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?


She looks up sheepishly, smiling, over granny shades. Freddie, indeed, a month later, here in the pro shop at Julius’s golf club just south of Orlando, a place so posh a guard in a booth has to nod you in; at last, off of Florida’s ubiquitous sun-pounded strip into lush equatorial f1ora — moneyed Florida.

Freddie is trying on clothes for Julius. One number, brown shorts with overlying flaps to look like a skirt, Julius thinks might be too tight for golf. He hands her a golf ball. When she puts it in her pocket it protrudes absurdly, like a misplaced erection.

“Too tight, you need room to swing,” Julius says, mimicking his own. “Sexy, though.”

After she settles for a couple of trim tops, we head out in golf carts to the practice range. When you’re sitting next to him, Julius doesn’t seem tall — cut high, Larry Brown calls it, all legs, though he’s 30 pounds over his greyhound playing weight of 216. And those hands. He lights a fat cigar with hands so long they appear blessed with an extra down-looping segment mid-digit. longer than any other player he ever measured against, what gave him control to wave the ball around like a pom-pom before finger-rolling or slamming it home. Freddie is going to hit balls while he watches and talks.

A long time ago, it was Isaac Hayes who taught Julius something important about how to conduct himself, though inadvertently. Julius loved Isaac Hayes, but once, when Hayes was giving a press conference in full Black Moses regalia, with the chains, the look, it didn’t sit right with Julius. He was 20 years old, still at UMass, at the very beginning of his own phenomenon, He decided that off the court, he had to be himself — not Dr. J, but Julius Erving.