The. Definitive. Dunk.

by @SixersHistory's Curtis Harris

It's #NBADunkWeek, and when it comes to memorable slams not just in 76ers history, but the history of the entire league, one tends to stand out among the rest. @SixersHistory's Curtis Harris provides context for one of Doctor J's most stylish freestyles.

On January 5, 1983, versus the visiting Los Angeles Lakers, 76ers legend Julius Erving unleashed one of the most recognizable dunks in NBA history.

The silver-tongued Lakers announcer Chick Hearn immediately named the instant classic dunk, exclaiming at the end of the play, “Whoa, he rocked the baby to sleep!”

Hearn, the Spectrum crowd, and fans ever since have come to love this play because it was quintessential Dr. J. But perhaps overlooked is how the whole play began.

Maurice Cheeks got his fingertips on an errant Lakers pass, and Erving subsequently sealed the great defensive play by beating out Lakers guard Michael Cooper for the basketball.

The furious hustle between Erving and Coop took them from the foul line on the Lakers’ side of the court to a bit beyond the three-point line on the Sixers’ end.

By this point, the Spectrum crowd – or any basketball crowd, for that matter – had seen enough of Dr. J over the years to know something remarkable was impending. Dutifully, the audience’s buzz built, and people were already starting to stand in their seats in anticipation of the Doctor’s dunk.

An eight-time All-NBA Defensive Team member, LA’s Cooper had yet to give up on the play. He was determined to foil Erving’s assault.

And honestly, his effort here is just as significant as that of Erving in making this play spectacular.

If Cooper had given up, Erving might have just sailed in for an easy jam. Sure the crowd would have appreciated the two points, but it would have been a routine Doc jam.

Cooper’s recalcitrance forced Erving into his improvisational best. The Doctor deceived his sterling opponent by taking two gargantuan steps while simultaneously swaying the ball in his cupped hands.

At this point, a freeze-frame of Erving resembled an Olympic discus thrower. But instead of throwing the ball in Herculean fashion, the Doctor took flight like Icarus — arms fully outspread as Cooper rose with him on the dunk.

In fact, Cooper jumped so high he had to duck his head so that he wouldn’t crash into the backboard.
Erving, meanwhile, continued his glide toward the basket, and proceeded to smoothly slam the basketball through the rim. It was such a smooth dunk that the net looked like someone had just swished a jump shot.

To complete the perfection, Erving landed gracefully and immediately pivoted to run back down the court on defense. Just another in-game dunk for Julius.

But for the Spectrum crowd, this dunk was bodacious – it’s an 80s term kids, look it up – and the fans were in a frenzied euphoria.

Revisiting this slam over 35 years later during #NBADunkWeek, the jubilation was justified, as the Doctor rocked the baby to sleep while somehow still blowing the roof off the Spectrum.


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