"It's a damn beef market. No sense beating your brains out," said Jones. Still, even without Erving, the Nets beat Golden State 104-103 on Jones' running one-hander at the buzzer. That was the game CBS had scheduled in order to showcase Erving and then canceled when he was sold, belittling both teams and showing considerable contempt for the NBA.
Trainer Fritz Massmann had carried Dr. J's uniform and equipment all the way to the West Coast, hoping against hope. Of the people responsible for transferring Erving down the New Jersey Turnpike, he said simply, "They should all be shot."
As the pros caught up with the week's bizarre events—which are sure to unbalance the league—it was not difficult to figure out who "they" are:
1. Roy Boe, the button-down Yale man whose hockey team—the Islanders—has prospered while his Nets have turned into debts. Even with Dr. J and the ABA championship team, attendance last season at Nassau Coliseum went down by 1,500 per game from the year before. The Nets have never sold out a regular-season game. They averaged more people at the Coliseum five years ago with Rick Barry than in three years with Julius Erving. Nonetheless, the Doctor claims that Boe promised him a renegotiation of his seven-year, $1.9 million contract in the event of a merger. But Boe, borrowing from everybody in the Big Apple except King Kong, stood pat for a month against renegotiation in this, the fourth year of Erving's contract.
2. Irwin Weiner, Erving's Runyonesque agent who graduated from New York's garment district and sometimes seems to be talking out of the side of his red hair while flashing more jewelry than Sammy Davis Jr. Weiner admits that Erving "wanted to go back" to the Nets as late as a week before the season opened when the player met with Boe at the Nassau Country Club. "Julius was getting emotionally involved," says Weiner. "I told him to get a strong letter of intent, something tangible from Boe." Boe didn't put anything in writing, so Erving, who seemed to be committing an atrocity by getting "emotionally involved" with his own life, gave up.
3. F. Eugene Dixon, a Main Line Philadelphia blue blood rumored to be worth $150 million ("depending on what happens on Wall Street tomorrow," he says). "Fitz" Dixon owns horses and large chunks of real estate. An heir to the fortune of the Widener family, he purchased the 76ers in May. He purchased Julius Erving last week. Three million dollars went to Boe immediately, $3.5 million will go to Dr. J over the next six seasons.
Dixon understands horses best. In explaining to his boss what Erving would mean to the franchise, 76er General Manager Pat Williams said Dr. J was like "Man o' War." The owner himself referred to Erving's physical examination as a "veterinary certificate."
And one must not forget Erving. In the end, the messy episode could be blamed on conflicting personalities, unquenchable egos, cynical self-interest, insensitivity, greed. Through the siege Erving remained, as always, a nice, friendly fellow with loads of intelligence, grace and charisma. Also, he became a father for the second time—mother Turquoise and daughter Jazmin Antiqua are doing fine. But Dr. J hardly deserves a halo.
The entire NBA now recognizes—too late—that for the good of the league and the area, Erving should have stayed on Long Island no matter what the cost. The Doctor insisted that is what he wished for all along. Yet through the long weeks of non-renegotiation with Boe, Erving never once left his 17-room renovated Upper Brookville estate, leaving the Mercedes and Avanti parked in the garages, to come into camp and practice. This is the second contract he has broken (the first was with the Virginia Squires in 1972), the second group of teammates he has run out on. Erving said, "I feel sorry for the guys. They'll have to start from scratch." And, "I feel tarnished." Also, "John Q. Cash does it again." He is now the highest-paid performer in the game.
In the Spectrum locker room Friday night Erving did not seem self-conscious upon meeting his new teammates. Earlier, over the phone to McGinnis, he had said, "Big George, we gonna do a number." When McGinnis encountered Erving wearing 76er colors, he said, "You sure look funny," and the two laughed and performed the ritual set of approximately 450 soul handshakes.