John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Me and Dr. J

“When greatness meets class, that’s what God created in Dr J” — Magic Johnson

When I was 12 years old I had the great honor of being a ball boy for the 1975 ABA All-Star game in San Antonio, Texas.

It was a heady time for a young boy like me. I idolized these men; these near mythic figures whose moves, style, attitude and basketball statistics filled my young head and heart.

There’s really not much for a ball boy to do. Sweep the floor during timeouts, retrieve errant balls, and mostly just enjoy sitting and watching the game of the league’s greatest players from just a few feet a way.  And admire and absorb the sounds, the physicality, the grunts, yells, sweat, trash talk, speed, force and gracefulness… and ultimately the comraderie of an All-Star ABA basketball team.

My “moment” –my time when the pressure was on me as a ball boy occurred late in the game, in fact it was in the 4th quarter.

It was during one of the last timeouts and it was my turn to serve the water. My job was to hand each of the players, most importantly the 5 players who had been playing on the court, a small cup of water in a white cooler cup. I don’t remember how many cups I was given to hand out. I just remember that one of the last ones was the one I handed to Dr J and for my “moment” I was so nervous and excited I  spilled nearly the entire cup of water on the left side of the Dr’s All-Star jersey as I tried to hand it to him.

I was embarrassed –mortified for a few moments–but Dr J, as Magic Johnson later noted, was that rare combination of greatness and class. The Dr just chuckled at my gaffe and made light of it by saying, “I don’t want water. When are we going to get  champagne?”

He artfully covered for me by pretending he didn’t even want the water and was holding out for something better. I was relieved and laughed awkwardly.

jyb_musingsDr. J did drink what little water was left in his small cooler cup and then got up as the timeout ended and returned to the floor and finished with 21 points and help carry his team to yet another victory. He was –and is–a class act. Even to a clumsy little ball boy who idolized him but couldn’t competently hand him a cup of water during a timeout break.

That was my “moment” –and as I grew older I realized that my “moment” wasn’t a failure about me spilling the water. It was positive moment about me being witness to the gentleman and class act that Dr J was and is–even in the most smallest of his interactions. Julius Erving was the greatest basketball player I ever saw play.

And, in my opinion, one of the greatest all around human beings to ever play professional sports.

Here is a tribute to the Doc that I planned on watching only a few minutes of but 1 hour and 9 minutes later realized I’d watched the entire documentary. And I’m glad I did!


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