Julius Erving

If this one were to be titled it would be: “No prescription from this doctor.”

Julius Erving didn’t make me love basketball. But he sure made me love Larry Bird and the Celtics. His fault, though. Or maybe it was Turquoise Erving, his wife at the time’s fault. I never did find out who broke my heart.

It had to be the Sixers’ 1977-78 season, Erving’s second season in Philly after he’d played in the ABA. The reason I’m pretty sure it was that season was because a group of us headed down to the Spectrum from Reading, PA to watch the 76ers play the New Orleans Jazz, and I remember Leonard “Truck” Robinson. He was on the Jazz that year.

But what I remember more about that night was a promise broken. It was late second quarter, pops gave me a fiver, and I walked out onto the concourse to get a soda.

To this day I can’t remember if the Sixers’ wives were raising money for Multiple Sclerosis or Muscular Dystrophy. All I know is I was a few steps away from the concession stand when I heard a woman call out: “Would you like to help?”

I was 13. How the hell was I going to help anybody? “Help with what?” I answered. I looked to the side and there were three or four women standing behind a table. They were wives of the 76ers’ players. As I approached the table, I said to the one woman: “I only have five dollars.”

“That’s OK,” she said. “Every little bit helps.” As I got closer to her I saw her name tag: “Turquoise.” Well, there’s only one Turquoise that I’d ever heard of and that would be Dr. J’s wife. You know, had things progressed differently from that moment on, I may have ended up loving Erving and not Bird. But, alas, it was not to be. It was never to be.

When I saw the name tag, I said: “Hey, you’re Julius Erving’s wife! Wow! That’s so cool.” She confirmed, and that’s when I came up with one of the best ideas I thought I had as a kid. “Like I said, I only have five dollars.” Reassured again, I found myself ready to part with the fin.

“Hold on,” I said. “How about if I give you this five dollars for M.S. or M.D. (still can’t remember) and then you get me your husband’s autograph?” She looked at me and said: “I think I can do that, young man.”

I handed her the five dollars, and she handed me a piece of scrap paper. She wanted my address so she could mail the autograph to me. Yes, maam: 3408 Eisenhower Avenue, Reading PA, 19605! That was early 1978, and I still remember my excitement on the way home in the car. Well, it’s 40-plus years later and I’m still waiting for that fucking autograph. That’s right, Turquoise stiffed me. She flat-out stiffed me.

Oh, the joy it brought me years later to see Bird kick Erving’s ass. In the early- mid-1980s, I would find myself at Franklin and Marshall College, which just so happened to be where the Philadelphia 76ers held their training camps. I was on the basketball team and we got to “work” some of their practices, which just meant standing with towels under the basket waiting for sweat to be wiped off the Mayser Center floor.

It was incredible to see Sixers’ players around the small campus in Lancaster PA, but there they were. I would see Erving here and there during those times on the court and down in “the pit,” where the locker rooms, weight room and equipment stuff was. I could have gotten Erving’s autograph anytime I wanted during those three or four years. But I wouldn’t have asked him for an autograph if my life depended on it at that point.

I had one real chance to get to Erving, and confront him on all of this. He was walking down one part of the gym and I was walking toward him. There was no avoiding him. He got closer and closer, and as we passed, he nodded his head, acknowledging me. I didn’t even look up at him. I just kept walking. That’s right, I snubbed him. I snubbed Julius “Dr. J” Erving! I snubbed him like Kramer snubbed Jerry’s old girlfriend Gail Cunningham.

I’m older now and willing to mend fences with Erving. But I’m still waiting for that damn autograph.

About Steinmetz

Matt Steinmetz is a veteran San Francisco Bay Area sports journalist. He covered the Golden State Warriors for the Bay Area News Group for more than a decade before becoming a television analyst with Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Steinmetz can be heard on "Steiny & Guru" on 95.7-FM The Game in San Francisco, from 12-3.
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