The Doctor: Takeaways from Thrilling NBA TV Dr. J Documentary
NBA TV did its best to fill the void between NBA Finals games with an extremely intriguing documentary about Julius Erving, simply titled The Doctor.
We got to go on a trip through every aspect of Dr. J's life as a basketball player; from his days playing basketball on the playground or at the local Salvation Army, to his high school, college, professional days and beyond.
There were stories about his nickname coming to be, incredible footage of him playing at Rucker Park, the tale of the downfall of the ABA, along with the rise of the dunk contest and his Philadelphia 76ers.
It left off with Dr. J going with the documentary crew to a gym to prove that he could still dunk. The last image we see of Doc as an old man is him reaching for a ball before cutting to old shots of him slamming on people's heads back in the day.
Did they cut out the footage at the end because he couldn't get back up anymore? Not in my mind.
There were plenty of things to take away from yet another stellar doc from NBA TV (The Dream Team, of course, was also amazing), some of them old news, but many of them new.
The Flash Came Later
We learned that as a high school senior, Dr. J was the best player on his team, but he was just a 6'3" guard still awaiting his eventual growth spurt.
Before becoming the star of the high school team, Erving did what he could to blend in with the rest of the team, even going as far as to slow down on a fast break so that the rest of his team could catch up.
It's surprising to learn that a guy we know as one of the flashiest players in the history of the game could have been so actively passive as a younger man.
Of course, there's also the side of Erving that did his best to try to connect his early Philadelphia 76ers teams by facilitating more and bringing his team together.
Seeing him as a team player is nowhere near surprising, it's just imagining him as a young man reluctant to break away from the pack that's strange.
A ton of the old game film, and even a bit of the high school and college footage, that was put together in the film was stuff we've seen before.
However, the footage of Erving at Harlem's famed Rucker Park is really quite impressive. Not only is it high quality stuff, but it's not the regular shots of Erving that you see on a daily basis.
That's what really made the documentary. Getting footage of old games and dunk contests is one thing, but tossing in some Rucker Park footage along with it just sent the entire film over the top.
The Last Hope of the ABA
We all know that Dr. J's legendary pro career got its start in the upstart ABA, rather than the NBA.
The coolest part about the early story arc is that it's not just about Dr. J, but the eventual downfall of the ABA and how Erving was able to keep it alive, perhaps just a bit longer before the eventual NBA merger in 1976.
His original team, the Virginia Squires, sold him to the New York Nets during the summer of 1973. Though the Squires' cash-strapped status certainly played a factor, it was a move made for the benefit of the entire league, once again speaking to the star power and legacy of Julius Erving.
No Center Was Safe
Bill Walton, Dave Cowens, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Artis Gilmore...if they played center between 1977 and 1987, it seemed as if there was footage of them being dunked on.
It's crazy to think that a wiry 6'6" guard—who very well could have been even shorter than that—could take on so many giants and come away on top so often.
Maybe they were distracted by the flowing afro or just wanted to join the club of guys Doc dunked on. For whatever reason, every big man seemed to turn into Shawn Bradley when Dr. J was running their way.
The Doctor and the G.O.A.T.
Obviously, there are endless parallels to be drawn between Julius Erving and Michael Jordan, but The Doctor did a great job of touching up on all the major talking points.
From the flash and style that both played with, to the homage paid to Dr. J some years following his retirement, the two share many qualities.
It was a bit disappointing that the documentary used an old interview with Jordan when they were on the subject of MJ's dunk from the free-throw line in the '88 dunk contest, but I'm sure the story hasn't changed any.
Dr. J's presence at the dunk contest is pretty cool, but NBA TV also pointed out on Twitter that Jordan wore a pair of Dr. J's shoes during the 1982 NCAA Championship.
Even the greatest player in the history of the game has to look up to somebody at some point.
The Farewell Tour
People have talked about Dr. J's farewell tour ever since it happened as one of the most respectful moments in the history of sports.
Footage has been around for years, books have been written, and we've watched it hundreds of times.
However, no matter how often I see guys like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Larry Bird honoring Erving before doing battle on court in the Sixers legend's final season in 1987, it's special every time.
No matter how heated rivalries may have become, Dr. J was still liked and respected by much of the league.
The only parallel that I can think to draw on recently would be the New York Mets reaching out to New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera to throw out an opening pitch at Citi Field during this year's Subway Series. The only difference is that countless players and teams honored Dr. J, while we're up to one crosstown rival with Mo.
Not a Single Negative Word Uttered
That notion of respect brings us to the final takeaway from the magnificent basketball documentary of The Doctor.
It covered almost every aspect of Erving's life, and every word from every person interviewed was positive. Whether it be from a former teammate, a former rival or an old friend, everybody had something nice to say about Dr. J.
Obviously, they wouldn't specifically dwell on the negative, but it got me thinking—I've never actually heard anybody say a single negative word about Doc with any real level of conviction.
Bill Walton spoke at length near the end of the documentary, eventually coming out and finishing up his praise and tangent with one last thought: "He had the ultimate gift—he made people happy."
If you leave a legacy like that, it doesn't matter if you can dunk like Doc, as long as people are left smiling.