On the surface of Julius “Dr. J” Erving, you may only see his 30,026 career points, his 10,525 rebounds and the countless poster highlights including his famous cradle left reverse layups. But there is a side that many NBA fans knew little about. Each time Erving took the court, he did so with disease on his mind.
At age 19, while a freshman at University of Massachusetts, Erving lost his 16-year-old brother, Marvin, to lupus erythematosus, a systemic autoimmune disease. When he was 34, his older sister, Alexis, passed away of colon cancer at age 37.
Erving won three titles (two ABA, one NBA), four MVP Awards (three ABA, one NBA) and the first recorded slam dunk contest in basketball history. Those moments do not resonate in his mind as much as the sudden deaths of his brother and sister.
“I lost them in the ultimate fashion,” Erving said in a phone interview. “When you lose someone who’s the closest person in your world, and you do it twice to these untreatable disorders, it’s something that becomes a part of you.”
Erving played 16 professional seasons in his Hall of Fame career, but the glory was not just for him. While Erving’s converse soared through the air and excited crowds all across the nation, he was playing not just for himself, but for his loved ones as well. When Dr. J lost his brother and sister, the two biggest fans before the end of his career, he always played with them in mind.
“Of course I thought of them,” he said of his playing days. “My family, they’re always with me. I always think of dedicating the next step I take to them.”
That’s why Erving has worked with the Philadelphia Tri-State Chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America to create the Julius Erving Fund, which supports research and treatment to those affected by Lupus. Erving has raised…