Jun 6, 2013, 11:53 AM EDT
I have my beefs with a lot of NBA TV’s original programming–they’re mostly pretty uncreative with their ideas, and they play way too much of the same crap over and over again–but their original full-length are becoming must-watches for any basketball fan. Last year’s Dream Team doc was an absolute revelation–seriously, if you haven’t seen it yet, go find a semi-legal torrent of it right now–and this year’s The Doctor, about Sixers and ABA legend Julius “Dr. J” Erving, is a worthy follow-up.
The film–which screened last night at Xfinity Live, and will debut on NBA TV on Monday the 10th–can’t quite compete with the overwhelming star power and inside-joke secrets of Dream Team, but the Doctor is definitely in full effect, as cool as ever. Fans such as myself far too young to have seen Erving in his heyday were treated to all sorts of gasp-inducing footage of the Hall-of-Famer’s on-court prowess, as well as fun interviews from coaches and peers and some character-revealing personal info about the man himself.
Here’s ten cool things on display in The Doctor:
1. Footage of Doc balling in Rucker Park. Doctor J helped make his name on the streets with his performances at New York’s legendary Rucker Park, before he was even in the ABA, and you get to see Doc in his old-school Adidas shirt holding court in surprisingly good footage from the time. The coolest about this isn’t even Julius himself, but the shots of school kids gathered around to watch him do his thing, even assembling on the roof of a nearby school like birds on a telephone wire just to get a glimpse.
2. The Doctor making rejections. When you think of Dr. J highlights in your head, they’re typically all offensive–slam dunks, finger rolls, the occasional game-winning jumper–but The Doctor gives valuable screen times to his defensive highlights as well, as The Doc (especially in his early days) had some breathtaking mid-air swipes, as well. Watching him scale the heights to reject a jumper or layup, he reminded me of Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka–even at 6’7″, he could still get that kind of air
3. Bob Costas, with the quote of the whole movie. Upon first hearing stories of Julius Erving’s incredible basketball exploits: “I thought ‘Finally…a great Jewish basketball player!’”
4. Doctor J personifying ’70s fashion. There’s a whole lot of face-time given to the ‘fro, naturally, but my favorite ’70s moment in this was a shot of Doc walking outside the Spectrum in an all-white getup, almost looking like Saturday Night Fever John Travolta. When are Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade gonna bring that look back?
5. Whole lotta Darryl Dawkins. Any time Chocolate Thunder is in the building, you know you’re gonna get a couple good quotes, and Dawkins does not disappoint in The Doctor, whether talking about sharing his first impressions of Doc with friends (“This kid Erving, man, he’s a bad boy”) or revealing the gameplan of the star-studded ’77 Sixers (“The first guy who got the ball would shoot it”). Plus, that face…for better or worse, you just don’t see a lot of others like it.
6. Every great center of the ’70s getting dunked on. Artis Gilmore. Dave Cowens. Bill Walton. All of them got facials from the Doctor at one point or another in the documentary. Oddly enough, the only notable big man of the period I don’t remember seeing in a poster was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who Doc played in more big games than just about anyone. Maybe I just had my head turned for that one.
7. The scholarly side of Doc. A good deal of attention was paid to the fact that not only was Erving an icon for his on-court dominance, but that he became a spokesperson for the league (and for a number of advertisers) because he was such a classy, well-spoken, and generally kind dude off the hardwood. Quoth PTI’s Michael Wilbon: “I was so happy as a young black man who cared about language, image and presentation that he sounded the way he sounded.”
8. President of the Julius Erving fanclub, Earvin “Magic’ Johnson. Not that Magic is normally a particularly stoic sort, but talking about Dr. J–who incidentally, he faced in the NBA finals three times–turns the all-time NBA great into a giggling, wide-eyed 12-year-old. Raving about the Doctor’s highlights, and about the time Erving invited him to his house for the weekend when Johnson was still in college, Magic is perpetually gasping, lapsing into shrieking falsetto, and smiling impossibly wide, even by his standards. When you’re good enough to still turn one of the five best players in basketball history into a fanboy, you must’ve been pretty damn good.
9. The Baseline Scoop and the Rock the Baby Dunk. Two of the most famous in-game plays in NBA history are more than given their fair due in the doc, with Lakers guard Michael Cooper remembering both his decision to try to block the Rock the Baby and his immediate regret of that decision, and Magic again rhapsodizing about the unlikelihood of the Baseline Scoop (“There’s no WAY he can stay in the air that long!“) Doc’s unfazed reaction to the latter is particularly cold: “Just another move.”
10. He’s still got it. In the press meet before the movie, Doctor J was asked if he could still get up on the court. “I’ve got my one dunk in this year,” he answered. “We’ll see about next year.” And at the end of the movie, he proved it, first doing some vertical measuring of the rim and backboard, then finally taking off for a slam. The film cuts out a split-second before we see if he made it or not, but c’mon. He made it.
A minor complaint about the movie, just for objectivity’s sake, would be that you don’t really get to see much of the bad with the Doctor, on or off the court. Much is obviously made about the ’83 Sixers and their championship run, but I would’ve loved to see a little more about what happened the next season, when their title defense was cut disastrously short in the first round by the New Jersey Nets. And though Doc’s personal and home life gets some play, absolutely no mention is made of his greatest off-court controversies, when he was revealed to have fathered children with two separate mothers in extramarital affairs, one of whom (Alexandra Stevenson) became a pro tennis star.
But of course, that’s partly the nature of the beast with an NBA TV doc–you’re never gonna get a totally objective account of an NBA subject, because they serve to glorify the subject that provides their raison d’etre more than to educate about it. But you don’t watch an NBA TV movie for hard-hitting truths, you watch it for the awesome rare footage, the great player interviews and the top-notch production values. This movie certainly has those in spades, and if you’re an old-school Sixers fan wanting to relive the glory days or a younger Sixers fan wanting to escape the more depressing present, The Doctor is basketball escapism as its finest.
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