Hall of Fame basketball player Julius Erving—better known as Dr. J—dominated the courts during his 16-year professional career, in the ranks of all-stars like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
But his personal story, told in the new memoir Dr. J: the Autobiography, details a hard life growing up in the projects in Long Island, becoming “the man of the house” at age three, and plunging into the civil rights movement with his cadre of influential friends.
“Because of my family being Christian, growing up in a Baptist church it was very easy to follow the preachings and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, so that became my path,” Erving said in an interview on Jansing & Co. Thursday.
“The group was like the people of the moment,” Erving recalled of his friends, including Bill Cosby, Arthur Ashe, Patti LaBelle and Teddy Pendergrass. “In the 70’s, you know, music was big and obviously entertainment in general was big, so if you had a chance to socialize with the people of that ilk in light of the things that were happening in the country, with the Vietnam War and the civil rights unrest… we had a lot of discussions and we had a lot of open and candid discussions and we influenced one another. I would always bring my viewpoint and certainly I would be willing to listen to the others.”
But despite his influential companions, there were “a lot of things I had to figure out myself,” including how to deal with the death of his brother when Erving was a freshman in college, and the death of his son. Erving said the grief led to “a blank period for maybe the better part of two years.”
“I refused to be defeated by misery,” Erving said.
Check out his full interview with Chris Jansing.