Julius Erving: Dr. J. As An ABA Virginia Squire

Dr. J slam-dunks as a Virginia Squire

Dr. J slam-dunks as a Virginia Squire

Julius Erving, known to his fans as Dr. J, joined the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association (ABA) in 1971, and in his first season, he was selected to the All- ABA Second Team and the ABA All-Rookie Team.  Famous for his dramatic style of play with spins, high jumps, and amazing slam-dunks, Dr. J was just beginning a 16-year professional basketball career that would earn him a place in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Hall of Fame.

As the editor of Metro Hampton Roads Magazine, I used my acquaintanceship with Squires owner Earl Foreman to obtain a private interview with Dr. J at his Hague Towers Norfolk, Virginia apartment.  My photographer that morning was Bob Friedman, my pal from our days at the University of Virginia and the future publisher of my novels. Bob and I were both basketball fans, so we were very excited about our appointment with the future superstar.

On time for the late-morning interview, we politely knocked on Dr. J’s apartment door. No one responded.  We knocked harder and repeatedly to no avail until we were at the point of leaving when the door opened. There stood a giant of a man, bare chest and barefoot, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.  We announced ourselves, and he apologized for over-sleeping and invited us in.

Dr. J as interviewed at breakfast. Photo by Bob Friedman

Dr. J as interviewed at breakfast. Photo by Bob Friedman

Most of the interview was conducted over Dr. J’s kitchen table, and while still bare-chested, he fixed himself a bowl of cold cereal.  Then we moved to his living room where he put on his shirt, socks, and shoes.  Neither Bob nor I had the presence of mind to request personal photographs with him, something we have always regretted.

Dr. J was very polite during our visit, but it was to be short-lived as he was due at a team practice.  We departed in the elevator with him and then watched him drive away. I hadn’t gotten enough information for a feature story, so we published a sidebar, short piece with one of Bob’s photos, and a game-action photo provided by the Squires.

Dr. J as the interview concludes. Photo by Bob Friedman

Dr. J as the interview concludes. Photo by Bob Friedman

Seasons later, Bob and I watched Dr. J in several NBA Finals as his Philadelphia 76ers battled the Magic Johnson-led Los Angeles Lakers. Finally, with the addition of Moses Malone to the 76ers, they swept the Lakers in the 1982-83 NBA Finals.  Dr. J had been an NBA Most Valuable Player and eleven-time NBA All Star before his retirement in 1987.  He played in over 800 professional games, scored more than 30,000 points, and was elected to the NBA Hall of Fame in 1993.

Fans like Bob and me remember that in 1976 Dr. J won the first Slam Dunk Contest that any professional basketball league had ever hosted. The images of him flying to the basket and slamming the ball through the net in impossible ways remain indelible.

Since I am a Norfolk, Virginia native and a former journalist, some words about the demise of the Virginia Squires seem appropriate in the context of meeting Julius Erving.

I had met Earl Foreman early in his consideration of Norfolk as the headquarters city for his ABA franchise location.  I also knew and had worked with Denzil Skinner, the Director of Scope, the then new 10,253-seat sports and entertainment complex in Norfolk.  As the founder and editor of Metro Hampton Roads Magazine with about 20,000 monthly magazines in circulation to people who were the perfect demographic for buying Squires season tickets, my support of the venture was deemed important. Earl Foreman even gave me a press pass to sit at the scorers’ table for the16-game home schedule at Scope in 1971.

Years later, in July of 1974, when Earl Foreman was being lambasted by fans and the press for selling four of the best players in the ABA—Julius Erving, Charlie Scott, Swen Nater, and George Gervin—I put Earl on the cover of Metro and encouraged him and his Squires staff to explain what went wrong.  The feature story by Fred Jordan was titled “The Foreman Years: Was It All His Fault?”

Metro Cover - Earl Foreman

The economic strategy behind the capital investment in ABA franchises was that the best teams in the league would ultimately be absorbed by expansion into the established NBA and thus become valuable financial assets.  Unfortunately, when the ABA folded, the Squires did not make the transition. The main obstacle had been Foreman’s concept to make the Squires a regional Virginia team that although headquartered in Norfolk, would play additional “home” games at the Hampton Coliseum and at sports arenas in Richmond and in Roanoke.  These four cities, however, were economic rivals rather than cooperative friends, and their political pettiness could not be overcome.  Affluent businesses in these cities thus did not buy blocks of season tickets, and individuals did not relate to the Squires as their city’s home team.

Foreman attempted to sell the ABA franchise to a Hampton Roads group of investors in order to save the team for Scope, but all efforts failed, and the Squires passed out of professional basketball history when it played its last game in Scope in April 1976.

6 Comments

Filed under Famous People, Memoirs, Writing

6 responses to “Julius Erving: Dr. J. As An ABA Virginia Squire

  1. As I remember it, that visit with Dr. J was brief and rather unproductive in the conversation category. He was still very young and very shy, and made no effort to talk, other than to answer your questions. The apartment was furnished and screamed “temporary,” nothing more than a large motel room, really. What I remember best about Dr. J was being at the media table on court one night at Scope, and seeing up close one of Dr. J’s spin moves. I can still see it. He drove into the right lane, went up in the air for a lay-up with his right hand, saw (while he was already in the air) that the defender had that covered, turned his whole body back to his left while shifting the ball to his left hand, and laid it in over the rim. It was a move, seeing it up close that way, was so breathtaking that the only thought one could have was, “Is this guy human?” But in those days, as we say, “Who knew?” Dr. J was just out of college, and it was amazing that the Virginia Squires even had him in the first place.
    Thanks for bringing back those good memories. Monty.
    Your photographer,
    Bob Friedman

    • giuseppe

      Bob, have you other pix of Julius the Doc J in action with Virginia?
      Thanks for the memories!

      • Bob was on assignment for Metro Magazine and thus all negatives and prints went into their archives. Sorry, Giuseppe.

      • giuseppe

        Dearest Monty
        Another question.
        I’ve read your beautiful article about Julius Erving and the Squires on your blogsite.
        Where I can find your Metro Hampton Roads Magazine interviews and articles about Erving and about Earl Foreman (1974)?
        Thanks again

        Giuseppe

      • Metro has not been archived, so I cannot direct you to a source. Perhaps a search for Earl Foreman might produce something useful. Thanks for your interest.

  2. Dan

    Thanks for the article – those were great days – I always think “”what might have been” if the Squires had succeeded;

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