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?

A tap on my passenger window.

Huh? Wha?

Oh. Julius. I pop my seat upright — I’ve dozed off, waiting for outside the Airport Marriott. Somebody with him, a woman. What time is it? Christ, almost 2 a.m.

Julius gets in next to me, she gets in back, behind him. “There’s a change of plans,” Erving says.

He doesn’t introduce us, I turn to say hello: young, lovely, a dusting of color like cinnamon.

“Let’s drive back to the Academy House” — where he has a condo, where I picked him up at noon to start a day of driving him all over attending to the task of being Julius Erving. “We’re going to meet a car there.”

We head into town. I brought him to the Marriott — what? Three hours ago. He said he was getting a little service, wanted to change clothes, that he’d be down in 40 minutes. We were going to go to a party on Delaware Avenue, the follow-up to a basketball exhibition in West Philly in memory of his drug-troubled son Cory, who died three years ago down in Orlando when he drove his car into a retaining pond.

Now the woman leans forward to talk to Julius — 53 years old, a grandfather, his hair gone mostly write — on the far side of his headrest. Not for privacy, just to get close, to be near, to argue playfully about nothing, Julius volleying with a sporty mind-fuck — “You know I’m right because I said what you thought I said when you said …”

His mood has shifted, gotten lighter. Driving to the Marriott, he asked me, “Do you think I should coach the Sixers?” A startling question — not because it was actually on his plate, given that the team hadn’t even contacted him, but because Julius Erving was wondering out loud what to do with his life. He was leaving the Orlando Magic, a mutual decision after six years of an increasingly nebulous PR vice presidency. He does not know what he’s going to do next, or, for that matter, where he’s going to live.

When we get to the Academy House. he goes in to get something, leaving me alone with her.

“How long have you known Julius?” I wonder.

“I don’t know Julius at all,” she says quickly. Her name is Freddie. Freddie works in promotions down in Florida.

Julius returns with a bag. As a long black limo sidles silently next to us, I wonder aloud if he ever bothers sleeping.

“Sleep? I can do that at home” — presumably, for now, Orlando, his condo near the Magic arena.

Julius and Freddie are going to pick up Jenn in South Philly. She’s another young, lovely, light-skinned black woman, a wannabe actress who, in fact, occupied Freddie’s spot in the backseat for the better part of this day of gallivanting around town.