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?

In May of ‘81, Julius playing in Philly now, they were back home on Long Island after the Sixers had washed out of the playoffs against Boston; Turquoise was pregnant with Cory, due that month. When Turk came home one day after being our, her housekeeper told her there’s this girl who keeps calling for Julius, and she said don’t tell you who it is: Samantha Stevenson. Now, that was odd — Samantha, a sportswriter, was her friend, in fact Turk was the only Sixer wife who would talk to Samantha, the only one who didn’t feel threatened by her taking notes next to their half-naked husbands. Samantha had even ghost-written an article for Turquoise that ran in the New York Times, where Turk complained that the Ervings’ reception in Philadelphia certainly could have been warmer, which ruffled feathers, naturally, in the team’s front office — really the problem was that Turk’s words had been twisted, made harder. Samantha had assured her that she didn’t do that, it was some editor out of her control. Anyway, Turquoise hadn’t seen Samantha for months, she hadn’t been around, but now, when Samantha called back again, Turk got on an extension as Julius answered the phone, and silently listened in: Samantha was in California, there was this baby, and Turk didn’t waste any time demanding to be brought up to speed as they talked about how to handle it: What the fuck is going on here? What the fuck you doin’ callin’ my husband?

Even with that, the truth in her ear, Julius denied it. At first. That was the hardest thing — the lying. It was almost a game. He would tell her anything, always working an angle with her. Tell her she had it wrong, she was crazy. It drove her mad. She’d fight him but cave; when Julius stormed out for a few days, she’d be worried sick: Where was he? Was he safe? He’d be holed up in some hotel, playing golf, maybe Vegas. Later, the condo he bought in A.C., or the Islands.

She was always anxious, so thin, not only battling Julius but having to play both mother and father to their kids — mid-‘80s, they’d finally moved from Long Island, buying a mansion in Villanova, but to the boys the suburbs were milk-toast: So you’re the Doctor’s kids. As soon as they were old enough, could get out from under Turk, they hit the streets in Philly. Reality, not this fame bullshit. Cleo and later Cory got caught up in drinking, weed, coke. Turk was not having it, her babies were not going this way. But what could she do? Rehab, and then back out on the streets. Craving their father, she’s sure now, that was the deal. Needing their father. Eventually they sent Cory to John Lucas, the player and coach who’d been an addict and had a treatment center down in Houston. The boy’s drug problems weren’t so bad, really — Lucas saw the challenge as helping 15-year-old Cory become Cory, whoever that might be. A tougher nut when your dad is so good and so famous and so busy. The one thing that Julius was totally dedicated to, that Turquoise gives him credit for even in the storm of trying to crawl out, now, from under Mrs. Julius Erving: He was always ready to perform. She admires that still. The problem, though, is how everything centered right there. It was all about him, that’s the way it had to be. All of them at the beck and call of Dr. J.