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Tony Kornheiser
October 29, 1984
As Dr. J proved in the 1980 NBA finals, leaping is something lots of guys can do, but hang time is the stuff of dreams
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October 29, 1984

They've Got The Hang Of It

As Dr. J proved in the 1980 NBA finals, leaping is something lots of guys can do, but hang time is the stuff of dreams

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No treatise on hang time can be complete without mention of what most people consider the ultimate hang move, a.k.a. Erving's L.A. move. The situation: Game 4 of the 1980 NBA championship series. Fourth quarter. Philly, at home, leads the Lakers 89-84.

It was this memorable fusing of power and grace, of Carl Lewis and Mikhail Baryshnikov, of Goodnight, Irene and "what it is," that prompted Cunningham to later say, "I don't know that there's ever been, or ever will be, anyone with the soaring ability of Julius." It was this move that crystallized why Erving has the most spectacular plumage in the game's history; that inspired Grover Washington Jr. to compose Let It Flow ("For Dr. J"); that defied logic, gravity and whiplash.

The play began with Bobby Jones holding the ball on the left side. Erving, who had been near the basket, low down in the right lane, pushed off slightly on Mark Landsberger and flashed out high to the right side of the foul line. When Jones tossed the ball crosscourt, Erving got it about 18 feet from the hoop. Landsberger came out to check him, overplaying him toward the sideline. With his route to the paint blocked, Erving took a big first step and dribbled to his right, accelerating past Landsberger easily. Having drifted wide, Erving now turned sharply and moved along the baseline toward the hoop; his left foot was still outside the foul lane as he picked up his dribble and rose into the air from about 12 feet out. Although Landsberger was beaten, he leaped at Erving, extending his right arm like a clothesline to block Erving's clear line at the basket. As Landsberger was cutting off the outside path, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sloughed into the paint and, by raising himself to his tiptoes, denied Erving an inside path.

Having already rejected Plan A, throwing up a scoop shot immediately after getting around Landsberger, and Plan B, taking "a flyer" and arching the ball high enough to get it over Kareem, Erving seemingly had no place to go but off the court. So that's where he went, off the court, behind the basket. Everyone else would have come down in a photographer's lap. But Erving went to Plan C: After dipsy-doodling the ball, ducking his head so he wouldn't slap it against the back of the backboard and tucking his legs for some extra hang time, he reentered the court on the other side of the basket, and just before touching down inside the left side of the foul lane, he extended his shooting arm like a hydraulic crane and underhanded a reverse topspin floater off the glass, kissing it off the front rim and in. A U-turn with a diameter the breadth of Guatemala.

As in, ohmygod, he condored that sucker.

CBS showed the replay three times. The NBA put it in its highlight film. By now you've probably seen it 30 zillion times. Each time, it's just as amazing.

Although Erving says that when he finished it, "I thought I'd done it 1,000 times before," Cunningham still can't believe it, and he was watching it, live, from the bench. "You had to figure that the official missed it, that Doc came down and went up again," Cunningham says, shaking his head in wonder. "Because, how could anybody do that?"

The most incredible thing of all is how long Erving stayed in the air.

A stopwatch timed it at .7 of a second, almost no time at all.

And you could have sworn he was up there forever.

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