Thursday, December 5, 2013

Book Review: Dr. J The Autobiography of Julius Erving

Julius Erving does not hold back in this book. He is brutally honest, and talks candidly about his life experiences, from growing up in New York City, to traveling south of the Mason Dixon in the days of official Jim Crow segregation, to his growth in size and basketball abilities, to his post-basketball career.

Along the way, you will learn about his other experiences as well, such as traveling far and wide, his experiences with family and with quite a few women along the way. He speaks candidly about his own dreams and ambitions, indiscretions and mistakes. His voice is that of a loving husband and father, as well as the grieving voice of all too many close family losses.

Of course, you also get his take on basketball, as he recalls his experiences first on the playground, then playing more organized ball with the Salvation Army and other teams before college, then his days at UMass, and finally, the pros. He went first to the Virginia Squires of the now defunct ABA, and he speaks frankly about the team's weaknesses and strengths there, before moving on to his next team, the New York Nets (who would soon move to New Jersey, and then to their present location in Brooklyn), where the team finally did win the ABA Championship twice in a four year span.

And then, of course, his legendary days in the NBA as "Number 6" with the Philadelphia 76ers. That first year, with a very talented team that made it all the way to the NBA Finals, only to lose to the Portland Trailblazers, a team that Dr. J still clearly thinks the Sixers should have defeated. Then, two more NBA Finals appearances some years later, losing both times to the Lakers, before the Sixers finally acquired Moses Malone, who was the final ingredient the team needed to go ahead and win the NBA Championship in 1983, sweeping the Lakers in the Finals.

He also talks about his retirement tour, with every single team in the league honoring him the final time that they hosted the Sixers that season, and how unique that felt. Of course, being a celebrity himself, Erving discusses some of the famous people he met and got to know along the way and, interesting, he also describes some of the challenges of having grown up poor, and then trying to raise children after achieving fame and wealth, and the toll that these expectations based on the accomplishments of their father had on those kids.

This book would be ideal for fans of the Nets or Sixers, the old ABA, or basketball in general. For that matter, it would be a good book for people with an open and curious mind. It is written well, and he makes it entertaining and accessible. Somehow or other, the book flows easily. I attended an event of Dr. J's in Philadelphia (see the review, which was published on November 15th), and while waiting on line for that hour or so and change, I was able to read about thirty to forty pages or so, and get hooked on the book!

I personally was surprised by some things. For example, the afro that he famously sported earlier in his career gave me the mistaken impression that he was an easy going, free wheeling sort of guy, if you will. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. One of the big surprises in learning more about Erving is just how organized, even anal, he can be about things, and how much he subscribed to the corporate world, which he is still proudly a part of.

So, if you feel that this might be of interest to you but are still on the fence about it, go ahead. He is not some mindless jock writing, in effect, to increase his own already inflated self-esteem, which is the case sometimes with some athletes and celebrities. He has something more to offer - far more to offer, even - than a simple regurgitation of past exploits and glories. This is an intelligent man, with some surprises. Give the book a try, because it's worth a look!

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