Julius Erving was more than just a great basketball player. The man was a cultural icon...and also, a doctor! Well, not a doctor, but definitely "The Doctor," which is one of the great nicknames in the history of American sports.
The Doctor, an NBA TV documentary on Erving, debuts Monday, June 10, at 9 p.m. The film is a fantastic look at Dr. J's life, career and impact on basketball and pop culture. The footage and interviews from Rucker Park in New York provided the most interesting aspects of the film.
There have been a lot of legendary stories to come out of Rucker Park—and certainly some legendary players—but none may be more legendary than the genesis of the nickname "Dr. J."
Erving and his longtime friend, Leon Saunders, used to play basketball together in high school. Erving was tired of his friend being a stickler for the rules, so he came up with a derisive nickname for Saunders.
"He was like a professor," Erving explained during the documentary, "weighing you down in the lecture hall. So I started calling him Professor."
Saunders explained in the documentary that he chided back, "'What do you know? You're here arguing with me. What are you...the Doctor?' And every time we would see each other we would look up and I'd say 'Doctor' and he would say 'Professor' and it was just an inside joke."
In the documentary, Erving explains that when he went to Rucker Park in college, the announcers called him many different names, including Little Hawk (in reference to the legend Connie Hawkins), The Claw and Black Moses. Finally, Erving told the announcers if they wanted to give him a nickname, call him "The Doctor."
From that, the legend of Dr. J was born.
OK...the history lesson is over. Now for the fun. Is Dr. J (or The Doctor) the best nickname in NBA history?
We narrowed a list of more than 50 nicknames down to a pretty solid list of 16, ranked from one to eight for both an "East" and "West" bracket in an NBA playoff format.
Before you go crazy and complain that we forgot your favorite player, we decided to ignore any rhyming nicknames—yes, even Earl "The Pearl" Monroe and Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon, both of whom could have made the list—as well as any nickname that's just a shortened version of a player's name. Sorry Melo. Even more sorry, The Big O.
Really, we should have made this an NCAA field of 64-style bracket, but in the NBA there are only 16 playoff teams, so some players just couldn't make the cut. We'll address a few of those throughout the bracket.
Now...on to the East, with Dr. J obviously leading the pack.