Friday, March 24, 2006

The Greatest Philadelphia Athlete Debate - Part 4

Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the debate.

Erving & Bird
The Doctor Is In; Circa 1984, opening a can of whoop-ass
By Tim Walton

They called him the Doctor for a reason. He fixed the problem the Philadelphia 76ers and the NBA were facing. The team couldn’t win and the league was becoming bland and they both needed a house call. My greatest athlete in Philadelphia History has a big afro and could hang in the air for at least the time it takes me to get off my ass and go get a beer from the ‘fridge. The Doctor did it all.

The numbers are all there; 11 All Star appearances, an MVP in ’81, NBA first team 5 times, 3rd all time in scoring (combining ABA and NBA), but the most telling statistic for me was the winning. In the 5 years before Dr. J got to Philadelphia the Sixers won 9, 25, 30, 34, and 46 games respectively. In his 11 years the team never won below 50 games other than his final season as he made his farewell to the NBA (they still won 45 games that year). And lest we forget our last championship parade was in 1983 as he led us to the NBA title. So, the man was a winner and as far as I am concerned that is the only way one can achieve greatness in athletics.

If winning is not good enough for you than think about the greatest play in Philadelphia sports history, the most graceful, the most athletic, and you will see Dr. J swooping underneath the backboard for an improbable basket. That is what the man brought to the game. As much as people credit Bird and Magic with saving the game, it was the Doctor who came first. He brought the above-the-rim style to a league stuck to the hardwood. Would there be a Michael Jordan without a Dr. J? He had a class and a style that transcended sports.

He was not all offense, though. He leads the 76ers in career blocks (blocked shots became an official NBA statistic in the 1973-74 season) and is second to teammate Mo Cheeks in career steals. Dunking from the foul line was his legacy but the history books will not forget his defense. He played the game hard on both sides of the court.

There is one particular thing that stands out in my memory that makes the Doctor special. November 9, 1984, the day Julius Erving punched Larry Bird in the head. He became not just a great athlete but also a great person. He had been such a good citizen and ambassador for the game of basketball but on that day in November of 1984 he showed his fire. And beat the hell out of that boy from French Lick.

So, if I were to say that this man bring the whole package of greatness it would not be a stretch. The ROUND Mound of Rebound is no name for greatness and Michael Jack doesn’t offer much either but The Doctor sure has a nice ring. He had the personality of Charles without the big ass and big head and the greatness of Schmitty without being hated by his own city. As for Rocky, well, if a 5’6” Italian stallion stepped into a ring with Julius Erving he would beat his ass just like he whipped Bird.



Scottage said...

Great site, and I linked to you. But I would have to say that the best Philly athelete of the last 30 years if the often overlooked Brian Dawkins. B-Dawk maintains a tireless workout regiment, during the season and between seasons, to be in the best shape of anyone on the field, even as age begins to take his toll. He shows excellent speed, strength, and jumping ability, and combines with it the heart to push all his talents to their extreme. I grew up going to wathc the Doc, Bobby Jones, Andrew Tony, and Mo Cheeks, as well as having season tickets to the Broad Street Bullies. I went to tons of Randall games at the vet and on the road (most of those games were Reggie White games as well), saw probably hundreds of Phillies games in the late 70s and 80s, and even saw the a few with the worst attitude in football, TO. But in the end of the day, he may not be the most vocal, and he may not command the spotlight, but if you need a great athelete in Philadelphia, I think you turn to Brian Dawkins.

Matt Tavani said...

Dawkins has definitely been the leader of the defense for the past several years. An interesting choice.