Pro Legends of Streetball: Julius Erving
Dr. J wore the look that characterised an era, and it wasn’t by accident. His long socks, short shorts and big afro were the trademark features of the flashy seventies, the perfect time for a man who epitomised flair to hit the scene.
Born Julius Winfield Erving II in Roosevelt, New York, Dr. J was perhaps basketball’s first high-flying forward. It’s hard to imagine a time when almost all NBA action took place below the rim, and the fact that it isn’t still so is largely thanks to Erving. It was his fondness for attacking the rim – usually from above – that helped chang the style of the game so drastically and rapidly in the ’70s and ’80s. Unlike the swingmen that came before him, Dr. J would finish anything and everything he could with an emphatic slam, his towering afro casting a shadow over the mere mortals he floated past en route to the rim.
While hoops fans are familiar with Dr. J’s antics on the hardwood of the ABA and NBA, his streetball history is often forgotten. Like many of the big names of his era, Erving frequently graced the hallowed ground of Rucker Park, where fans knew him as "The Claw", doing battle with the biggest names in the streetball game. Most notably, he was involved in a match-up often cited as the greatest game in Rucker history by those who were in the park that day. On a muggy summer day in 1971 while Dr. J was still suiting up professionally for the Virginia Squires, he took to the court as a member of the Westsiders team and in a torrid first half wowed the crowd with a dazzling array of dunks, blocks and long jumpers. At halftime, however, the stakes were raised when Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond showed up and took the court for the all-amateur Milbank squad. Despite facing double teams from a Westsiders outfit largely composed of professional players, the 6’3” Hammond held his own, knocking down tough shot after tough shot en route to twenty-five points after the break.
Dr. J wasn’t to be denied, though, eventually carrying his team to victory in triple overtime, guaranteeing that even if he were never to play another second of professional ball, his name would go down in the annals as a giant of streetball.