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Jun 11 2013

Dr. J’s Sixers debut

Let it be everywhere recorded that the time was 8:04 tonight when the Spectrum went dark in anticipation of the dawn of a new era in Philadelphia basketball. The only lights were on the overhead message board, and they spelled: “Is there a Doctor in the House?”

As the crowd started to yell, Dave Zinkoff, the 76er’s veteran public-address man, started the announcement that all in attendance had come to hear:

“From Massachusetts, Zinkoff began, already in the upper register of his range, “Number Six, Julius Erving.”

That was Tony Kornheiser reporting on Julius Erving’s NBA debut in the October 23, 1976 issue of the New York Times.

Basketball-Reference

Via Basketball-Reference

The Sixers lost 121-118 to the Spurs that night in their season-opener at the Spectrum (Doug Collins dropped 30).

Yet all eyes were on the Doctor.

Erving was playing his first NBA game. Formerly with the New York Nets in the ABA, he was dealt to the 76ers when the leagues merged. The Nets received $3 million, which helped their owner Roy Boe pay for the Nets’ expansion fee. And the Sixers got a franchise player.

Erving was held scoreless in a brief first-half stint. He missed all four of his foul shot attempts.

“Had he been fighting for a job in that half,” Kornheiser noted, “he would have been unemployed tomorrow.

But he was magnificent in the second half, scoring 17 points. It marked the beginning of a brilliant NBA career that included 11 All-Star appearances, an MVP, and, of course, a 1983 championship.

Let it be everywhere recorded that Doctor J truly began to operate in the N.B.A. with 2:41 to play in the third quarter, when he made a shovel layup for his first points of the season. There will be so many more. But the first one felt good and prompted a quick grin, maybe even a sigh of relief.

“Like last year,” Erving said. “It felt like last year.”

***

The Doctor documentary premiered last night on NBA TV and if nothing else, it was a learning experience for this 1990-born blogger. Sure, it was a bit over-the-top, and it didn’t tell Erving’s story in its entirety. But if the goal was to make Erving’s legend known, to Jordanize it, mission accomplished.

Erving was way before my time. I started watching basketball during the tail end of Jordan’s career and the beginning of the Allen Iverson era, so when I think of the Doctor, I think of a gray-haired 63-year-old “Sixers consultant” (what does that even mean?) who was once a human highlight reel.

The Doctor effectively put his playing career in context of the 1970s/80s basketball, with everything from Rucker Park footage (worth watching for that reason alone) to interviews with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and LeBron James. (My favorite line comes from Billy Crystal, who recalls hearing about Erving for the first time: “I thought ‘Finally, a great Jewish basketball player!’”).

The baseline scoop in Game 4 of the 1980 finals against the Lakers. The foul line dunk. He was doing things that were unheard of before the ABA-NBA merger and it’s all in the doc. He was a human highlight reel and he changed the way the game was played. He was Jordan before Jordan.

If you were around then, you already know this.

I wasn’t. That’s what made The Doctor such an enjoyable documentary.

There was a time in basketball, not even that long ago, when you weren’t able to see the most exciting player in the world night after night on the court. So news gathered around by word of mouth and tales were passed down from one generation to the next. So it’s important to keep the greatest story of that era alive. That way, the legend can live forever.” ~Chuck D, the films narrator, in the closing moments of The Doctor

  • Dennis Flottman

    I was there that night (I’m 71) and as I remember it. Dave Zinkoff bellowed as only he could “Is there a doctor in the house?” It was shown on the scoreboard as well. A spotlight searching the court looked for the Doc as he ambled to center court carrying (what else) his “Doctor bag.” Awesome night that I will never forget.