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Julius Erving
Julius Erving
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Julius Erving Interview (page: 4 / 4)

The Great and Wondrous Dr. J

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  Julius Erving

You mentioned earlier that becoming a superstar is very difficult to do, in terms of numbers. It's also difficult, I would imagine, in terms of your personal life. You once called it both a gift and a curse. Was it tough to balance the personal and professional?

Julius Erving: Yes. I talked in terms of it being a blessing and a curse, because of the powerlessness. Obviously, reaching the highest level in your profession gives you a certain amount of personal clout and power. But understanding that, and then being able to use it properly, exposes you to the limitations that come along with the territory -- the exposure that your family gets, and the things they're subject to that you can't be forewarned, or foretold about. My sister, for example, suddenly having a famous brother created a certain standard in her eyes, looking at her children, and male figures in her life. The same for my mother, the same for my wife, my kids.

It's a burden, in some ways.

Julius Erving Interview Photo
Julius Erving: Many times people would approach them, as if they should know everything about me, what makes me tick, what I'm thinking about, what my itinerary is. Lots of times they're put in a position of being defensive, and maybe even a little embarrassed by things that they don't know the answers to. Then, being approached by people who they thought were their friends, who were trying to use them to get through to me, for whatever reason.

The first few years, you're not sure what to make of it, and you make a lot of wrong choices and a lot of wrong decisions. As time goes on, you learn how to say no, and you learn how to protect those who are close to you and who you love. Starting with your children, not permitting teachers, or other students, or visitors to the school, to use them as messengers, to bring home notes relating to that individual's proposed business with you, keeping those around you from being pawns in the process, and teaching them and advising them to stand up and command respect. If people want to deal with you, let them deal with you one to one as an individual, and not use you to get through to me. That's part of the curse.

Your wife's name comes up a lot, and I gather she's been a very important source of support for you.

Julius Erving: No question about it. She's been the main support of my adult life. We have a 20-year relationship. There are so many times in which the role reversal has occurred, where she's had to wear the pants in the family and make key decisions. Right now we have a very democratic household. Sometimes I simply follow her lead because, during my professional sports career, that's one of the sacrifices you have to make. You have to travel, and then when you're home, you have to rest.

Julius Erving Interview Photo
Life goes by so fast, and you have young kids. All of my children were born while I was a professional athlete. It was the only lifestyle they knew before I retired. Many people have asked my family , "How do you adjust to this life style of being a professional athlete?" There was no adjustment for them; it's what they knew. The adjustment came after I got out, and it's still going on.

I've always encouraged her to have her own identity. She's always been more than willing to speak up about her views, her charitable causes and business projects, and that's why her name comes up a lot. She is a person who has an individual identity, separate from mine. And together, we have a pretty positive identity, in terms of our relationship. It's long-standing and special, and we to work to keep it special.

I still think the best is yet to come, and tell her that as often as I can, and she gives me the same type of feedback. It keeps us positive towards each other.

There was a tragedy early in your life. You lost your brother, and that had a powerful impact on you, I'm sure.

Julius Erving: No question about it. There were three tragedies in my life, and actually a fourth, which all involved immediate family members, and my brother was the first. I was 19, and he was 16 and he died of lupus erythematosus, and it was just devastating. My father had died before my brother, but my father didn't live with us. My brother's was the most devastating, because in our family there were two boys and a girl, and so it left me as the only male in the family, and the one who was designated to carry on the family name.

There were a lot of times in my life in which I tried, rationally and maybe too secularly, to think why this had happened to my family, and to me, and personalize it in that way. I never really came up with the answers until I started to find myself spiritually and make a spiritual commitment. Just start trusting God's wisdom and judgment as more important than anything I could ever think of. The mystery will be unlocked in time, with my having faith that I will come to understand.

This is, to a large degree, how I've lived my life, taking a faithful stand. It's enabled me to deal with losing a stepfather, and losing my sister in my lifetime, and still moving on. Still going forward, still gaining strength from each experience, as though there are things that I have to do for me and for them, as well as for my family that I'm still left with and blessed with.

Regardless of what field someone chooses, what personal characteristics do you think are important for success?

Julius Erving: The more successful people are in life -- and I've found this to be true -- have this resiliency about them, where no matter what comes down the pike, they're not going to quit. They're not going to be blown out of the water, and they're not going to exit from the game, unless it's their choice. And if it's their choice to exit from the game, they're exiting because they've got something else to do. It's like the old expression, it's better to not succeed than it is to not try. If you don't try, you're guilty of a crime that, in business, or in sports, or whatever, would be considered the cardinal sin. Always give your best effort, always try. You might come up a little bit short, but have this intestinal fortitude within you. Have this attitude programmed. Understand who you are, what you can bring to the table, and then bring that to the table. Where the pieces fall, they fall. I think that the resiliency to deal with good times, as well as bad times, and still remain focused, and still remain purposeful and true in your quest for worthy things in life is part of the character that one has to have to be successful. There are a lot of technical things that you have to understand, a lot of fundamental things that you need to be a part of your make-up. But you're way ahead of the game if you have this knack for being resilient, resourceful.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

What are you most proud of, looking back?

Julius Erving Interview Photo
Julius Erving: Being respected, because I have to deal with this each and every day of my life. Each and every day of my life, when I go to a public place, someone might recognize me, or might not, that doesn't make or break my day. The thing that I walk in expecting is that, whether they recognize me or not, I'm going to be treated with respect.

I want to project that. When I walk into a room, I'm going to command respect, without opening my mouth, and not expecting anything from anyone that they're not capable of giving. I think you get it when you command it, and I feel very fortunate that this is something that I experience every day. It feels real nice, and it makes me proud.

It makes me proud to know that a lot of people ask me to accommodate them -- with autographs, or personal exchanges, or projects or whatever -- and I can say no and they're not going to freak out. They're not going to be put off, they're not going to think that it's a condescending thing. They're going to understand that because they have respect for me that this is an inconvenience at this time, or it's just something that I choose not to do, and they're not going to try and beat a dead horse.

This is feeling the other side of the fence, after coming through a lot of experiences, in which the respect wasn't there. People just thought, I can run over you, or take advantage of you, and make assumptions. Now there is a respect there, and I'm very, very proud of that, and I want that to continue. I want to continue to command that.

Well, thank you so much for spending this time with us today.

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