NEEL: When you were a young player coming up, did you feel responsible in some way to the guys who had come before you?

DR. J: I feel greatly indebted to the players who played before me, guys who were barnstorming before there was a real professional league, guys who went through the ABL experience and the NBL experience … it wasn't always private planes and five-star hotels in this league. The indebtedness to our forefathers rings loud and true. Any time I get a chance to talk to those guys, after I tease them about the old black-and-white footage, you always have to give props to those guys. They made it happen for all of us who came after.

NEEL: Do you think young players today appreciate their "forefathers" in the same way?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem was another player who, like Dr. J, moved the game forward.

DR. J: I think the guys who were icons of the past, they know about. But there are so many other guys – All-Stars, contributors, guys like K.C. Jones and Bobby Jones and such – and they don't seem to know about those guys or give them the respect they deserve. Of course, K.C. is walking around with a bunch of championship rings, so I guess he doesn't need much more than that. But I asked someone the other day who Bobby Jones was, and I would have settled for either the golfer or the basketball player. We're talking about a tremendous player, and the guy I was talking to had no idea.

NEEL: When the ABA-NBA merger took place, I remember that old Sports Illustrated cover, "Dave and the Doctor in one big league." Did you think of yourself at that time as a pioneer? Were you conscious of infusing the NBA with something new?

DR. J: I always felt, and I feel now, that I was one of the guys who bridged the gap between the old-time player and the new-age player. Kareem is in that group. Iceman would definitely be in that group, too. We bridged it. We gave the audience a glimpse of the future. But our games were definitely rooted in the fundamentals of the past. We'd go both ways, something traditional and something spectacular. And there were a lot of guys who were doing that at that time, but they weren't necessarily doing it in organized basketball. We brought our playground experience to what we were doing in the league. Ice had Detroit in him. I had my New York thing.

NEEL: Did you take pride in bringing something "playground" to the organized game?

DR. J: Every day. Every day. Even in practice. Any opportunity to showcase something guys hadn't seen … that was fun. Ice used to say, when he came along, that guys were talking about making bank shots inside the square on the backboard. But he would say, "There are two squares up there. There's that little one and there's that big one around it, too, and I can make a shot from anywhere up in that big one, just as easy." He was outside the box. Inside one but outside the other, you know?

NEEL: Is there a difference between Dr. J and Julius Erving?

DR. J: Definitely. There's an alter ego involved in what I did. My personal ego, Julius Erving, is categorically different. Julius Erving is astute, mild-mannered, almost always in control. Dr. J tends to be more flamboyant. The expectation when Dr. J stepped on the court was that somebody was going to get dunked on, and Dr. J was ready to oblige, and the fans were going to get their money's worth.

Continued...


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Q&A WITH DR. J