Julius Erving Doesn’t Want to Be a Hero Anymore

His son is dead, his marriage is unraveling over women and out-of-wedlock children, he has left the sport he loved, and he is without a home. Remember when Dr. J could fly?

And as I press him, at him golf club south of Orlando, Freddie still taking it all in, on the greater meaning of mistakes he’s made, Julius Erving suggests, with plaintive resignation, that we’re all in the same boat: “Everything that happens in life isn’t based on logic and reasoning and planning. I have to look at it as God’s plan for me, and I’m dealing with it.” Though he also comes up with what I’m doing wrong: “You should ask me if I love myself. I do love myself. I love all my sons, I love all my daughters.”

Another opening! “So does that mean, then, that you have a relationship with Jules?”

“Bah-ob,” Julius Erving complains in a weary singsong, “you’re being a pain in the ass.”

But I can’t leave it alone. Julius Erving wants to have it both ways — the hero who is also a good man. Remarkably, pushed and pushed, he doesn’t get angry, and he lands, finally, on a proud tidy-up note: “I’ve had two children out of wedlock, but I can walk down the street holding my head up high. There are 10,000 other children that I’ve been the catalyst
for in all that I’ve done.”

He did give so much. You could see it, watching him play, the playground gift in ordered service to his team, and maybe you could even feel, watching him, what his Sixers teammates leap now to verify, why they’re so enamored with him still: calling team meetings, always sitting in the middle of the team bus to relate to the dudes in back or coaches up front, a guy who would offer a rookie a meal at home with Turk or have him call him very own agent, a guy who had Darryl Dawkins buying a dictionary to understand these great big words he used. The world’s greatest teammate.

The problem is, we want it both ways too, so we imagine even more. We merge him, the part we can’t see, with the talent, make it all one thing, create what writers covering the team the Doctor’s first year in the NBA called Hurricane Julius. Taking the road by storm, as we watch, as we fawn.

It happens over and over, says John Lucas: “We think he’s the one, and then we’re let down. Now Dr. J the person has emerged, and we’re still looking for that superstar in life, but he’s just a man. He’s Julius Erving. A man trying to grow up.”