Julius Erving was not born to play basketball. The game was invented for him. Or so it sometimes seems.

The Portland Trail Blazers proved by winning the National Basketball Association championship that a good team - playing as a team - with a dominant center will beat a squad of individuals.

That doesn't tarnish the Doctor's accomplishments, however. He proved in the championship series that, even while losing, he may be the best basketball player in the world.

Because of his all-around skill and his intelligence, ingenuity, fan appeal, grasp of the game and class, Erving stands alone at the top.

"He's a living legend, said Portland center Bill Walton.

"If there is one player I'd pay to see, it's the Doctor," Rick Barry said on national television during the sixth game.

"There is no one in the world who can play Erving one up, Portland coach Jack Ramsay said. "He's too great a player. It had to be."

Jack McKinney, Ramsay's assistant, said, "He's an amazing athlete. When it gets close, you know who they're going to set up and you also know what you have to do to prevent it. Sometimes, he can simply go above your preventions."

Erving averaged 30.3 points and shot 54 per cent from the field in the championship series. He also averaged seven rebounds and five assists and shot 86 per cent from the foul line, playing an average of 41 minutes a game.

Some of the moves he made during the series defied belief, such as the two slam-dunks in Walton's face in the sixth game on straight one-on-one situations, or the couple of whirlybird dunks from the foul line over Bob Gross.

Commented Gross: "I had no idea what he was doing, or how. There is nothing he can do on the floor with the ball that would surprise me, except miss."

Even when he was double- and triple-teamed, kept his composure and found the open man. He never went into his solo act until all other avenues were exhausted.

Erving may be dubbed the $6.5 million man but he demonstrated all season and during the playoffs as that he is worth every cent he earns. He is the major reason the two leagues merged, the reason the 76ers got as far as they did this year and the reason a lot of ghetto kids think a doctor is a slam-dunker instead of a healer.

Erving is good partly because he handles the ball so well. He isn't a great shooter, but he's smart. He never shoots from beyond his range and, whenever he can, he banks his jumpers because a banked shot is a higher-percentage shot.

He's not a great defensive player, but he's as good as anyone in the league when it comes to combining offensive and defensive strengths.

He has long arms, giant hands, deceptive speed and great leaping ability. He also has a showman's heart.

The book on some players is to allow them their points and shut down their teammates. Not so with Erving. The word on him is to try not to let him have anything. If you give him 30, he'll take 40 and if you give him 40, he'll take 50.

"You don't stop The Doctor," Denver coach Larry Brown said. "You just hope the game ends before he's had a chance to beat you, because given enough time he'll beat you - always."

Erving's personal game plan is simple and fitting: "I'll challenge anybody," he says, "I'll either go over him or trick him, or make him commit and pass it. That's the game I play."

Looking back at the championship series, one thinks of the finely turned Portland Trail Blazers with Bill Walton beating Julius Erving and the not so finely tuned Philadelphia 76ers. But the clearest memory of Erving is not him slam-dunking or scoring 40 points, it is of him sitting in the second game on the floor as a near riot raged around him.

"That's not me," Erving said at the time. "That's not the level I'm at. I just want to play basketball."

And he does - better than anyone else.