The television game show contestant, an elderly woman from southern California, was asked to name a famous doctor or surgeon. Albert Schweitzer, Christian Barnhard and Michael DeBakey already were taken.

Without hesitation, she blurted out, "Dr. J."

"Oh, really?" said Julius (Dr. J) Erving when told the story. "That's cool."

That's how Erving takes everything these days - cooly. Nothing on or off the basketball floor seems to catch him off guard anymore. Not being equated with Schweitzer or his Philadelphia 76ers sweeping the New York Knicks in four straight in their recent National Basketball Association Eastern Conference semifinal playoff.

Although his knees somewhat limit him now, and at 28 he has toned down his acrobatics, Erving is still "the man" when it come to basketball.

Coach Billy Cunningham says he is "the most exciting player I have ever seen."

Adds teammate George McGinnis, "Julius is the best basketball player ever to play. It is an honor to play with him."

You can argue who the best leaper is, the best shooter, the best rebounder, the best drunker, the best passer or the best anything else, but the more categories you include, the more it appears that the only person who embodies so many skills is Erving.

In his 76er uniform, doing nothing, Erving doesn't look at that extraordinary. He has a an unusually shaped bush hairdo, a goatee, braces on both knees and high-top shoes called Dr. J's. They retail for $38 a pair.

Erving nevers brags and never puts down teammates or opponents. He complains only when he is in danger of physical harm. Like in game two of the series with the Knicks when Spencer Haywood cut under him as he drove for a drunk.

When no foul was called, Erving was incensed, and got a technical foul. He also went on a three-minute scoring rampage, resplendent with three Spectrum-shaking slam dunks to show that it's not nice to mess with Dr. J.

For 20 minutes after every game, Erving sits on the carpeted floor in the 76ers' dressing room with ice packs on both knees.

"I've got the best job in America being a basketball player," he says. "Yeah, it's fun, but it causes frustration when I see less than perfection around me. That's when you have to got out and do something yourself."

Erving has that rare talent of always knowing when to pass the ball and when to keep it. He can, and has, adpated his talents to all situations.

Erving was the American basketball Association, a one-man dunking machine who forced a merger almost single-handedly. He averaged 28.7 points while playing 41 minutes a game in five ABA seasons.

He has toned down his show and cut his minutes since coming to the 76ers last season.

He played only 63 minutes a game last year and averaged 21.6 points, the fewest in his career. This season he averaged 33 minutes and 26.6 points.

In the four-game sweep of the Knicks, Erving averaged 22.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, five assists, two steals and three blocked shots in 34 1/2 minutes a game.

The 76ers were down, 31-30, in the second game when he scored on a three-point play, a driving dunk, then another three-point play after a driving dunk and the 76ers were in control.

"You have to do that sometimes," Erving said.

In game four, for example, the 76ers were down by 13 points with 5 1/2 minutes left in the first half. Then Erving exploded for seven ooints and brought them to within two at intermission. He let his teammates mop up. "You have to do that sometimes," Erving said.

"My game is still the same," Erving said. "When I see daylight, I'm going to go. It's all according to what is needed.

"I know what my potentials are and I know if it's necessary for me to play 40 to 45 minutes and score 50 points for us to win, then I can do it. But that's not what's best for our team and it has never been during the year and it probably won't ever be during the playoffs.

"If I deviated from the system a great deal, it would encourage other players to do the same thing."

The 76ers are a much better team this year than they were last, if for no other reason than they are now playing defense and are practicing what Erving was preaching from the moment he became a 76er. "Give of yourself for the good of the team."

Erving and McGinnis no longer bump into each other and everybody else seems to have fit neatly into his niche.

Center Caldwell Jones and McGinnis usually play close to the basket on either side of the lane with guards Doug Collins and Henry Bibby out high on the sides. That leaves the middle open for Erving to maneuver. He is unstoppable when free to operate there, and with McGinnis and Jones close to the board, Philadelphia's inside game is much improved.

Philadelphia also has as good a bench as any team in the league with forward Steve Mix, guard Lloyd Free and center Darryl Dawkins.

Mix and Bibby were the only 76ers to play in all 82 regulation-season games, with Mix averaging 9.2 points and 3.6 rebounds.Free averaged 15.7 points and Dawkins 11.7 points and rebounds.

In the series with the Knicks, Free averaged 19 points, Mix 14.5 and Dawkins 7.5.

"Physically, we're much better prepared for the plyaoffs than we were last year," Erving said. "Emotionally, we're also better. We've matured as a team. There are plenty of teams that can score as well as we can. They key is to play defense and rebound. If we get rebounds we'll get layups, it's that simple."

Everything is simple when your name is Julius Erving.