“The Doctor” delivers another strong sports documentary effort

drj

Before there was LeBron, before there was Kobe, before there was Michael, before there was Magic, and before there was Larry. there was Julius Erving, a.k.a "Doctor J." A new NBA TV documentary aired this week introduces "Dr. J" to a whole new generation. Younger NBA fans may have seen footage of Erving through NBA TV or on YouTube, but for old school fans, Erving was the man who brought a new type play to what was perceived as a boring prim and proper NBA.

The documentary narrated by Chuck D, shows how Erving became from being known as Julius to Jewel to finally, "The Doctor." We learn Erving's upbringing in Long Island to how his legend grew from the playgrounds of New York to the only school that offered him a scholarship, the University of Massachusetts.

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Viewers are taken to where Erving grew up in Roosevelt on Long Island and we learn the basketball education of the Doctor. His legend exploded on the Rucker Playgrounds in Harlem in 1971 as Erving played against NBA players and it's where the famous "Dr. J" nickname was born. 

It was only natural that Dr. J would take his talents to the upstart American Basketball Association which embraced the playground style. We hear from those who experienced the ABA first-hand, Bob Costas, Billy Crystal, George Gervin, Dan Issel and others. This was the league that had a red, white and blue basketball, plenty of improvisation, great players, but no major television contract. It introduced the 3 point shot and the Slam Dunk Contest, two staples that are part of the current NBA.

in 1976, the ABA merged with the NBA and Erving was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers and his game was exposed to a whole new audience. It led him to the Finals in 1977, 1980, 1982 and 1983, huge endorsement deals as well as being an Ambassador for the league. The documentary chronicled the struggles of Erving to get his NBA championship ring which finally came in 1983. "The Doctor" looked at how the NBA at first struggled to accept Erving and the ABA-style of play, but later came to embrace it.

Even with the film being produced by NBA Entertainment, it did not shy away from the death his younger brother, the passing of his son Cory in 2000 and the divorce from his wife, Turquoise three years later.

With interviews from peers Magic Johnson and Bill Walton plus LeBron James, we see how much respect they have for Dr. J. It's too bad that Michael Jordan isn't seen until late in the documentary and that is through a 1987 archival interview. 

We see plenty of reflection from a very well-thought man. This is a documentary that ranks as one of the better NBA TV films, however, not quite at the level with HBO or ESPN's 30 for 30. One wonders how either of those documentary units would have handled this subject.. "The Doctor" clocks under 90 minutes with commercial breaks. This film could have easily expanded to two hours, there's so much matter that was not touched upon. 

The Awful Announcing grade for "The Doctor" is a solid B. 

Ken Fang

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

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