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?

One thing hasn’t changed from his playing days: Julius likes to keep moving. It’s after two on a summer night, as the stretch slips off down Locust. After they get Jenn, it’s on to Atlantic City. Julius keeps another condo there.

He was the one who was above all this, who would never go there. Julius Erving, the Doctor, arrived in town just when the NBA needed a big image lift, mid-’70s, a shining light in the coke-addled, pampered, arrogant, sex-crazed brotherhood of pro ball — the best brother, pure playground but responsible and winning, and better in this way too: dignified, a family man, smart, a stand-up guy in his careful baritone, a dream for white suburbia. For God’s sake, he lived in white suburbia. Not all gated-up but comfortably, and he used to joke that he was white — off the court.

Imagine the 76ers winning the championship now, a Broad Street parade, Allen Iverson saying a few words. Think he’d look over the sea of Sixer-Jersey-clad kids and ask them why they weren’t in school as Julius did two decades ago? In his three-story-high mural on a rowhouse south of Temple U, Erving’s in full flight but not dunking a basketball: He’s dressed in a shiny gold suit, with glasses, gray-f1ecked hair, a serious message from Wilson Goode to North Philly. A big investor in Coke here, his finger in a myriad of other business ventures. Crossover indeed — the best of us and them, all rolled up into one guy.

And if anything, we need to believe in him more than ever, this summer and fall of Kobe, as the feeling grows that just maybe there are no star athletes, or for that matter klieg-light heroes of any stripe, whose performing personae hold up in private. It’s gotten so wearying and sad, the And you too? feeling that big-time stardom is, inevitably, a morass of privilege and ego run horribly, selfishly amok.

Not Julius, no, never. But there it was, early this year: Turquoise is divorcing him after 29 years. What’s more — hardly a ripple in the media — there was another kid outside the marriage.

Another kid? Julius?

You remember the first one: the tennis player, Alexandra. Pushing deep into Wimbledon in ’99 from out of nowhere, and suddenly her mother Samantha the ex-sportswriter who’d been openly hinting for years that the mystery father was athletic royalty, baiting the press to figure it out — well, Samantha got her wish. A phone call to California had produced a birth certificate. Alexandra Stevenson’s father was Julius Winfield Erving II. At first, for a moment, he denied it, one of the few really bad moves he’s ever made, publicly. But then he quickly caved to the obvious (God, how she looked like him, the long, sad face and those long, smooth strides… ), admitted that he’d had an affair back in the late ’70s, with this hot-button write freelancer, one of the first female reporters to push her way into local locker rooms.