We've seen it a thousand times. Some of us who are old enough probably could tell you where we were when we first saw it (I saw it on Action News at 11 p.m.). It was just one more incredible play in a series of incredible plays Erving treated us to in his 11 years in Philadelphia. It's become an iconic moment.
"I wasn't really sure what I was going to do," Erving would say, "but I was going to make sure the ball got in the hole. So I think I picked my dribble up pretty far out and just decided to take my step-and-a-half and go airborne."
One would think that "one of the greatest dunks of all time," according to one of the greatest dunkers of all time, Dominique Wilkins, would have been the lead story on Jan. 6, 1983.
It was not.
That night, the play of the Lakers' Magic Johnson and Jamaal Wilkes and the Sixers' Andrew Toney overshadowed Doc's aerodynamics.
But the dunk is all that we remember from that game. It came in overtime of the second and final regular-season meeting between the two teams that had clashed for the 1981-82 NBA championship, won by the Lakers in six games. And it came in a game the Sixers won, 122-120.
The fact that the dunk came during the 1982-83 season is significant. With the addition of Moses Malone, the Sixers wanted to turn the tables on the Lakers. They had won the first in-season meeting, in LA on Dec. 5, 1982, 114-104, the same score by which the Lakers eliminated the Sixers in Game 6 the season before.
Due to a migraine, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar didn't play in the rematch and Johnson and Wilkes stepped up their game. In Game 6 of the 1980 Finals, when the Lakers eliminated the Sixers at the Spectrum without the injured Kareem, Magic went for 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists while Wilkes put up a quiet 37 points. In 1983, the duo did it again, though with less on the line and the outcome being different. Johnson scored 23 points, pulled down 12 rebounds and accumulated a then-career-high 20 assists, setting a Spectrum visitor's record. And Wilkes scored 36.
Erving's dunk gave the Sixers a 120-116 lead in OT. The Lakers, on baskets by Johnson and Wilkes, tied it before Toney scored the game-winner with 5 seconds left.
The dunk, however, should not be trivialized. It came against the Lakers, and it came during a win. It victimized Cooper, one of the NBA's premier defenders, who had held Erving to an 11-for-27 performance back in December. And it helped make the Sixers 2-0 against the team they knew they had to beat to win the NBA title.
"The best part of being 2-0 against LA," said Sixers coach Billy Cunningham, "is knowing we don't have to see them again until May, and that would have to be in the Finals. We'd be ecstatic to be there."
The Sixers let the Lakers know they didn't fear them, that LA could come with its best haymakers and it wasn't going to make a difference. The Sixers now saw themselves as the more dominant team and nothing illustrated that better than Erving's swoop over Coop.
"[Cooper] and I haven't had a real good chance to discuss it," Erving told TNT, "but I know I caught a few elbows and a couple of knees afterwards just out of spite [laughing]."
The win was the fourth in what would become a 14-game winning streak that upped the Sixers' record to 34-5.
"It means that we beat the defending champions and that, right now, we're the best team in basketball," said Sixers sub Clint Richardson.
Best team in basketball? That's a slam dunk.