AllHipHop Feature: Julius “Dr. J” Erving: The Honoarable, The Humanitarian and Hall of Famer

Julius Erving is one of the greatest basketball players of all-time. Known and revered as the incredible “Dr. J,” Erving was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993. Three years later, he was named to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time team. To date, Julius is the fifth-highest scorer in professional basketball history, with 30,026 points between his ABA (1971-1976) and NBA (1976-1987) years.
On Friday, February 18, 2011, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons presented Julius Erving with Hennessys Privilege Award. The award was created in 2003 and serves as recognition for outstanding individuals who give back to their communities through service, leadership or the arts. Just a few moments before the award ceremony, Julius Erving managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on the importance of service, the need for mentorship, and the dynamic relationship between basketball and hip-hop. As the recipient of Hennesseys Privilege Award, why do you find it a duty to give back to communities through service, as opposed to merely financial support?

Julius Erving: For me, it was something that was instilled in me when I was a pre-teenager. I was involved with the Salvation Army, specifically, the Hempstead Salvation Army, and they were the organization that reached out and made my life easier, along with their mission of doing the most good and giving a helping hand and providing to the needy. They had a wonderful recreation program, they had a wonderful spiritual awareness program, and they had a wonderful gentleman who is still a part of my life who coached me. Don Ryan and I have had a fifty-plus year relationship since that time. That’s probably one of the greatest aspects of the lesson. When you look back over your career, as well as those of your contemporaries, speak briefly about the power and significance of mentorship.

Julius Erving: Well, I think the power of it, first and foremost, is that it does elevate your confidence in terms of your perspective about things, having someone who is a mentor. Sometimes you stop short of hero worship and other times hero worship is included in the package. So, it made a significant difference in my life, and I think for anyone who is blessed with the opportunity to have a lifelong mentor, then they are going to be eons ahead of someone who does not. At what point did you come to that realization?

Julius Erving: I think probably when I was in college. After I made the decision to leave college, I realized that I wanted to finish, and I couldn’t go back in a conventional way, just go back on campus, because now I was a big-time basketball player and rising star in the ABA and destined for the NBA and all that. So, I couldn’t just go back and be a student. I got involved in a program through the University of Massachusetts called “University Without Walls.” And in that, they asked me to come up with a central theme for writing a series of papers. Somehow I realized – by Gods grace – that I had gone from being mentored by various individuals in my life to being a mentor to youngsters: my own children, children from recreation centers, children who I did clinics with to people who I tried to teach basketball to. So, that was something that had transpired at the “University Without Walls.” You go with your life’s work, and you try to put that down on paper, and you put a pen to the pad, and I realized that going from being mentored to becoming a mentor was worthy of putting into script. And I did that in a series of six or seven papers associated with being a mentor. Interesting. From basketball legend to cultural icon, what has been the most challenging aspect of this transition?

Julius Erving: To those who are given much, there’s a lot of responsibility that comes along with it. Sometimes, you fall short in terms of your own expectations or others’ expectations, but I think you have to just sit back sometimes and think hard about what’s real, what’s imagined, what’s important, what’s not, who your real friends are, what’s the role of your family in your life, what is your role? You can’t please everybody, and you need to get rid of that one real early. And in trying to please those who just are asking to be pleased; well, that’s another one you need to question. You have to question their ulterior motives. There are just a lot of questions that you have to continually ask yourself and come up with answers to those questions in addition to answering the questions of the media and those who are just a part of your surrounding life. Rarely much is said about the dynamic relationship between sports and music. What are your thoughts, since you have personally witnessed basketball and hip-hop become global phenomenon? What are your thoughts about these two separate entities and how they have ‘ merged in these recent decades?

Julius Erving: Well, I think that the parallel between music and sports is that both are universal in that you don’t have to necessarily articulate the same language to be able to be on the stage or be on the court or on the field, and perform at a sporting endeavor or a music event. Its so interesting, because when I was in my late teens, I got a chance to travel around the world and play basketball. So, I actually played and competed against people who didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak their language; because they spoke Russian, they spoke Chinese, they spoke Polish. We played, and after the games, we shook hands; we went and we dined together; and we had camaraderie and we dealt with the interpreters; but during the competitive experience, it was just a matter of body language, muscle memory and desire and competition. And that was a wonderful experience. And the same thing happens in music. When musicians get together, they start playing different instruments. Suddenly there’s a jam session in which something wonderful is being created. Then there are artists who really don’t speak English but they can sing English songs, because that’s what they referenced when they were growing up and they credit some of the artists in America; as American artists credit artists from around the world as being influential on their musical development. So, music is definitely a universal language and sports is a universal activity. Taking all of this into consideration, how significant is it for you to be presented with tonights Privilege Award by Russell Simmons?

Julius Erving: Well, first and foremost, Russell is a mogul. Everyone knows that. I think he kind of uses that as part of his sub-billing, but more importantly than that, he’s a homeboy from New York. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for him and what he’s been able to accomplish. And I think he keeps it real. I think he always has kept it real. That’s why with the various people who he’s had an influence on in his life, they’re beholden to him and they gave him his props and his credit. And I’m on that list of people who’s an admirer. This will be the first time that we’ve had a chance to really sit down and spend quality time together. We’ve been in the same room at various times before, but I’ve been with other people and doing something different than what he’s been doing, so we really haven’t had a chance to click. So for him to be the presenter, that’s very special, and to be a recipient of any award is something that you have to take seriously, and not take for granted, and I dont take this one for granted.