Erving Is Leading Man In A Game Full Of Stars

Posted: February 08, 1987

SEATTLE — They all gathered, the best basketball players in the world, with their minds set on paying tribute to one among them.

That one, Julius Erving, will play in his 16th and last NBA All-Star Game today (Channel 10, 3 p.m.), in the Kingdome.

Erving, 36, who has been lavishly praised throughout the season as his farewell tour takes him through the league's cities, is taking a low-profile approach to the 37th annual game.

He's not looking for big numbers. It doesn't appear overwhelmingly important to him that he could become the third player in NBA history to win at least three all-star MVP honors if he should have that special performance today.

Erving, who brought a sizable entourage of family and friends to the game, just wants to have fun.

"It's going to be my best (all-star) weekend," Erving said. "I don't know if it'll be my best game. There'll be something here for everyone. My approach is that I'm going to find that something for me."

Erving won't have to look far. There will be basketballs coming his way all afternoon. There will be picks set to allow him access to the basket. It will be Dr. J's day.

While Erving is stopping to smell the roses, the rest of the all-stars have come to Seattle treating the game like some kind of religious pilgrimage.

"I'm starting with Julius Erving in his last All-Star Game, and that's very sentimental for me," said the Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan. "I want it to be his best. When I was young, when you thought NBA basketball, you thought Dr. J.

"This is one of the rare times that I get to play with him, and I'm going to cherish it. There is a lot of sentiment (among the Eastern Conference players) for him. We're going to win for him."

Jordan, like the Detroit Pistons' Isiah Thomas, announced before the all- star balloting was completed that he would sit and let Erving start in the event that Jordan and Thomas remained ahead of the Doctor in the voting.

That noble gesture was no longer necessary when Erving passed Thomas in the final days of the balloting.

"There isn't a player here at this All-Star Game who can say that, one time or another, they haven't thought of or tried to imitate Dr. J," Thomas said.

"No other player should be compared to the Doc. You never hear players compared to Wilt (Chamberlain), Oscar (Robertson). Other players shouldn't be compared to Dr. J."

Jordan, however, has been labeled as the second coming of Dr. J. It is not a comparison he asked for, but his high-charged, midair game has summoned

memories of the man who soared, seemingly unaffected by gravity, through the old ABA when Jordan and Thomas were in grade school.

"I don't look at him as a challenger," Erving said of Jordan. "I look at him more like a co-worker, a peer. Probably the greatest challenge is to reach your own potential. It's beauty is that it takes the game to an artistic level."

Former teammate Moses Malone also was excited about the possibility of playing again with Erving.

"It's great," said Malone, who was traded to the Bullets by the 76ers in June. "I'm playing another game with Doc. I'm very happy, because I couldn't end my years with him in Philadelphia. Now, I'm getting another chance to play with him."

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