The Great Julius Erving AKA Dr. J



I have the distinct privilege to talk to the great Julius Erving. He shares the bricks he went through to reach the top of his amazing career. Starting as a child and how through it all he learned to listen to the whispers. He will share some highlights from his career and the work that he is doing now to help other players and their families.

Episode Transcription:

Intro plays

Ari: Welcome to visit bricks. My name is Ari Schonbrun, and I’m your host. I have a very, very, very special guest with me today. None other than Julius Winfield Irving, better known as Dr. J. Dr. Jay, internationally recognized was the dominant basketball player of his era, and a true innovator who revolutionized the way the game was played. widely heralded as one of the all time greats. He’s often considered to have been the catalyst for the ABA NBA merger in 1976. Irving strong leadership skills led his teams to championships in both leagues, while his authentically thrilling high flying style on the court captivated millions of fans from all over the world along the way. He was the epitome of class and humility, and no one was more respected both on and off the court. Irving played professionally for 16 years, having scored 30,026 points in his combined ABA and NBA career, and left as the third highest score in professional basketball at the time, behind only Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain. Irving scored more than 22 points per game and his 11 NBA seasons with Philadelphia, and 28.7 points per game and his five ABA seasons with Virginia, New York. In 1993, Irving was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and was also named to the to the NBA his 50th anniversary all time team. In 1994. Irving was named by Sports Illustrated as one of the 40 most important athletes of all time. In 2017, GQ magazine selected him as part of the 50 greatest living athletes, a true testament to staying power remaining generationally relevant some 30 years after his playing career ended. Irving holds a degree in business management from the University of Massachusetts, as well as honorary degrees from Temple University and Philadelphia University. He is the founder of Irving global opportunity LLC, and he brings to the table close to 40 years of experience as a Hall of Fame player, executive and entrepreneur. He has also served on various boards of directors. Please help me welcome Dr. J. Julius Erving.

Dr. J Thank you so much. rousing introduction, I thought I was gonna correct one thing. I think when they mentioned GE, to GQ, I thought you were gonna mention something about fashion. But that didn’t happen. 

Ari: So we just have to work that in next time.So why don’t you tell me a little bit about it

Dr. J about fashion? Well, I you know, I tried to be a pacesetter in the 70s, it was bell bottoms, high platform shoes, high hair, the whole nine yards, and then it shifted very quickly into the 80s and 90s. to something a little more conservative looking but colorful nonetheless. And here we are in the 2000s in 2000, and 20s, or whatever. So, you know, what am I represent? When, when, when of Las Vegas?

I gotta tell you, I gotta tell you, I remember when you hit the scene, I always I was young. I’m a little younger than you are. But I was about 15 years old when you came on the scene. And I just, I just remember, you know, watching you in such all that it was it was incredible. I had Sports Illustrated, you know, and all the pictures the whole spread that they did on you with the big afro you had the big afro at the time. Yeah. My favorite one of my there are a couple of favorites that I have a one of my all time favorites was watching you slam dunk over Jabbar. That was That, to me was just so amazing what like, whoa, this guy can do anything. Right. So as far as I’m concerned, you are if not the best, you are one of us, certainly in the top three to five of all time. I mean, you are you are my hero.

Yeah, yeah, I think when they combined both leaks, the things that were done, should add up to, you know, having a very elevated status in terms of all time, all time best. And it’s been an uphill battle just in terms of getting the aviator recognition that it deserves. But I think this commissioner is on to it and probably on his watch. He’ll be able to do some things that David Stern just wasn’t able to do not that he didn’t want to do, because we had multiple conversations over the years. You know about the recognition Va Va and the merging of the statistics and, you know, stuff like that. So I think Adam Silver gets it and, and wants something significant to be done with his watch. Even even with the players who haven’t done well who former NBA players. And you know, some of them are destitute, some of them are dying, broke, can’t afford funerals, or whatever, and the pension situation has never been resolved. So those guys, some guys put in nine years, or whatever. And that would make a difference, just in terms of, you know, they’re moving on to the next stage of their existence, and also, in terms of their family benefiting. So there’s a lot of dialogue going on about that. And that’s, you know, one of the things that preys on my mind sometimes when I when I go to sleep, whoo, will there ever be justice? For All, particularly, you know, the ones who are fallen brothers?

Ari: Wow, wow. You know, and probably most people don’t even know this. Alright. So I’m glad you brought that up, also. And I think we’ll go into that in a little bit later in the show. But I want to start with I mean, I can’t believe next month, it’s going to be 13 years, since the mission that we want went on together to Israel to the Holy Land. Do you remember that? I know that for me and my son, I know. studying to be an actuary. Yeah. Yeah. And, and, and at the same time studying to be a rabbi, I don’t know which direction he’s gonna go. But whatever he does, you know, I wish him well. Yeah. So I just want to start there. My first question to you is really, what kind of an impact if that trip to Israel have on Dr. J? Well, you know,

Dr. J: it wasn’t my first trip there. And hopefully, it won’t be the last, it’s the last right now. But hopefully, there’ll be another trip worked in somewhere along the lines, and just been able to go to the Holocaust Museum, to pray once again, at the Wailing Wall, and to go into church in the tivity. And, you know, the tourist destinations, which are more than tourist destinations, because they’re part of spiritual history, for all the religious sex, we found, and we exploited and enjoyed the fact that we went in some places there was representation from for many, many of the different religious sects. And, and that was, that was, that was important, I think, from a family perspective, for us to meet the political leaders of the day. And, you know, be involved in conversations about the issues of the day. You know, that was that was meaningful. And, you know, I think we were ambassadors for the US. And at least the boys were, the girls probably just got a little shopping in and enjoyed the scenery. But Rick, and I, you know, I think I’ve taken very seriously that time when we were there, and not taking it for granted. And come home with a lot of conversations with our friends and our relatives, and made it a sharing experience, and encourage them to go and see what all of us was about. Because, you know, because we did, we did enjoy ourselves, we learned so much, you know, and we were so influenced by the rabbi and other rabbis that we met. And the fact that they welcomed us with open arms and talk very candidly. And, you know, just kind of let us know what was going on and what time it was.

Ari: Yeah, I’ll tell you one of the things that that humbled me personally, and I still have that image in my mind Alright, was watching you at the Wailing Wall and when you knelt down at the Wailing Wall I mean it should it sent shivers down my spine you know, I look at you the world looks at you you’re this iconic individual. Right and then you get to the Wailing Wall you humble yourself by by by kneeling at the wall. I mean, it was it was so amazing. It’s it’s a it’s a picture that it like I said, in my mind that I will never ever forget. I mean, it was amazing. And we did have a good time. All right, let’s be real. My son of Rami. He was so funny. All he wanted to do is get your autograph and I kept telling him I said to him I’ve Rami Rami, just wait. It was like the first day they won. And I said, Just wait, just wait. And then at the end of the day trip, you gave him a basketball and you sign that we have it here and an ephah. Get the inscription. It’s basically from Dr. J. And it’s, to me, great hanging with you and your dad. Thanks so much, Diane J, you know, so that meant so much to him as well. So it was twofold. It was meeting Rabbi Grossman, which was very, very, very exciting. And very, I mean, it’s humbling to see what this man is done. Yeah. 

Dr. J Yeah, so that was,so you when you see the residents, for the people that are being housed? And no, I mean, as far as living conditions go, it’s not like Four Seasons hotel or anything like that, or whatever it is plain and simple and dysfunctional. And, you know, for them to, to live there and know that they’ve been taken care of, and for them to focus on, you know, what, what’s next for them, you know, where they’re going to go in life, because, you know, many of young people going to the military, you know, by requirement, right? To do two years, I believe, or go to the farms and go to the kibbutz, and, and so on, and so on. So learning about that, in terms of the culture, or whatever, I think that was important. That’s important to bring back home and talk to our kids about and then for your son to to experience it firsthand. And they know that that could be him.

Ari: Right, right. I mean, the one thing that that I really was impressed with, with my son is, that was his he was That was his bar mitzvah trip. And he made a decision, because, you know, he’d been, he’d been talking about this bar mitzvah party, you know about the bar mitzvah parties, right? Everybody’s Bar Mitzvah party invited to a few. And that’s all he talked about the entire time, he was 12 years old, it’s only talking about him and his friends, oh, the apartments about it. And when I approached them, when somebody approached me about this mission, and then, you know, I about to go down the street, and I approached him and I said, Look, to me, it’s gonna cost the same amount of money. So it doesn’t really matter to me, right? But what would you want to do you want to have this party? Do you want to go on this mission to Israel? He said, Dad, give me a week to think about it. And he came back and he said, No, I want to do the mission. And I was so blown away, because it was it was so meaningful. It’s something that held carry with him the rest of his life, you know, the parties, they come they go, but this was, and I was so proud of him that he did that. So that

Dr. J: was able to make some new friends to Yeah, stead of just hanging out with the old friends. Absolutely. And hang out with them anytime but make new friends like me and Rick and the girls and the other people who we met along the way. We did meet some very interesting people. Now, I think I was able to tell you about you know, my, my journey with Moshe Feldon Christ. And he trained me for several years, at a very pivotal time in my career, and he lived in Israel up until the time that he died. And he was an amazing guy who, you know, they have books about him, and he was involved with colleges here in the United States, just in terms of teaching the Feldenkrais Method, and which is a way of making your being better, you know, you become a better being by utilizing the things that he espouses on, and whatever. So he was, you know, he was a giant among giants. And for me, I mean, it even though he, you know, he came up to my test. The first time I met him, it was like, in Springfield, Massachusetts, and he, that he says, you know, you’re a big guy, but I could break you in half if I wanted to know cuz he was like a Judo expert. But I, but I heal people, but I heal people now. So you know, that that was one of my trips to Israel was to spend time with him. And, you know, of course, you know, many, many stories about, you know, just many people who are helpful, and I know that your platform is about, you know, making life better for others who are less fortunate. So that’s correct. I appreciate that. And I admire that. 

Ari: Alright, so that’s the name of the podcast is whispers in bricks and the whispers of those voices telling you like the right thing to do, and it represents the good things in life. The bricks represent the bad things that we go through in life and there are many ups and downs and many bumps in the road. Now, from reading your bio, you seem to have had a incredible, incredible life a great career. But like I said, you know, every so often we get hit with a brick now my biggest brick was 911 and the whispers that helped me to get out of it. My miraculous escape. What my listeners want to know is, what was some of the struggles or failures, if there were any of some of the bricks that you got hit with either personally or professionally, when you were either starting out in your career or throughout your career

Dr. J: so for me, I think at an early age, there was there was some physical injury. That happened, I ended up severing the ligament in my right knee in a fall while I was playing sandlot football, and I fell in a suit to some glass. And it just kind of cut my knee up. And I went home, my mom takes, you know, alcohol and puts it off. And, of course, that didn’t feel too good. Showing. So she took me to the doctor, because she, she worked at a doctor’s office, took me to the doctor, we go to the doctor, and he said, You got to take him to the hospital. So we went to the hospital. And then they performed the surgery on my leg. And so I was probably maybe like 1111, or 12. And, you know, so I had a cast on my leg. And, you know, it took a lot of time for it to heal several months with the heel. And then once it was healed, like any time you get a cast anywhere on your body, you know what it’s atrophy, and the whole deal. So I looked at my leg and look like at all look like I had three arms and one leg, whatever. So I got all kinds of nicknames during that time. Hopalong and peg leg and, you know, whatever, the kids were kind of hard on me and I went from being the fastest kid on the block to the slowest. You know, I felt like at that stage in my life, it was such a challenge to get back what I had lost. And, you know, I went at it in a, in an interesting way. Because I just kind of used the things that were available to me, you know, the steps on on my apartment house. This the benches that were in the, in the, in the common areas, in the playground, there was swains, and see saws, and all that kind of stuff. And I just remember going out, and, you know, conditioning myself, and training with those things, not knowing what my future was, you know, I mean, I just knew that athletics were going to be in my future because I was basically an elementary school and in middle school, but all of those things became like gifts to me that I realized later, doing those things, jumping over to benches and so on and flying and flying out of the swings, and, you know, all of that stuff. You know, the, it was a brick definitely laid on me with the fall, right. But then in terms of the whispers, but a miracle associated with being coming back and becoming, you know, a world class athlete. Down the road, who knows, you know, new and developing late as opposed to developing early was very important too, because, you know, I mean, not a lot of people saw it coming. So at a 1617 and 18. I wasn’t better than everybody, you know, but I worked probably harder than everybody. And it was always a state of catch up. And I think maybe I caught up when I was about 20. That’s so when I was 20. I caught up. And I had a lot of things going for me at that time because I was a student athlete. And in my freshman year in college, I wasn’t the leading scorer on the team, you know, the guy who came from Long Island, like me, his name was Rick boldly. He was leading scorer on the team. I was the second lead scorer. And we had an undefeated season. So then the next year when I came back, and pretty much after that all the way until 15 years of pro I was always the leading scorer on the team. So it happened at age 20 When I got invited to be an Olympian and go into the Olympic development program as an alternate, but, you know, went and excelled in the training camp situation, went to Europe, Russia, Poland and Finland in played and led the team in scoring and rebounding. So I was a late bloomer, and that was good. So sort of brick, that brick early in my life as well as the passing of my little brother when he was 16 and I I was 19. You know, that was a brick that was, that was a brick, I thought I would never cry again.

And I said, I wasn’t gonna cry again. And then a couple years later, my favorite uncle died. And I found myself in the church, you know, reaching for napkins and tissues, you know, because the tears just became real. And crying is a real part of life. You know, it’s something that you need to do to cleanse yourself and purify yourself, just in terms of times of misery, or trial and tribulation. And sometimes tears are a good thing to share. Sometimes there’s good tears.

Ari: You know, I, I agree with you, 100% On this point, I personally, I’m a very emotional type of individual, and I’ll cry at the drop of a hat. I just, it’s just easier. But you know what, I look at that as a blessing. All right, because when I see somebody who’s in pain, all right, I can so empathize with them, and I can literally sit down and cry with them, because I’m just that that type of personality that, you know, that just I get overwhelmed. You know, and I just, and I try and help in any way I can, you know, so I view that as a blessing of a and I’ll tell, you know, like a grown man that is able to cry, alright, is a blessing. It’s a blessing, right? Because, you know, not everything is going to go our way. And you just have to you have to thank God for what you have or what you had. I mean, again, your brother, you know, passing away at the age of 16, you know, terrible, terrible tragedy, but you had him for 16 years. Yeah, you know what I’m saying? Yeah, this

Dr. J: is this is something to think about in terms of the worthiness of it all. And with people, people going through trial and tribulation, you know, you have to recognize what their worth is. When I hear of a tragedy, plane crash, let’s say, a volcano exploding, tsunami, or whatever, all those people, they have a word, you know, and they have a value. The fact that people get lost makes me sad. And sometimes to the point of crying, sometimes just watching a movie. Yeah, my eyes are well up, and I just need to pat them down. And I’m okay. I’m not crying. Ours a water? Yeah. So tell me if we were both on the same page.

Ari: Let me ask you this. Who Could you point to as the person who had like the absolute most influence in your life? And why? Well,

Dr J: well, my mom would be first and foremost. You know, she, my dad separated after my brother was born. So I was three, my sister was six, my brother was just born, they separated, eventually divorced. So she had to go to distance, you know, herself until she ended up remarrying probably when I was 13, or 14, that she married a much older gentleman who was my stepfather. But she was she was all in everything. And I think the thing that kept me out of trouble was not that I didn’t have friends who got into trouble and did did some crazy things, or whatever. But I didn’t want to make life harder for her than it already was. You know, she grew up in South Carolina, she got a teaching degree and was able to teach down there when she came to New York, they wouldn’t let her teach. So she did domestic work. And she did domestic work, she cleaned the doctor’s office set up before mentioned doctor is to clean his office, and then she went and got a license to be a beautician and got a booth in a shop. And, you know, had her own booth had her own customers, or whatever. And at same time, she was raising three children. So So I never wanted to do anything to make her life more difficult and wanted to do things to make her proud of me. And, you know, I was able to do that by the grace of God. And, you know, wasn’t an exact plan. Because I didn’t plan to go down when I went down. But but coming up was through God’s will and blessing. And, you know, the story, you know, here we are 871 You know, looking at the best day of my life to be in front of me because I just choose to do that. But I have had some tremendous days behind me. You know, and and I don’t take any of those for granted, but I still say tomorrow is gonna be the best thing

you know, absolutely. Absolutely. You know what they say everyday above ground is a good day.

There you go. Straight up. Right? Yeah. So

Ari: your mom, she must have been really something special, you know, just from your you know what you tell me? I mean that it’s truly amazing. And you know what? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? I mean, you’re absolutely You’re an amazing individual. Let me ask you this.

Outside a family. Those there outside of the family question, who was the best influence?

Not necessarily, but sure, I’ll take it.

Dr J: Okay, so outside of the family, my high school coach, Ray Wilson. Bill Russell, in terms of iconic figures, when he came to UMass, and asked me to go to dinner with him after he had given an address that I couldn’t attend, because I had practice. And they sat with me for three hours. Wow. And shared his story. Okay. Yeah, William, William burden, Russell, amazing guy. We, I love him like he’s an Uncle, brother. And he is returned the love that he extended the hand of friendship. To me when I was 19 years old. And I it’s no coincidence that that next year became my coming out year, or whatever, because of the confidence that was instilled in me, you know, by him just paying attention as he did. And, you know, we’ve continued to maintain a relationship since was that 1969? Yeah, so that’s 30 is almost 50 years, plus 50 years. Plus, yeah, whatever, you know, and, you know, he is and what he did, what he stands for, and what he stood for. So that’s been a light in my life. Wow.

Ari: So before we go, let me ask you this, do you have any any words of wisdom or any anything you want to share with my audience, something they can walk away with, and, you know,

DR J: of course, you know, you make your own luck. But in order to make your own luck, you know, you have to have a recipe. making this up as I go along right now, okay, that’s fine photo recipe, for me, I think, is getting an education. And daring to be great. When others say you can’t, you dare to be great. And you have the attitude that will give you the altitude in life, and get you to higher places, and, you know, have a more profound effect on those around you. So you kind of mix that up, that’s your recipe, right there. And, you know, just kind of move without fear would be respectful of things and be respectful of the dangers of society, and life, because there are real dangers out there. And, you know, whether it’s Satan or others, you know, that there’s some bad people out there, and it’s bad things that can happen. So protect yourself and protect your loved ones. It would be good to have a protector, somebody who’s got your back as you step and walk through your journey in life, but but walk through with a positive attitude. And, you know, I think things will turn out pretty good for you.

Ari: That’s, that’s great. Julius that. That is that is really, really great. Now, if anybody wants to get a hold of you for you know, they want to hire you as a speaker or you know, you do a lot of charity work. What would be the best way to get in touch with you is a website or an email or?

Dr J: Yeah, we have a website and we have website and development we took down Dr. J enterprises, and we put up Irving global opportunity, LLC, geo LLC, or whatever, but I’ll send I’ll send that to you. And make sure that you have it on file. Because you know, yeah, we do get emails there right now, and we haven’t developed the full website. But uh, but you know, people can usually find me. I will public figures. Yes, you are. And that’s not the hardest thing to do find it. Julius Erving.

Ari: That’s, that’s for sure. That’s for sure. I did have one more thing I wanted to ask you. Yeah. So is there any way if people want To help you to, you know, help those that are less fortunate those ABA players that you know, who were less fortunate? How would How would somebody go about to, you know, getting involved or, you know, helping with that, you know, what, what can we do? What can my audience do?

DR J: So right now is there’s a group of ABA people and it’s headed up by an attorney named Scott tauter. And it’s called dropping dimes, foundation, dropping dimes, drive in basketball, when you drop a dime. That’s given somebody in assists, right? It’s called, so it’s dropped the dropping dimes Foundation, Scott tauter, meta licky. I’m on the advisory board repair is on the advisory board. Bob Costas is on the advisory board. And there’s an effort put through the dropping dimes Foundation to help these guys. Great. So that would be that would be great to reach out to them.

Ari: Reach out to them donate over there. And the like.

DR J: Yeah, they’re there. They’re based in Indianapolis.

Ari: That’s great. Julius, thanks so much for sharing your story with my audience. It was truly an eye opener. I wish you all the luck in the world going forward. You know, what can I say? You’re an iconic figure. But you’re so humble. Alright. And that’s what that that’s what that’s what draws me to you in the first place. You know that you’re just an amazing individual. And I really, really want to thank you and really lot’s of luck. Yeah. And to my audience, you’ve been listening to us presume bricks and I’m your host, I will show money to next time listen to the whispers before the break.