2003-02-08 / Community

Saluting Black History Month

By Gary G. Toms

The 'My Icon' Series
Community Leaders Reflect on Those Who Inspired Them
By Gary G. Toms

The Wave is proud to present this latest feature in our annual salute to Black History Month. This year, we are shedding the spotlight on several community leaders, as they share their thoughts on the black icons that left an indelible mark on their lives. This week, Curtis Archer, Executive Director of the Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation (RDRC), offers his contribution to the second part of this four-part series. Archer selected basketball legend "Dr. J" as the person who helped shape his life.

"Growing up in my South Bronx neighborhood as a young African American male, sports figures (such as Reggie Jackson, Kareem Abdul- Jabbar & "Mean" Joe Greene) were usually the people we idolized and tried to emulate. I was no exception. For me, "Doctor J" was the man! Before there was Magic, Larry or Michael, there was Doctor J.

Doctor J was born Julius Winfield Erving II on February 22, 1950, in Roosevelt, New York. He attended Roosevelt High School, earning a reputation as a fundamentally sound but not spectacular player. He later attended the University of Massachusetts, where he distinguished himself as a player, only to leave after his junior year to sign a free agent deal with the Virginia Squires of the now defunct (American Basketball Association (ABA).

He played 5 years in that league, both for the Squires (2 years) and the New York Nets (3 years) before signing with the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers in 1976, shortly following the merger of the ABA and NBA. He played 11 years in "Philly", winning a World Championship in 1983.

In short, Doctor J was the dominant player of his era. He was an innovator who was often imitated. He changed the way the game was played. He did things with the basketball that one could only dream about. The Doctor was one of the first players to make extemporaneous individual expression an integral part of the game. He set the style of play that would prevail in the decades to follow.

Of course, like everyone else, I admired his basketball prowess, but the Doctor had much more than just basketball talent. The Doctor was smart, articulate and a great positive role model for African American males and for sports in general. He was a gracious, dignified, and disciplined man, and for those reasons he was the ideal ambassador for the game. He was the epitome of class, and no player was more respected. His friend and former coach, Billy Cunningham, stated the following:

'As a basketball player, Julius was the first to truly take the torch and become the spokesman for the NBA. He understood what his role was and how important it was for him to conduct himself as a representative of the league. Julius was the first player I ever remember who transcended sports and was known by one name, Doctor.'

The Doctor retired at age 37, having scored more than 30,000 points in his combined ABA and NBA career. Dr. J was elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993, leading the way for a couple of his superstar contemporaries "Magic" and "Bird." Dr. J's number (6) was retired by the Sixers on April 19, 1988. In 1996, the Doctor was named to the team of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players of all time.

I also admire the fact that the Doctor (unlike some other sports figures) kept his mind on the bigger picture.... life after basketball. He wasn't into flash and excess. Because of his attention to things beyond the basketball court and since his retirement, the Doctor has forged a successful business and broadcasting career. His investments include: ownership of a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Philadelphia, as well as cable television stations in New York and New Jersey. After working as an in-studio analyst for NBC during it's coverage of the NBA since 1993, Erving joined the Orlando Magic's front office staff as Vice President of RDV Sports and Executive Vice President of the Magic on June 4, 1997.

For all the reasons stated above and for some not, Doctor J remains one of my all-time favorite icons. He is an inspiration to all people because of his achievements on and off the court, and he transcended the very sport he helped to revolutionize."

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