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Julius Erving Returns to See the Nets in Action

Hall of Famer, franchise legend takes in first game at Barclays Center

The man who put the franchise on the map returned to see the Nets on Friday.

Over three seasons, Julius Erving carried the Nets to two ABA championships while carrying a league on his shoulders, and he soared while doing it. It’s worth wondering if that renegade league survives long enough to merge four of its six remaining teams into the NBA in 1976 without Erving’s singular presence.

His retired jersey banner hangs in the Barclays Center rafters, but until Friday night, Erving had yet to visit the arena to see his former team in its Brooklyn incarnation.

“I think that, as they say, a tree without roots cannot stand,” said Erving. “Franchises that are aware of their history are able to celebrate their history, good, bad or indifferent it was there, and the Nets have a great history. I think back to a lot of my teammates who are no longer here and that saddens me, but the guys who are here, still involved with basketball, that’s great. There’s a number of them out there. Hopefully they’ll get the opportunity to do what I’m doing tonight, come here, maybe have a bobbblehead night, maybe have a meet and great opportunity and see who’s running the ship.”

As Erving described, there was a full menu for his Brooklyn debut. The first 10,000 fans received a unique Dr. J Black Panther inspired bobblehead, the latest bobblehead collaboration between the Nets and Marvel this season. In addition, Erving held a meet and greet with a select group of fans and greeted the crowd during a timeout following the playing of a tribute video on the arena scoreboard.

The Hall of Famer also met with franchise leaders to hear more about the team and its place in the borough it has called home since 2012.

“I think they’re right on point in terms of wanting things to be inclusionary,” said Erving. “Brooklyn’s a very diverse community. There’s more people than any other borough in the city of New York, so to reach out and make that a part of one of the goals of your franchise, and want to be included in that community, community affairs, community relations, publish relations, the whole nine yards, plus getting the type of staff in place that has a oneness in terms of their mindset, those are steps that are being taken and got a chance to discuss it with some people that are pretty high up in the organization in the last 24 hours, so I’ve been really impressed with that.”

The Brooklyn move eight years ago was the latest in several transitions since Erving made the franchise’s old stars & stripes uniforms iconic, their identity merging with the ABA and its red, white & blue basketball. Playing their home games at the newly built Nassau Coliseum, the New York Nets won the ABA title in 1974 and 1976 while winning a franchise-record 58 games the year in between.

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Erving won the ABA MVP award in all three of those seasons, led the league in scoring twice and won the playoffs MVP award in both of the team’s championship seasons. In three seasons with the Nets, he averaged 28.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.3 steals, and 2.1 blocks per game.

It was also a homecoming for Erving, who played his first two pro seasons with the Virginia Squires. Nassau Coliseum is less than five miles from his hometown of Roosevelt on Long Island. In 2017, he helped the Long Island Nets debut in the newly refurbished arena, with his No. 32 raised to the rafters at the team’s season opener.

After Erving was dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers on the eve of the Nets’ NBA debut, the team moved to New Jersey, calling three different arenas home over the next 35 years. There, a rising star from West Orange followed the Nets on their road to two NBA Finals. Last summer, Kyrie Irving joined the team he rooted for growing up, and he’s liked to note that the last time the franchise won a title, there was another Erving on the roster, even if the spelling is different.

“It’s really cool for him because he’s from New Jersey, pretty local, and to go back to Long Island when I did and how I did, it was hugely meaningful,” said Erving. “There was a huge learning curve there too, because when I left I knew a lot of people, when I came back, a lot of people knew me who I didn’t know. I had to make a lot of choices, pretty much on a daily basis about who you’re dealing with and how you’re dealing with them. So it’s not all rosy and cheeky. There’s some challenges associated with it, but once you do it and you learn how to move with grace and elegance and with timeliness, it becomes a real positive experience.”

While the Doctor retired before any of today’s Nets players were born, his legacy remains strong. He liked the idea of the bobblehead sharing a Marvel Comics identity to appeal across generations. Caris LeVert was one of several Nets who approached Erving for a photo before the game.

“It’s amazing to have a legend like that come in and watch the game,” said Joe Harris. “We’re lucky that he’s a part of the Nets family, the Nets organization and we wish we could have him around a little bit more often, but it’s pretty cool to have him come and watch the game.”

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