Julius Erving Q&A
On Saturday afternoon, we had the honor of joining 5x ABA All-Star and 11x NBA All-Star, Dr. J, for a Crown Royal whiskey tasting (quick plug: the new XO is delicious). He may be the classiest player I have ever met. He spoke to us candidly, and without posturing, about his famed moniker, his favorite players, his top dunkers, and the state of the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest.
Regarding the nickname “Dr. J”: Erving went to high school with the young man that would become his good friend Leon Saunders. They were on the high school team together. Erving liked to call Saunders “The Professor,” who would in turn refer to him as “The Doctor.” The two graduated together, played at the University of Massachusetts together, and remained close after Erving went pro. Erving credits Saunders with the invention of “The Doctor.”
Regarding his favorite players: Erving stated that he likes to irritate the young bucks like Kobe and Michael by listing older players like Wilt and Kareem as the greatest of all time. He knows full well that it may or may not be true, but he acknowledged that those were his favorites when he was 15 years old, and that impressions made at that age stick with you. Every great player grew up looking up to one that was once greater. He shook his head and added that his 12 year old son’s favorite player was Nate Robinson.
Regarding his top dunkers: “No one ever mentions Wilt Chamberlain.” Erving felt that big men were under-represented among the strongest dunkers. He also mentioned Moses Malone among his top few, though he did indicate that the year Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant, and himself were judges for the Dunk Contest, the panel “might have featured three of the top five ever.” A wry grin kept us guessing which three he meant.
Regarding the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest: This assessment seemed particularly sage. Erving said that when he was coming up in the league players weren’t set up with a personal brand until they were proven vets. These days, kids come into the league and are marketed a certain way from day one. He felt that the corporate structure may be preventing big name players from competing in order to protect their fragile appeal while it is still forming. He also noted that it was never that way for him. When he lost to Larry Nance in 1984, he just thought to himself, “Whatever. I’ll beat his ass next year.”
Dr. J was a class act all the way. As a special gift for those of us who Crown Royal brought to All-Star Weekend, The Doctor provided new Dr. J hats (as if his presence wasn’t enough!). The living legend is a magnificent ambassador for the NBA and Crown Royal alike.