Doc is back. The 76ers sent away George McGinnis and Lord Free. They kept Julius (Dr. J.) Erving. So the Doc no longer has to keep those guys happy. He now can play his game. And you ain't been nowhere and you ain't seen nothing" unless you have seen the Doc do his magic.
For two seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, Erving was the complete gentleman. Because McGinnis paid attention only when he had the basketball and because Free broke out in a rush if he didn't get a shot a minute. Erving did what a nice guy would do. He gave them the ball.
Nice, but silly. Erving is a great offensive player.
In five seasons in the old American Basketball Association, he averaged 28.7 points a game, three times leading the league in sooring. Anyway you could put the ball in the hole. Doc did it - from 20 feet, on the break, stuffing it, twisting it, finger-rolling it. Ever been on a roller coaster? Know how yo/u hold your breath? That's the way it was watching Doc with a basketball.
To his credit. Erving never complained about his role with the 76ers. Here was an artist reduced to painting billboards. This was Michael Angelo doing Roto Rooter signs on trucks. The height of the folly came in April last year. Being eliminated from the playoffs a second straight year, the 76ers gave the ball to Lloyd Free for a last, desperate shot against the Bullets. For such a moment, Julius Erving was created, but all he did this time was watch.
Doc is back.
Against the Bullets the other might. Erving dominated the game when it mattered most. He scored 12 of his team last 15 points in a rally that brought the 76ers from five points behind to a 123-122 victory. We should look at one detail in the masterpiece of his art . . .
The Bullets lead, 120-118. They are bringing the ball upcourt. They're trapped in a corner, with Erving there threatening to steal the ball. A pass comes out of the corner. A bad pass. A bullet can't catch it, so he bats it away from a 76er - and, somehow, Erving is now 30 feet from where he was two seconds ago.
Doc catches the loose ball and in three or four strides - maybe two, for this is his magic act - he flies past one Bullet and over another, slam-dunking the game-tieing basket.
Doc knows he is back.
"During most of the game, everybody has to be involved," he said. The question had been: Do they hold you back until the fourth quarter? "No one' offense can be just one guy. Doug Collins is a super player. He has to get the ball. Everyone has to play and we have to get them involved. They play better defense because of that."And then, when it counts, Julius Erving will be the man with the ball. Not Lloyd Free. Nor George McGinnis.
I'm getting back in touch with the scorer's ego." Erving said with a small smile. "The last two years, I've been getting somebody else a better shot. If I was open, I would shoot, but our strength was in our distribution."
It also was the 76ers' weakness.
"We had an awesome group of offensive ballplayers," said Billy Cunningham, the 76ers' coach.
And if Erving sublimated his talents to the group, so did the other players. Cunningham said. So he formulated a hard question for himself.
"I had to ask, 'Do I want some players to reach their full potential or do I want all the players to stay at 70 percent?'" Cunningham said.
By trading away McGinnis and Free, the answer became obvious.
Two great players at 100 percent can be more effective in pro basketball than five great players at 70 percent.
So instead of a Lloyd Free taking the last shot in the playoffs . . . instead of Julius Erving looking to set up a George McGinnis . . . the 76ers will go this seasn with an offense designed for Erving and Collins.
"Everybody knows that," Cunningham said. His tone was: Let'em try to stop Doc and Doug.
In the first 10 games this season, the difference is apparent statistically. Erving averaged only 16 shots a game last year; already he is taking 20 this season. Collins is up from 15 to 18. And with McGinnis and Free taking their 27 shots elsewhere, the other 76ers will see the ball more than once a week. Erving is scoring 25.8 points a game, Collins 24.2 - an increase of five points per man.
Erving by the way, is not among, those who blame McGinnis for the 76ers' fallings the last two seasons. McGinnis played poorly in both sets of playoffs.
"Everything said about George is basicallyh unfair." Erving said. "George had a bad groin pull the first year and he look a bad rap. Last year he was inconsistent, but the whole team was inconsistent. I'm sorry he's been made a scapegoat."
It was Erving suggested, a case of bad chemistry. A McGinnis may be great alone, but not in the company of a great Erving. Put together, both lose power. "I saw Geore on television with Denver last night," Erving said, "and he looks like his old self."
So does the Doc. His Knees, long aching, are good now, thanks to swimming and weight-lifting exercises. "I'm running and jumping better than ever," he said. And with 25 seconds to play the other night. Erving took the dribble between his legs. He was 20 feet from the hoop. With the shot clock running down, with the 76ers ahead by two, he thought to wrap it up.The shot missed, but that isnot the point here. A year ago the Doc would have given the ball to someone, say Lloyd Free, and only watched.
Those days, happily, are done.