Dr. J documentary to bring back memories of greatness

Julius Erving, the great "Dr. J," had the biggest hand of any athlete I've ever shook hands with. If you care about these things, Michael Jordan was No. 2 on that list. And John Unitas, the iconic Baltimore Colts quarterback, was No. 3.

No, I'm not a hands freak. I'm just saying.

I interviewed The Doctor in the mid-1980s, at the tail end of his brilliant career, when he starred for the Philadelphia 76ers. He was still a hugely exciting player to watch, although his wondrous, soaring trips to the basket were becoming less frequent.

But he was still a terrific ambassador for the NBA and gracious with his time for a young columnist from Baltimore, for which I've always been eternally grateful.

That's one reason I'm looking forward to watching "The Doctor," a new documentary at 9 tonight on NBA-TV that explores the career of the most exciting basketball player I've ever seen.

I still believe Jordan was the greatest ever to play the game. But it was Dr. J who revolutionized it with his high-flying acrobatics, his mid-air spins and whirls that led to either feathery-soft lay-ins or thunderous slam-dunks in both the old ABA and NBA.

He was Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan. And no one was more thrilling to watch on a fast-break than Julius Erving.

Fast-breaks, remember them? The NBA game has evolved into an often-plodding half-court affair, where leviathons bang for position inside before bull-dozing their way to the basket or kicking the ball back out for an open jump shot.

But Dr. J on the run in the open court stirred the soul like no other sight in the game. And  watching him take off for the basket -- often from the free-throw line -- would make your jaw drop.

If tonight's documentary captures even a fraction of what made Julius Erving so great, it'll be well worth watching.

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