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If you like Julius Erving's story, you might also like:
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Julius Erving
Julius Erving
Profile of Julius Erving Biography of Julius Erving Interview with Julius Erving Julius Erving Photo Gallery

Julius Erving Interview (page: 3 / 4)

The Great and Wondrous Dr. J

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  Julius Erving

Julius Erving Interview Photo
If you get depressed about being the second-best team in the world, then you've got a problem. I tried to take a leadership position, and kind of explain that to my teammates and whoever would hear me. I found myself suddenly becoming defensive about something I really didn't think I should be defensive about.

There were, at that time, 23 teams in the league. We were better than 21 of them. There was one that was better than us, and maybe we'd have another shot at that team. As it turned out, we never got another shot at them; they never got back to the championship round. We went back three other times and the third time after that, won the championship.

There was a sense of relief from doing that. I don't think there ever was a time in which I got depressed over not having it. I think there were times in which I publicly acknowledged that there was a void created because of not having it. But a void is far from depression. A void is something that you can live with in your life, provided there are enough other things to compensate for things that you don't have.

I tell people, young people and old, "Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it." I think it's best advised to wish for things that are within your control to attain. Although that was something I wanted, I probably could have lived without it. Right now, I'm not sure how much of a difference it makes in my life, on a day-to-day basis.

I firmly believe that respect is a lot more important, and a lot greater, than popularity. When you become a world champion, you're not automatically respected. You're immensely popular because of that, because of the media coverage and exposure, but respect is something that you garner by going through the long hard route of giving it, and receiving it, and making it solid, and it's a permanent situation. To have the respect of a lot of people and to be a respected person is so much more important to me at this stage in my life. If I had not won a world championship in basketball, I think that that would probably still be there. That's really what counts to me.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

You've described the thrill of the roar of the crowd, the chemistry that you feel when you're on the court and it's happening. What does that feel like?

Julius Erving: When the crowd appreciates you, it encourages you to be a little more daring, I think. That's probably what the home court advantage is all about. With the crowds on your side, it's easier for you to get ready to play and to get to the point where you're playing up to your potential. Generally, you'll have more players on the home team playing up to their potential than on the road team. Because in all professions, talented people sometimes react adversely to being booed, or jeered, or going into a foreign arena. It takes them a little longer to get focused and to reach their full potential, and to get into stride, get into sync. You'll find some teams that are good home teams that are lousy road teams because of that. The perception is that the home team will always have an advantage. When you find a team that's a great team on the road, they're generally listed as a championship caliber team, because they've been able to overcome this. This is simply one of the psychological aspects of the game. There's physical, there's mental, and then there's a psychic side to sports, which a lot of people write about, and very few people study. I don't think I began to study it until I was in my late 20s. The last eight or nine years of my career I spent more time in learning about the psychic side of sports, because that's where there was a greater learning curve available for me, versus trying to physically jump higher, or shoot straighter, or run faster, 'cause that wasn't really going to happen. But the psychic side opened doors for me, opened passages for me, physically and mentally, and allowed me to become a better player at an older age. At age 31, in 1981, I was voted the best player in basketball, and the most valuable player in the league. That's considered old. You have a lot of guys who start out at 20 now, and this was after playing for ten years. I thought that was something that I needed to credit -- understanding better the psychic side of the sport, versus physically going out and doing anything any differently.

You mentioned daring, and that's another hallmark of your career: flamboyance and incredible moves. You're a great showman, and I wonder how much of that is spontaneous and how much of it is deliberate. Is it in response to the crowd? It's a very creative approach to basketball.

Julius Erving: I think it was in response to the crowd, because the crowd reacts after you do a good move. The crowd's response might help set the stage for something that happened later. Oddly enough, my particular style of play was really rooted in the fundamental approach to playing the game, with one exception.

When handling the ball, I always would look for daylight, wherever there was daylight. Sometimes there's only a little bit of daylight between two players, and you'd find a way to get the ball between those two bodies and you make something happen. Having good peripheral vision, I would always see daylight. Maybe I could see daylight that a lot of other players couldn't see. I see a lot of extraordinary players today, Jordan and Drexler and what have you. They see daylight where other players don't see that daylight. They see a body there, and they don't want to challenge that body, and they just don't see the daylight. So, that's a great optic option to have. The flamboyance wasn't intentional. The approach was result-oriented, more than reaction-oriented. Trying to get the results -- stop the team on defense anyway you can: block a shot, steal a ball, force a turnover. Offensively: try to score, set up a teammate to score, keep it very simple. The result was the priority, the effect was an added bonus, I guess. That was part of the gift, the blessing. Once it became very sensible business-wise, if you do things with a certain type of result and cause a certain type of reaction or effect, then you increase your market value. It's very much a competition for the entertainment dollar, and that's never been more clearly evident than in today's NBA game.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

What is the future of the NBA? Is it higher and higher salaries? Is there any limit to that?

Julius Erving: I think the game will be an international sport, very much in the same vein as soccer. It's probably only a close second to soccer now, and a lot more popular than soccer in a lot of markets where soccer isn't even played.

This will continue to grow. The league is committed to this. I think the basketball world is committed to it. I play a role in that now, in terms of the international aspect of the game.

You're talking now to future would-be professional players. You well know that only a tiny fraction of people who would like to make a living playing sports, actually can do so. What advice would you give to a young kid who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Julius Erving: Take the time to assess your talent yourself, and then be willing to listen to others who can tell you what you have, and what you don't have. Just deal with the reality of the situation, the statistics. If there are 350 basketball players, and 350 million in America, then you're one in a million if you're going to make it into the pro ranks. Now with the game becoming a world game as it is, there will be more professional teams, which will create more jobs. But proportionately speaking, if you start dealing with the world, with 3 billion people or more, the percentages becomes even less that you'll make it. That's just getting in the door, not that you will become a superstar, then it shrinks again.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

You have to adhere to the statistical realities. Sit down and look at the numbers, and see how you stack up in those numbers. Then see whether the sacrifice that you have to make is really worth the risk that you're taking.

Julius Erving Interview Photo
I'm saying this not to discourage, only to help you gain a proper perspective. Because I think that there are a lot of young, aggressive and talented, gifted athletes out there who do have professional potential. We would like to see good, healthy competition for all of those jobs, and for those role model positions, and leadership positions. There should be a lot of competition going after them. The ones who bring the goods, and who are able to take better advantage of the opportunities, they're the ones who will make it, they're the ones who will survive. We'll get the cream of the crop, and those who fall by the wayside will end up at different levels. They won't be non-achievers, but they just won't be the ultimate, with respect to becoming professionals.

Those who make it, I think, will have made it because they were faithful to what they were committed to. They understood the value of being taught. They will try to teach others, and in trying to teach others they will learn a lot about themselves, and learn about their sport. They will be people who you can give a game plan to, teach how to play the game, and then they will be able to go out and use their talent and execute it. After a certain amount of preparation, they will be able to go out and physically execute what it is that you've talked about trying to do. Some will be extraordinary so, when even the preparation and the execution don't produce the desired result, they'll be able to bring a little something extra to the table. They'll be resourceful enough to adapt, and still win, when the game plan is not working. Those are a few things that we can tell them.

What does the future hold for you now?

Julius Erving: I'm in business full time. I'm involved with partners and associates who have taken me on an interesting journey. It takes care of my financial needs, which was one of the things on my list of priorities -- the safety and security of my family and financial well-being. Being with the haves, versus the have-nots, not to separate myself from the have-nots, but to live the lifestyle that I was accustomed to living when I was a professional athlete.

One of the commitments that I personally have now is to a diverse approach to buying businesses, and the operation of those businesses. One of the things in the back of my mind is that, after my sports experience, I never want to be, totally consumed by any one endeavor, other than my family life.

Julius Erving Interview Photo
Right now I'm one of the owners of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Philadelphia, a cable television station in New Jersey called Garden State Cable, and an affiliate television station in Buffalo, New York with a company we call Queen City Broadcasting.

That puts me into varied fields of endeavor. As an owner, I have the latitude to plug into any particular aspect of the business that I feel comfortable with. From my sports experience, and from the business training that I have been afforded during the 20 years of preparation for my 40s, I feel that public relations and promotion are two areas which I'm best suited for.

I have elected to stay associated as a spokesman, and as a consultant, and a member of the advisory staff of several companies that I was affiliated with in my sports career: Spaulding Sporting Goods Company, the Converse Shoe Company, and new relationships with Dr. Scholl's, Shearing Plow Company, and Jiffy Lube.

I'm wearing a lot of hats these days, as well as doing some public speaking as a client of the Washington Speakers Bureau, and serving as a Director for the NBA International, which is responsible for laying the skeletal structure for the expansion of professional basketball around the world. At the same time, consulting with a few other entities on a small scale, just to kind of fill out the schedule.

No two weeks have been the same since I retired. Since this is my fifth year out of professional basketball, I'm at a point where I want to evaluate and make a decision whether I want more consistency and continuity, or I want things to continue in that mode. This is a transitional time.

There are things that are fixed, that I have to do and that I like to do, but things are subject to change, and that's one of the beauties of life as a free agent. A lot of job opportunities I've turned down because I think it would restrict me, in terms of having the choice of when to go, and when not to go, and who to associate with. That's something I'm not too quick to give up right now.

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This page last revised on Dec 13, 2007 17:44 EST
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