MY TRIBUTE TO JULIUS ERVING (REVISED)

FROM THE HOSS MARTIN ARCHIVES:

On Monday, June 10, 2013, the highly anticipated and long overdue retrospective on the career of Julius Erving will air on NBA TV called The Doctor, which has been adequately advertised on sports broadcasting outlets throughout the land. Personally, I believe this will be an excellent opportunity for many in my generation and those following to understand how this athlete impacted society.

The significance of Erving in my life is based on the fact that he was the very first sports figure that I had ever seen on television and in person. From my initial experiences of elementary school, I was so absorbed by Erving that I took the opportunity to draw and pay homage to him during art period while teachers had time to prepare the next lesson. I immediately thought of how this interpretation of my hero would appear.

Unfortunately, my artwork did not become the masterpiece that I had intended. I maladroitly portrayed the American legend in exaggerated ebony hues with the largest natural (afro) in recorded history donning the number six in the front. My teacher inevitably asked, “Who is this supposed to be?” “He’s Dr. J,” I responded.

Now, I certainly had no delusions of becoming the next Monet, but I did not believe that I would devolve into the Lord, help him (class clown) label for at least that morning in a private school. This was one of many comedy classics I provided my parents over the years that would not be surpassed until I feebly attempted to impersonate veteran broadcaster George Blaha (Detroit Pistons) via cassette tape recorder a few years later. Both of these unspectacular efforts are hidden deeply in the Martin Family archives never to be opened until my daughters place me in a retirement home or something of the sort.

Regardless of these puerile episodes, The Doctor was a fixture in my backyard as Dwayne, Richard, Michael, a host of neighborhood characters, and myself would attempt to play basketball just like Mr. Erving did, especially while using an autographed Artis Gilmore red, white, and blue ball. Richard would ultimately have the ability to pattern his game after Erving due to his size and agility as he often yelled, “Doc!” while hitting the game-winning basket; those would be the only moments that I dreaded hearing a Dr. J reference in my life.

I was not quite as fortunate as Richard in possessing Erving’s skillset. No, my game resembled Dennis Johnson of 1989-1990 (his last season and not that of the 1979 World Champion Seattle Supersonics, etc.) than anything else. When I attended a summer basketball camp at the University of Toledo one year, Stan Joplin, one of the camp’s coaches (a man I still have a tremendous amount of respect for to very this day) once told me, “Son, you are running this drill like you have arthritis in your knees.” At the time all I could envision was seeing Redd Foxx playing a character curling his fingers in an attempt to deceive his son in one of the best television series of all time, and I knew then that I would never be like The Doctor.

As for Julius Erving, I tend to view his career in three phases as follows: the ABA era, transition into NBA, and championship to retirement. Since the American Basketball Association did not appear to have the proper fortune of being as well-organized as its American Football League counterparts, Dr. J’s exploits in his early days as a professional relied heavily on the lore of personal accounts due to the lack of broadcasting opportunities at the time. There was enough footage depicting the gifted Erving seemingly soaring through the air in suspended animation with the famed tri-colored ball in one hand with the only movement coming from his finely coiffed hair en route to a slam dunk.

Unfortunately, The Doctor had little choice but to languish in the old ABA perhaps for a longer duration than what he may have anticipated with the entwinement of jurisprudence between the Virginia Squires, Milwaukee Bucks, and Atlanta Hawks that ultimately prevented fans from seeing Erving team-up with Oscar Robertson & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Bucks) or with Pete Maravich and the Atlanta Hawks. Either option that would have allowed Dr. J to leave the ABA would have drastically altered professional basketball history. Instead, Erving proceeded to win two ABA titles before the eventual merger between the National Basketball Association and American Basketball Association.

After another circumstance of the imbroglio, Erving’s career was part of another soap opera as the former New York Nets (Brooklyn Nets today) and New York Knicks somehow failed to secure Dr. J, which sent both franchises into a tailspin as he went on to make the improving Philadelphia 76ers championship contenders. Most NBA fans assumed that Erving, Caldwell Jones, and then Lloyd Free were virtual locks to win a world championship during the 1976 season until Bill Walton and friends defeated Philadelphia.

A few years later, my dad would drive the family to the Pontiac Silverdome to see the Detroit Pistons compete against various teams. The Pistons were in transition from Dick Vitale’s short tenure as head coach to the arrival of Isiah Thomas and Kelly Tripucka that would finally release the snake-bitten franchise out its doldrums. Of course, Detroit would use any promotion possible from wristbands to gym bags to lure fans to the gates, but nothing needed to be done or said when the 76ers arrived. Amazingly, the Pistons usually gave their best effort against Doc in comparison to the uninspired games against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Dr. J’s celebrity status grew exponentially playing against NBA competition along with endorsements and even a theatrical endeavor in the film, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh. Yes, the movie was not any better than Semi-Pro or Space Jam; it just had an appeal seeing Doc with Meadowlark Lemon in a fictional account, though.

By 1980, my allegiance was vacillating between Erving’s 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals because Magic Johnson had just led my favorite college basketball team to an NCAA title the season prior. Even as I wavered, I was captivated by Doc’s levitation along the baseline as one of the most memorable shots in league history for a man who was approximately 30 years old at the time. LA would prevail countervailing Dr. J’s NBA title hopes for another season.

The infusion of new talent in the NBA like Earvin Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, and Dominique Wilkins made Erving’s odds of winning an outright world championship even more unlikely as his abilities were changing due to several seasons of professional basketball. In 1982, Erving finally received the kind of assistance that he needed so many years before when Philadelphia acquired Moses Malone to be the lynchpin and catalyst for a world championship in a rematch against the Los Angeles Lakers. 76ers’ confidence was so high that even Malone stepped into presumption as he made his grand promulgation, “Fo’, fo’, fo’” in relation to Philadelphia having the ability to sweep teams in four consecutive games during the playoffs; the bold presage was only off by one game as Doc earned a coveted world championship.

Although Erving would compete for three more seasons following, it was evident that he would probably never win another ring as a competitor since Charles Barkley was in the nascent stage of his very own Hall of Fame career beginning with an aging 76ers. In addition, the aspiring Michael Jordan would take the NBA and the world by storm with a convergence of determination and clever marketing that is yet to be matched regardless of sport. By 1987, The Doctor would retire from the hardwood with the kind of class and dignity that did not allow him to attempt to settle age-old enmities in his Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech.

After his induction, the evolution of yellow journalism and changing attitudes about capturing celebrities in moments of indiscretion has even been deleterious to a man, such as Erving, who was as careful about his public image as humanly possible. While I did not expect Dr. J to be perfect regardless, I naively assumed he had built such good rapport with media that it would have shielded him from the tabloids. This could provide a partial explanation for Allen Iverson’s aversion or at least distrust of the press when his career began.

Sadly, I have learned over the years that it is ill-conceived for us to expect superstars to be sanctified every second of a day while we are full of imperfections ourselves. This is a proper metaphor for sanctimonious behavior. Nonetheless, Julius Winfield Erving II will always be my favorite athlete of all time whether or not I ever have the fortune to make acquaintance with “the” number six.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Cowboys Win, Media Not So Much: A Conversation about Washington’s NFL Franchise

FROM THE HOSS MARTIN ARCHIVES:

The Dallas Cowboys’ 31-16 defeat of NFC East foe Washington Redskins on Sunday Night Football validated the notion that Dallas and all of the pageantry of the NFL’s Taj Mahal, AT&T Stadium, certainly is aesthetically pleasing to millions of professional football fans throughout the land on primetime television. Although Washington’s quarterback Robert Griffin III was showing steady improvement in his mobility and overall game, the Cowboys’ attenuated, makeshift defensive line contained the versatile QB before he could lead the Redskins to multiple touchdowns even after defensive end DeMarcus Ware’s evening on the field ended abruptly.

            Dallas not only had to adopt a platoon philosophy on the defensive side, the sudden injury to running back DeMarco Murray after opening the contest with a four-yard touchdown run forced the Cowboys to lean on the services of Joseph Randle, who is in the nascent stage of his career, as the primary ball carrier for the remainder of the game. Nonetheless, another contributor, wide receiver Dwayne Harris, displayed the kind of grit necessary when he finally had to showcase his skills. Harris’ efforts on special teams (two punt returns for 109 yards and a touchdown, two kick returns for 113 yards) was largely responsible for tipping the balance in the Cowboys’ favor.

            Quarterback Tony Romo’s surprisingly steady influence and elusiveness in his own right allowed him to evade the Redskins’ pressure to stun his opponent even when was not playing at an optimal level. Romo completed 18 of 30 pass attempts for 170 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Now Dallas has a 3-3 record and is tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in a lackluster division, and the Cowboys must travel to Lincoln Financial Field to meet the aforementioned Eagles for a slight edge in control of the NFC East during early season play.

            On another topic for discussion, the venerable Bob Costas, who has equaled Howard Cosell as the éminence grise of sports journalists in my lifetime, took the opportunity to eloquently educate the country via brief dissertation about the perils of having the ‘Redskins’ as a team’s nickname during halftime. While the points Mr. Costas made were logical in scope, it only briefly mentioned the most egregious of images in North American sports with regards to the once prominent Cleveland Indians’ logo.

            In addition, the national media (save for Costas perhaps) did not appear to be ready to take a stand in the argument until the President of the United States of America recently admitted that the Washington Redskins’ issue probably should be revisited by both franchise ownership and league governance. Now, viewers can observe various media outlets daily make mention of the obvious incendiary nature of the derogatory name.

            This is especially troublesome for me when I remember the first thought-provoking article on the subject with a photograph of a concerned Native American woman seated in front of pennants bearing the names of various races and/or ethnic groups approximately 30 years ago by Sports Illustrated. Reading that story in conjunction with meeting a gentleman of Native American descent while working in an educational television station in Claremore, Oklahoma as he explained to us as his colleagues how these names being used in various forms generally made him feel as an individual was very enlightening, to say the least.

            In retrospect, President Obama generally should be commended for his candor on the subject. The problem with this situation is that the American media should not be poltroons in this endeavor because it smacks of elitism when they ignore the entreaties of the populists in favor of the powerful at times.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013