The NBA’s most transformative player submits an unusually revealing autobiography.
During the 1970s, when officials still bothered to call traveling and palming violations, the high-flying Erving arrived and, nevertheless, managed to do things with a basketball no one had ever seen. For years, basketball’s best-kept secret, “Dr. J” (“more moves than Dr. Carter has liver pills”) played his college ball at low-profile UMass and then for five years with the fledgling ABA, a league with no national TV contract. When the ABA merged with the NBA, Erving signed with the Philadelphia 76ers and played another 11. With Greenfeld’s aid (Triburbia, 2012, etc.), he covers the basketball triumphs, the especially crazy days of the ABA, the All-Star games, the MVP awards and the championships, and he comments throughout on some of his better-known mentors (Bill Russell, Walt Frazier, John Havlicek), teammates (Daryl Dawkins, Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks) and opponents (Larry Bird, Magic Johnson). Fans will appreciate his surprising takes on players like Pete Maravich, Bernard King and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Erving’s own assessment of the evolution of his game, and his tales of mixing with a black elite that included the likes of Bill Cosby, Arthur Ashe and Miles Davis. They might not expect the attention he devotes to struggle and loss: the premature death of an already absentee father; the spare poverty of his Long Island childhood; the early death of a younger brother to asthma and, later, of an older sister to cancer; the family visits to the Jim Crow South and the adult encounters with the modern civil rights movement; the delinquency of his children and the death of a son; his lifelong struggle with fidelity. Erving’s reverence for rules and order and his simultaneous passion for improvisation have played out in his private life as well, not always to good effect.
A good enough treatment of the phenomenon called “Dr. J” and an especially thoughtful account of the man, Julius Erving.