The second incident concerned Erving. The Doctor tried a 20-foot jumper that Cunningham deemed injudicious. He was up quickly, yelling his displeasure. Now superstars don't enjoy being dressed down, although Erving probably is more tolerant than any. Still the message from Cunningham was clear. One bad jump shot can make everyone as trigger-happy as hunters on the first day of deer season. Erving understands. "By letting him say things like that, I'm giving him assurances that he's the boss and I'm an employee," says the Doctor.
But what an employee! Erving will be 31 on George Washington's birthday, and he's starting to get a few gray hairs, but his 16 points against the Lakers Sunday gave him a 26 average for his last six games. He still can put on a clinic, and after almost every game opposing players trek to the 76ers locker room to pay tribute. Following last week's San Diego game, for instance, Michael Brooks, Henry Bibby and Joe Bryant all had an appointment with the Doctor.
"It was a pleasure playing against you," said Brooks, a rookie from nearby La Salle.
"You're still strong," said Bibby.
"I got a formula that's keeping me young," said Erving.
Someone asked him if he had made any concessions because of age. Julius switched pronouns and sounded as if he were diagnosing a patient. "You're a lot slower," he admitted, "but you're a lot smarter. You're getting the same result because you're getting by the guy guarding you, but you're not kissin' him good-by when you go by."
Meanwhile, as the team wins and Erving continues to provide enough thrills to wear out the $85,000 VPR2 replay device used in 76ers cable-TV broadcasts, there's a lot of head-scratching over a drop in home attendance. The team is off about 1,500 fans a night, the third straight year of decline. "Maybe our people are bored with excellence," says Lou Scheinfeld, the club president.
Scheinfeld was recruited from the Philadelphia Flyers to hype attendance, taking over that function from general manager Pat Williams, who had built a reputation as a promotional genius during the '70s with halftime stunts such as dancing bears and Little Arlene, a 105-pound professional glutton who during one doubleheader consumed 77 hot dogs, 19 pizzas and 21 soft drinks. This year Sheinfeld twice tried more modern gimmickry: laser light shows. Unfortunately, on both occasions the lasers didn't work. Then there was the Halloween-night costume contest when one fellow showed up wearing an obscene mask. Says Scheinfeld, "My feeling is, why not try anything? What have you got to lose?"
Attempting to find reasons for the lack of fan interest, Scheinfeld cites too many local telecasts, higher ticket prices and the fact that the rampantly parochial fans have been annoyed because the 76ers have passed over local players in the draft. (The team's racial composition—nine blacks, two whites—has also been cited by some observers.) Walking outside his office last week, Scheinfeld was confronted by a stranger who leaned out of a passing automobile and yelled, "Why didn't you draft Michael Brooks?"
"Must be from La Salle," thought Scheinfeld.