'The Doctor': Julius Erving on the ABA
At 9 p.m. Monday, NBA TV Originals presents their newest documentary: "The Doctor." A 90-minute look at the storied life and career of Julius "Dr. J" Erving, "The Doctor" uses a trove of archival and found footage to reveal deeper layers of Erving's history, including a three-year stint with the ABA's New York Nets that included two championships and three Most Valuable Player Awards. Erving describes it in an interview: "Good party. It was a good party. And then it was done."
The documentary spends significant time highlighting Erving's ground-breaking ABA experience, on-court and off. Bringing the playground to the pros, Erving's high-flying, hard-dunking style proved as revolutionary as it was smooth, setting the stage for the ascenscion of Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and even the current crop of ultra-athletic stars (see: James, LeBron).
The NBA TV crew entered the project knowing that everyone had heard about Dr. J, and left it believing they offered an opportunity to see his impact for themselves. Erving, who was thrilled to work with the group based on previous experiences and knowledge of their past success, hopes that the documentary allows people to understand the journey he continues to travel.
In a Thursday conference call, Erving joined Christina Miller, SVP & GM of NBA Digital, and Dion Cocoros, Executive Producer of NBA TV Orginals, to discuss "The Doctor," its development and also his lifelong passion for the game. Highlights are excerpted below.
On what defined the Nets' 1974 and '76 ABA Championship teams:
"Al Skinner made some comments during the documentary about my role and the fact that nobody had any problems with what the roles were. And if they did, they kept it to themselves. They were very different teams, but there were no role problems, and Kevin Loughery had everything to do with that. He had that hot temper, so you knew how he was feeling and what he was thinking at all times. He never bit his tongue. Rod Thorn was there, hs sidekick and they just wanted to win.
"If they thought that giving me half the court and clearing everybody over to the other half – 'Stay there and pick your nose or whatever you're going to do.' – if this was our best way of scoring, then that's what they would call and everyone would roll with that. If we wanted to go with John Williamson and isolate him and take advantage of his matchup – or any of our players – we did that.
"It was very clear there was great leadership on the sidelines and there was great leadership on the floor. We just didn't have any issues, and that's why our teams won."
On why so much ABA footage made the cut:
"I would say that we realized once we started putting it together that people really needed and watned to see his highlights and his exploits in the ABA and some of the footage we got there. So we made the decision that was the stuff that had to live because it was so rare and so amazing. And the interview subjects talked so passionately about what it was like to see this guy play. I feel like we had to at the end of the day make sure that people got to see not only this footage, but also what people were saying about him at the time."
On reliving moments in the ABA footage:
"I knew there was dynamic footage from turning on YouTube every now and then or seeing 'The Doctor's Greatest Dunks' or having stuff put in my face from time to time and people saying, 'What did you think of that? What were you thinking when you did that? That was crazy!' So I just answered the questions from my memory and from my heart and trying to be transparent.
"How it was coordinated, that was up to NBA TV. There was a trust factor that they would do justice to the effort and the accomplishments. That the accomplishments shouldn't be considered second-rate or disregarded; that they would be treated with respect and incorporated within the big picture. Because when you think about a professional sports career, you have to look at it from beginning to end. If my sports career began in 1976 when I joined the NBA, then I should've been a rookie. I should've been rookie of the year – another trophy, wow! You know? It wouldn't have happened – I might not have been rookie of the year with Iceman (George Gervin) and (David) Thompson leading the league (in scoring).
"I always look at the big picture, and the Hall of Fame does. I think they recognize contirubtuions to the game in a very (full) sense. And that's part of the motivation for me to have the doctumentary out there – so people could take it seriously. Because there is a new ABA that doesn't resemble the old ABA at all. It doesn't resemble the NBADL. So setting the record straight about the nine-year history in that league and the 16 years put together along with pre-basketball and post-basketball that's my life."
Visit NBA History for more on Julius Erving's Hall of Fame career.