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?


“It’s true for all of us who play sports,” Lucas says. “We miss childhood because we’re working so hard, out there every day playing our sport. Athletes don’t grow up into adults — after playing, they grow up.”

Which would make Julius a 16-year-old. That’s how Turquoise sees him: wanting more — more money, a better car, another girl. Still.

Another question for the Doctor:

“Think you’ll get married again someday?”

Julius and Freddie don’t even bother not to have eye contact as he answers: “There’s a good possibility of that.”

“You think you’ll have more children?”

Julius takes a puff of cigar. “That would be — no.”

But what will he do? Julius doesn’t know. His next venture might very well be gaming — he’s looking into buying a casino. Longtime Erving acolytes like Pat Williams, who as general manager of the Sixers three decades ago bought him from the Nets, react to this idea with wide-eyed say-it-ain’t-so disappointment: Gambling, so tacky, all about cold cash, is beneath Dr. J. But he’s talking to Steve Wynn and others in the industry, performing due diligence. There’s a lot of money in gambling, and after his divorce, Julius Erving might very well need it.

And this is the other fallout of Hurricane Julius, what happens to our heroes: an outsize life that splits, finally, at the seams. That June night, at the exhibit of street ball in West Philly, a couple dozen local dunksters performing for him, for the guy who spawned, more than anyone, playground ball as art — all Julius could manage was a tepid shoulder bob to the DJ’s record-scratching funk. He barely acknowledged the fly girls getting close, checking in. Turquoise has it right. He looks lost.

The problems have piled up now. The word is out; people know about these other kids he’s had, what he’s done to his marriage. He’s been thrown out of his house; he’s not even calking to Turquoise. The Magic don’t want him anymore. Alexandra is under her mother’s wing, and there’s no contact. He doesn’t know where he’s going to live, or what he’ll be doing. Oh, he’s trying, he’s stoic: That’s my fate, not my plan. But now, alley-oop and a jam, again and again and again and again, he keeps seeing Cory, his dead son, the son who got his athletic genes, a six-four kid who could put his elbows inside the rim. He’d never done anything with the talent; but he was beginning to, he was playing ball and getting his life together, he would be 22 now, these kids’ age. That should be Cory flying and jamming. Just like I did. But Cory’s gone. And Julius Erving just wants to leave the beautiful game that he, more than anyone, gave us, to get away, to be done with it. To start over.