With news of Allen Iverson’s impending retirement, many people are talking about his legacy in Philadelphia. Although there may be some people that consider Iverson one of the greatest, I want to take this time to reflect on the legacy of arguably the greatest 76er, and the subject of NBA TV’s documentary The Doctor, Julius Erving. He was a spectacular basketball player, and an even better person, that changed the way the game was played. Basically, there would be no Allen Iverson (or MJ or LeBron) if there wasn’t Dr. J first.
The Doctor takes you through Erving’s early days including a close relationship with his younger brother, playing basketball at the local Salvation Army, and the origination of the Dr. J nickname. There is thrilling footage of him playing at Rucker Park in Harlem where record-breaking crowds gathered to catch a climpse of his amazing moves. He was not aggressively recruited through high school and, in fact, only one scout made any notes of him at the time. He eventually ended up playing at the University of Massachusetts and went on to play in the American Basketball Association (ABA), the rival league of the NBA.
I was not that familiar with the ABA before this documentary but Erving was one of the biggest names and virtually carried the league before it merged with the NBA. The ABA’s “playground” style was quite different than the NBA’s more conventional rules and not widely accepted (think the Tropics in Semi-Pro but with better skills). The ABA did not have a television deal so the only way to see Dr. J’s impressive moves was to go see live games. The “playground” league is also responsible for the creation of the slam dunk contest where Erving flew through the air from the foul line to execute one of the greatest dunks ever, a highlight in the documentary. But it was when the ABA was on the brink of financial collapse and merged with the NBA that Erving became a 76er. Erving’s energetic playing style drastically changed the NBA, making it more like the league it is today. He mentored young players like Magic Johnson and led the 76ers to four NBA finals before finally winning the championship in 1983.
All in all, The Doctor chronicles every aspect of Dr. J’s life both on the court and off, including some tragic losses in his personal life. Interviews with Erving’s peers, as well as first-hand accounts from Dr. J himself, make the documentary really great. The respect everyone has for Julius Erving is evident and it is great to see such a humble and generous basketball player. The only bad part about the documentary for me was the absense of Michael Jordan throughout the majority of the film. I would have liked to hear more from him about Erving’s contributions to the game. But it was great to watch this as a Philadelphia fan, although Erving’s contributions to the game should be admired by any basketball fan. So check out NBA TV’s schedule and see if you can catch a replay of The Doctor, and at least check out some of his highlights on YouTube!