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Julius Erving was near the front of the line as the New York Nets snaked out of their dressing room in the Nassau Coliseum and jogged down the tunnel heading for the gleaming floor where they would play host to the ABA's Eastern Division-leading Carolina Cougars one night last week. But by the time the Nets began their layup drill Erving (see cover) was no longer with them. He could barely be made out in the dim passageway doing something pro players rarely deign to do, something most would consider uncool immediately before a game. He was talking animatedly and signing autographs for a boy and his father, a small man wearing a black velvet yarmulke. Erving had never met them before, but when he heard that the rabbi had driven 150 miles from upstate New York to fulfill his boy's fondest Chanukah wish—to see Dr. J. play—Erving, quite naturally for him, could not resist stopping to chat.
Amenities completed, he rejoined his teammates, slammed a few perfunctory pregame dunks, did a quick sideline critique of Center Billy Paultz' father's basso profundo rendering of The Star-Spangled Banner ("Not bad at all, but I could teach him a few things about projection"), and then went out and put on another ho-hum performance against Carolina. He scored 23 points. He grabbed 12 rebounds. He stole the ball three times. And he tipped in the deciding basket as the Nets won 99-96, knocking the Cougars out of first and moving themselves within a half game of the new leader, Kentucky, in the hottest three-team race in the pros.
Yes, Julius Erving has brought his Dr. Nicely-Nicely routine back home to Long Island. He has done nicely on the floor, where he has led the youngest starting lineup in the pros—average age 22.6 years—back from a skitterish start and into title contention. He has done nicely off it as well, charming the clergy, his employers, the recently re-elected Nassau County Executive (whom he endorsed after extracting pledges for recreational programs for his hometown of Roosevelt), and even the Madison Avenue types who are after some endorsements of their own. Naturally enough, Dr. J. now spiels for Dr Pepper.
However, Erving has obviously saved his best charm job for the young woman who was constantly in his immediate vicinity last week.
"What's her name?" he was asked.
"You know, t-u-r-q-u-o-i-s-e."
"Oh, it's spelled just like the color."
"Yeah, and so is her last name, b-r-o-w-n."