At Home With Turquoise Erving The Very Private Wife Of Dr. J Shares Some Of The Joys And Sorrows Of Life As A Celebrity

Posted: November 28, 1986

Cory, get up. Cory! Sit up straight. Be still!"

Turquoise Erving has just introduced her children, and they are sitting politely in the den, making small talk with a visitor.

"Cory, stop that! Get your hands off that wall! Be still!!!"

All except Cory. Cory, 5, the youngest of Julius and Turquoise Erving's four children, is jiving on the couch, eyes flashing, head bobbing in rhythm, ignoring the scowl of his mother. He is not interested in the house tour that is about to get under way, but he is willing to give a performance if anybody cares to watch. Some of Cory's performances are legend in this house. During a recent escapade on the third floor, he fell so hard that his lower front baby teeth were driven into his upper gums and had to be extracted.

Like his other performances, this one was for family members only. Cory's father is the most public of figures, and his mother, too, is often to be seen at gatherings of movers and shakers, but Julius and Turquoise Erving have jealously guarded their family's privacy.

This year, however, is not like other years. Julius Erving has announced that this will be his last season with the 76ers, thus setting in motion a round of farewells and tributes that will all but burn out the spotlights before the man known to millions as Dr. J finally bows out of them next spring.

Turquoise Erving, too, has begun a new phase of her life. Three months ago, for the first time since she was married, she took a job. Three days a week, she works at a card and gift shop in Center City.

Happy about her new job, happy that her husband, the grand marshal of yesterday's Thanksgiving parade, soon will give up the gypsylike existence of the professional athlete, and feeling more at home in the Philadelphia area, Turquoise Erving recently consented to provide a rare public glimpse behind the closed doors.


There is school in the morning, games in the afternoon, homework at night, lessons on Saturday morning, birthday parties, sickness, accidents ("Cory, you're going to fall. Get over here!), and an occasional swat across a kid's bottom as a means of getting attention.

A typical family in many ways, an almost prototypical one, in fact, full of warmth and love, deeply involved in community, people and things, always doing, always helping and always moving to the sound of music. Together, they probably could sing the words to every song on the top 40 charts, from rock- and-roll to reggae.

This is a family that is closer than most, probably because it has had to insulate itself, at times, from the curious, probing public that superstardom attracts.

And, oh yes, the house. Well, here typical ends. This house is unlike most.

It is a three-story, gray stone, Tudor with seven bedrooms, seven baths and a two-door garage big enough to house a Maserati (his), a Rolls-Royce (his), a Mercedes 450SL (hers) and a Mercedes station wagon (hers). A Jeep (theirs) is parked in the driveway. The house, on 2 1/2 plush acres in Villanova, was originally owned, about 70 years ago, by the Luden cough-drop family.

There is, on the third floor, a recreation room that is part arcade and part museum. It includes a row of video games ("Star Wars," "Pac-Man," ''Donkey Kong," "Quix"), a pool table (the light fixture above the table is hanging askew because Cory hit it accidentally with a cue stick), a coin Coke machine (no money needed for this one) and shelves full of basketballs marking milestones in Julius Erving's career (20,000th point, January 1981; 25,000th point, December 1983; 29,000th point, April 1986). There are more memorabilia in the garage and attic and in the kids' rooms. A whirlpool bath, big enough for the family, is in the basement, with an exercise bike and other conditioning equipment, including an isokinetic exercise machine that Julius has used 11 years for his arthritic knees.


"This uniform here is the one when he was MVP in the all-star game. And we're going to get the ones he's wearing this season," Turquoise says as she starts through the house.

Age 36, she looks like a model, a perfect size 6 - every hair in place, mocha skin, sparkling green eyes. She collects antique quilts, and her walls are decorated with them, some full-size, some doll-size. In the basement, big enough for a small soccer game, there is a miniature basketball hoop, about six feet off the floor, and as the tour passes through, Cory finds a miniature basketball and shoots from 10 feet. Bottom!

"Doc-tor Jaaaaaay," he shouts and throws his fists skyward in a miniature victory salute. Turquoise hides her laugh.

Dr. J is not home this night. He is on the West Coast with the Sixers, playing out the final season of a 16-year professional basketball career. Soon he will be "home to stay," the children say, and then he can go to their games in the afternoons, can be with them on these cold winter nights, can play games with them and stay up late, sometimes, and watch movies. And some day maybe they can all go out together and Dad won't be interrupted for autographs at dinner, and Turquoise and the children won't have to listen to some of the cruel remarks they sometimes hear at games.


Cheo, 13, is the oldest. He is the quarterback for Episcopal Academy, or he was until his right hand was broken recently in the Penn Charter game. His left hand was broken in the same game last year, and Dad was there to take him to the hospital. "This year," Turquoise says, "Julius was on the road when it happened, and, you know, Cheo didn't want to go to the hospital. It was like 'Can you believe that? Dad wasn't here to see me get my hand broken?' He wanted to be such a big person that he wanted to wait for his dad before he would go to the hospital, so he could share the experience with him."

Jazmin, 10, and Cory also go to Episcopal. Jay, 12, goes to Montgomery School in Wynnewood. They all play tennis. Jay and Cheo play lacrosse, basketball and soccer at school. Jazmin plays field hockey. There's a lighted tennis court in the back yard, and there's a pool but no basketball court. Not even a hoop over a garage door.

"He asked us if we wanted him to teach us to play basketball," Jay says, ''and we told him, yeah, so he said, 'OK, you've got to go out and run laps and do calisthenics,' so we didn't think that was such a good idea."

So when they play basketball it's at school or next door at Joe Williamson's house. They use Williamson's court so often they have worn a gap in the hedge that separates their houses.

"Julius, too," Turquoise says. "He's just as bad as the rest of them." A court will go up in the Ervings' back yard next summer, so basketball won't end entirely for Dr. J when the National Basketball Association season closes.

Watching Julius play basketball is about the only thing Turquoise and the children will miss when he retires.

"I am a basketball fan," Turquoise said earlier, "and I love watching him. I go to every home game, and I'll still go to games when Julius is through because I'm such a fan.

"But there are a lot of things I won't miss. I won't miss the loneliness of losing friends because of trades. I won't miss management and the cold way it treats people. I won't miss the insults at games.

"You don't realize that wives, sitting in the stands, take more abuse than - they know we're there. I've sat in the same seat; this is my 11th season (Section F, Row 11, Seat 9), and they know who I am, and they hurt you deliberately because of who you are. Jealousy is human nature, and you face it every day. Many times I've had to leave and go to the wives' lounge.


"I would never go to another game in Boston Garden as long as I live; I don't care if they honored Julius 50 million times. Such mental and physical abuse. Mary Alice Mix (wife of retired Sixer Steve Mix), and I went up there six years ago, I was pregnant with Cory, and they called us all kinds of names and threw things at us. Somebody hit Mary Alice (with a lighted cigarette). Boston is the worst. Last year Alfreda (Moses Malone's wife) had a beer poured on her in Washington, where they've been traded to now.

"I'll be so happy to be rid of all that I cannot wait. I'm looking forward to going to a game and sitting there without having to worry about someone saying something about my husband, knowing I'm sitting right there."

With her new job, Turquoise already has started the adjustment for her husband's retirement.

"My job gets me up, gets me out, gets me dressed and gives me a chance to meet people, real people," she said. "I was always busy with the children and charity work (she compiled a book of Philadelphia restaurant menus and donated her earnings to the Lupus Foundation), but the children are all in school now and the more charity work you do, the more they ask of you. I'm doing 10 times what I started out to do.

"I enjoy doing the charity work, but I don't enjoy some of the people I'm around. They put so much pressure on you. With charity, if you say you don't want to do it one time, then you hurt somebody's feelings. Ask your friends for donations. Ask your friends for ads, ask your friends to buy tickets. They use you because of who you are. They don't care about your feelings.

"Sometimes they say, 'Just come to the luncheon; we won't ask you to do anything this time.' Then you get there and they say, 'Oh, I know I said I wouldn't but . . .' Or if you have to pick up your children from school and start to leave, they say, 'You can't leave now.' They think because you're a celebrity that you have a chauffeur pick up the kids. They won't let you be an everyday person. And that's what I am. I've never forgotten where I came



Where she came from is Winston-Salem, N.C. She is the daughter of an elementary school teacher and the product of an all-black school. She was one of three girls selected in 1968 as the first black students admitted to Wake Forest University. Later she went to work for IBM as a check typist and never graduated. She met Julius in 1973 through a friend.

"Later that night," she said, "we happened to be at the same party, and when the guy that was sitting next to me got up, Julius sat down, and he never got up." They were married a year later.

"I grew up in an environment where I had to struggle," she said, ''struggle to make myself a better person because of being black and being

from the South and being what people thought was a nobody. My kids don't know what that's like.

"When I was 10, my mother had to work, and I had to go home after school and cook for my brother and myself. My daughter, she's 10, and I tell her that and she says, 'You did what?' I had to iron clothes, clean. So I wasn't one of those laid-back wives expecting a housekeeper to do the work. I did it. I did the cooking.

"I have some help now, but I still do the cooking and cleaning and washing. I never used our dishwasher for three years. I did the dishes by hand

because that's what I was used to, whereas I can't get them in the dishwasher fast enough today.

"And Julius is glad. Because if he had a princess for a wife, he would have to say, 'Would you go to the cleaners for me, would you put my car in the shop?' and when they say, 'No,' he wouldn't know how to act.


"So I love my job. The first check I got I came home and told Julius, 'I got my check today,' and he said, 'Oh, so you're going to take everybody to dinner?' So that night I ordered pizza on the phone and he said, 'Hey, I thought you were taking everybody to dinner?' and I said, 'This is all I can afford.' "

Although Turquoise Erving practically had to be dragged here - "I never wanted to move from New York to Philadelphia," she told an interviewer two years ago. "Julius made me" - she now says, "This is home. This will be home from now on. We're not leaving. I don't worry about Julius anymore, about the petty things that people say, about doing things just because management wants me to, afraid to say no. I don't worry about the women who used to call here, wait for Julius after a game. That's mostly in the past. They see Julius now, and they see the family, and they say, 'Aw, he's a waste of time.'

"Now I worry about the kids. The drugs. They're about the age. I worry about my friends and their health. The other stuff seems little now. I've grown up, and you know, it's nice. We're ready for the change."

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