"I have the ability to do some things others may not be able to do. I owe it to myself and to my team to do them." -- Julius (Dr. J) Erving
Julius Erving says he never plans any of his spectacular moves. "They just happen, allowed by a force beyond my control."
Erving hasn't dominated any of the first four games of the National Basketball Association championship series and he hasn't been statistically a factor yet, either. But stopping him has been, and will continue to be, the primary defensive objective of the Los Angeles Lakers, who host Erving's Philadelphia 76ers in the fifth game of the series tonight at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. (WDVM-TV-9, 11:30 p.m.)
The best-of-seven series is tied at two games apiece.
"Next to Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), Julius is probably the greatest player in the game today," Laker Coach Paul Westhead said. "It's definitely in our best interest to do something special to contain him, no matter what that involves."
In terms of numbers, Erving has been controlled in the series. He is averaging only 22.5 points a game, five fewer than in the regular season. His rebound and assist totals are still par for Erving (6.5 and 5.3, respectively).
There are reasons his statistics haven't approached Abdul-Jabbar's. He is being double-teamed nearly every time he touches the basketball and the Lakers have made the commitment, as Westhead said, "to stop him at all costs."
To try to spring Erving, the 76ers isolated him on one side of the floor in the last game, but the Lakers still double-teamed him.
"When a team as great as the Lakers double-teams me, they are paying me the ultimate compliment," Erving said. "A lot of teams do different things on me to help the person guarding me, but no one has done it as wide-open as they have."
The Laker defense may have made Erving less of a factor than he would be normally, but it hasn't squelched his flair for the spectacular.
His instant creativity and seeming ability to defy gravity were never more evident than on one play in Sunday's game.
Erving admitted later that there was no way he knew what was going to happen when he started to drive around the Lakers' Mark Landsberger.
What unfolded has been described by many who saw it as possibly the most spectacular shot Erving has ever pulled from his bag. It was certainly one of the most amazing shots in playoff history.
There have been longer shots and more important shots, but probably none as impressive as Erving's.
The Lakers were double-teaming him as usual. Erving had the ball to the right of the lane, 16 feet from the basket. Landsberger forced Erving to the baseline. Magic Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar were in the lane, waiting to cut him off if he tried to go that way.
One dribble and Erving was by Landsberger, but the Laker forward forced Erving deeper behind the basket than he wanted to go. Seemingly stopped with nowhere to go and nothing to do with the ball which was palmed in his right hand, Erving leaped and turned to face the court. He peered through the backboard glass from behind it and saw an opening over Abdul-Jabbar's right shoulder, as Abdul-Jabbar drew near him.
Erving ducked his head, so he wouldn't hit it on the backboard, stuck the ball over Abdul-Jabbar's shoulder and spun it off the glass and in -- all of which was done while he was behind the basket, never facing it.
"This is the Doctor's team, all the way," said center Darryl Dawkins, the 76ers' high-point man in both their series victories. "He's our leader and we follow him. When a man can do the things he does, how can you not follow him?"
Ironically, the 76ers made the charge that carried them to victory Sunday while Erving was on the bench.
When Coach Billy Cunningham put him back in, he told Erving to take charge.
Erving had a better idea.
"While I was sitting, I saw what was happening, what was working and why. Bobby (Jones) was making some nice passes down low to Darryl because of the way the defense was reacting. Billy wanted me to look for the same thing and then go on my own if it wasn't there. I told him to let Bobby keep running it and I'd be a decoy on the other side," Erving said.
"Of course, I listened to him," said Cunningham. "Wouldn't you?"
Only after the Lakers came up with a way to stop that play did Erving take over, scoring 12 of his team's last 16 points.
"I just want to be there when they need me," he said.