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Julius Erving's Last NBA Season Has Been Anything but Boring

March 22, 1987|United Press International

PHILADELPHIA — Julius Erving will surely have plenty of things to remember about his last season in the National Basketball Association.

The trades that had teammates coming and going; the injuries and other problems that forced the 76ers to struggle on the court most of the season; the honors bestowed on him as he made his last visit to arenas around the country--all these things have made an impression on Erving.

"The last thing I'll look back on this year and think about it is having been bored," said Erving, who announced on the season's opening night that the 1986-87 campaign would be his 11th--and last--in the NBA.

Erving has played well at times this season, averaging 15.8 points per game while seeing most of his action at the off-guard position instead of the forward spot where he earned much of his fame. But he recently missed three weeks of action with a broken finger and has also been on the bench as games were decided, something that never happened during his prime.

The time was simply right to call it a career.

"My decision was made and that's it," Erving said. "I'm not going to change my mind. That's not to say I'm not going to play basketball again after our last game. But as a professional in the NBA, I don't plan to play anymore strictly because I don't want to play anymore after this year.

"It's not that I couldn't, shouldn't or whatever, but that's the decision I've made and I'll stick with it."

Erving will leave quite a legacy when he departs. The legendary Dr. J brought skywalking to the old American Basketball Association and set an example for current high fliers like Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins.

As of March 18, he had scored 29,763 points in his career, third-best all time, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and another Philadelphia legend, Wilt Chamberlain. That included 18,101 in the NBA, good for 21st place on the league's all-time scoring list. He appeared in the NBA All-Star game in each of his 11 seasons with Philadelphia, won three MVP awards in the ABA and one in the NBA and helped Philadelphia win the NBA championship in 1983.

Erving has become an ambassador for the game of basketball itself and is involved in many off-court activities.

"The thing that's great about Julius is that it's not just basketball fans who are aware of his contributions," said Philadelphia assistant general manager Jack Swope. "It's all people. Doc has had such a major impact on people outside of basketball. That kind of thing doesn't happen that often."

That's part of the reason why Philadelphia owner Harold Katz is concerned that his last season has been marked by the troubles affecting the team.

The trade of Jeff Ruland for Moses Malone has been a bust, the 76ers have been no factor in the race for first place in the Atlantic Division and the team will probably not even have the home court advantage for the first-round of the playoffs.

"I wish, especially for Doc's sake, that there wasn't all the turmoil, but injuries cause problems and we have to play through them," Katz said. "There has never been another athlete like him and I doubt very much there ever will be one."

For his part, Erving said the happenings of this season have been nothing out of the ordinary.

"All the things that have happened are part of the game," he said. "For me to wish for something different would be idealism on my part. I don't know, in looking back on my career and my last year, if I would want my last year to be an ideal year.

"It probably has made it more interesting and more worthy of looking back on with it being the way that it is. There's a whole range of things that have happened and have yet to happen before it's over."

When he announced his retirement plans, Erving resolved to enjoy every moment of his final season, a vow he has been able to keep, thanks partly to some insight he's gained along the way.

"I enjoy my profession, my life," he said. "Who am I to complain? I'm thankful every day I wake up and smell the roses and keep going.

"We visited Dallas and I got off the plane and went to visit a little girl in a rehabilitation center who was a good basketball player at 15. She walked out of the house one day, was hit by a car and fell on the ground and hit her head.

"She lost her speech, the use of her motor skills. She's been at that rehabilitation center for the last two years. She's 16 now and I walk in there with a splint on my finger and a hairline fracture of my middle finger and never did I realize more how insignificant this was and how blessed I am overall.

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