle the lockout situation, handle it with diplomacy and make it something that only exists for short-term.