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.
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.
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?”
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.