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Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014

Black Power Basketball

Dr. J recalls the day in his autobiography

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In the early 1970s, basketball artiste Julius Erving, dubbed “The Doctor” by a childhood buddy, was a living representation of Black Power. With a three-dimensional, frequently improvised game rooted in years of disciplined work and blacktop experimentation, and a face framed by flat-top afro and squared-off goatee, Erving’s multi-speed dominance of the b-ball court on both ends was as much angry ballet as sport.

Dr. J: The Autobiography (HarperCollins) focuses, predictably, on Erving’s professional accomplishments, particularly his NBA career. This does the conscientious, contemplative Erving a disservice. He’s at his best when writing about his youth, the unforgettable characters of the American Basketball Association, and living through the tragic losses of his cousin, father, brother, mother and son. Most surprising is the picture Erving paints of himself as just another good kid following the rules, accepting capitalism’s many cruelties as the price of freedom, resisting the revolutionary impulse. Most satisfying are Erving’s often-hilarious insights into human behavior, music and, of course, his exhilarating defiance of gravity.