My dad came home one winter night when I was a junior in high school and said that he wanted to take me and my best friend, Tim Foster, to Indianapolis to see Julius “Dr. J” Erving play against his old nemesis, George McGinnis of the Pacers in a classic match-up of 2 former ABA teams. It was snowing that weeknight and the crowd was sparse. There were maybe 5,000 fans because of the snowstorm. On the court, Dr. J did not disappoint in the overtime win, although it was almost the end of his wonderful career. Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3_1hZDi-qw
After the game, my dad took us boys down to the arena floor where Julius and teammate Bobby Jones had assembled the young fans. They spoke to us for over 30 minutes about making life goals, getting an education, and doing the right things to be successful in life. They also shared their testimony how Jesus Christ had changed their lives and made them whole beyond the basketball floor. Julius opened up his gym bag and gave away his sweat bands, shoe laces, and practice shirts. He was a real class act. Tim and I were in awe to meet not only a NBA legend and All Star but the same man whose poster we both had on our bedroom walls. Tim played basketball at Lockland High and I played at Landmark Christian in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Just when we thought the night couldn’t get any better, it did. Julius and Bobby were staying overnight with the team in a hotel next to the arena and they invited Tim and me to join them in the lobby to talk some more. My dad, Tim and I walked through the falling snow over to the hotel and sat with two NBA All Stars. We talked about life for another 30 minutes until Julius excused himself to get some dinner before turning in for the night, as the team would be leaving the next morning. Bobby Jones and Julius were such professionals and both treated Tim and me with such respect, compassion and warmth.
When I speak and write about someone who Encourages Excellence, Julius Erving is one of those professionals who talks the talk and walks the walk. He has had trials and personal tragedies. But I believe his faith and inner strength has lifted him up to be someone we can be proud of. My life was impacted by his encouragement and I will never forget it. Thanks, Doc.