Every basketball fan knows Dr. J and the legend that the famous nickname embodies. As we can all remember, that man is none other than Julius Erving, the NBA Hall of Famer who personified superstardom almost his entire career.
But like with many of his peers in the realm of greatness, Erving’s iconic nickname also has an interesting story.
There should only be one Dr. J
Recounting how the moniker Dr. J was born, Erving said his nickname was “The Doctor,” and it was given to him by his high school teammate, Leon Saunders.
Erving was “The Doctor” throughout his high school career and carried that nickname until college. But when he turned pro, Erving realized that several players already referred to themselves as “Doc,” “The Doctor,” and anything that implied the same character. Fortunately, one trainer made him unique and told him he should be “Dr. J.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
“Originally, my nickname was The Doctor,” Erving told Esquire in 2017. “I was called that by my high school teammate, Leon Saunders after I called him The Professor. Saunders and I went to college together at UMass, so our nicknames followed. But when I got to the pros, there were already several people in the organization who were referred to as Doc or the Doctor—there was the physician, the trainer, and so forth. So one day the trainer said to me: ‘Hey listen, you’ve got to be Dr. J.’”
Living up to it
Regardless of the origin of his nickname, Erving lived up to it as far as playing goes. He made everybody aware that the doctor was in whenever he stepped on the court, as he was indeed clinical when it came to scoring.
In the process, Erving became an ultra-popular basketball star. His legacy and charisma even made Michael Jordan once admit he “couldn’t do anything” whenever they faced each other on the court.
“When I came into the league [NBA], I wasn’t nearly as enamored with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as I was with Julius Erving,” Jordan said in one of his books. “As a kid, my first nickname was ‘Magic’, but the only player I really knew about was Dr. J… I couldn’t do anything when I was matched up with Julius because I had so much admiration for him. I was just happy to be on the same floor.”
Over time, many have operated like Erving on the court in terms of scoring. But the truth is there will always be only one “Dr. J.”