Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Doctor

My Dr. J...
I've never been, and never will be, a big basketball fan, but over the last couple of weeks there has been a lot of hype on Philadelphia sports talk radio leading up to last night's premier of the NBA TV documentary The Doctor. Having been born and raised in Philly, and a sports fan in general, if not basketball particularly, Julius "Dr J" Erving was a part of the fabric of my youth, so I tuned in and watched. I am very glad that I did.

My memories of Dr J were more of him at the back end of his career, even in terms of his years with the Seventy-Sixers, including the championship year of 1983. People spoke with reverence of the immensely talented 1977 team that lost to the Portland Trailblazers in the finals, but I have no real memory of those years (at least with regards to basketball). And I know that Dr J had come to the Seventy-Sixers from the ABA when the leagues merged. But while I have heard the stories and seen some of the old footage of the earlier legendary years of the Doc revolutionizing the game playing above the rim, I guess I just didn't understand the full magnitude of the impact Dr J had on the game, and just how unbelievable he was in the days before my time. I knew he was one of the all-time greats, but even that doesn't seem to do him justice.

...and that other Dr. J
My Dr J had a modest afro at best, with close cropped hair by the time I remember him best. He played with the brownish-orange ball, not the red white and blue ABA ball. He was a consummate team player, still capable of playing a complete game; scoring, rebounding, passing and playing solid defense. And while he was still a great player and had the ability to show flashes of that other Dr J, he wasn't the daily freak show that he had apparently been. The Doctor focused more on the Doc I didn't get to see, and therefore didn't truly comprehend. I thought I did, but I didn't. All I can say is wow.

The show was extremely well done, and while it did omit some less-than-flattering events that occurred in Erving's personal life, it did a masterful job of telling his story, and placing that story in the historical context of modern professional basketball. It's a story of humble beginnings, some personal tragedies, but ultimately is the story of a sports legend who seems to be universally well regarded for his class and dignity. I think this would be a story of interest to any sports fan, not just a basketball fan or a Philly boy.

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