This excerpt appears in the book Dr. J: The Autobiography by Julius Erving. The author spoke with Bill Littlefied on Only A Game. (Listen to our interview and read Bill’s book review.)
Mine is an American life, fully lived, rich with the spoils and temptations of success, and rife with the failings and shortcomings of succumbing to those same temptations. I believe that while what I achieved is only possible in the United States, my faults are my own, singular and personal. I am born with great genetic gifts of speed and strength and dexterity, and the opportunities of my country allowed me to gain wealth and fame through basketball. Yet my journey is more than that of an athlete. I am an African-American, living through tumultuous times in our country, navigating a cultural landscape that has been very much divided for much of my life; I am a husband, trying and not always succeeding to live up to vows of fidelity amid the seductions of celebrity and fame; I am a father, seeking to impart values and my belief in America to my sons and daughters, pulled too often by the demands of professional sports away from those children; I am a businessman, believing deeply in the system that rewarded me and now seeking to build another legacy.
I am, of course, an athlete, a former basketball player, and while my achievements in that arena are my best known, they are only the mythic part of my story. My other accomplishments— of completing my college degree, of the pride I take in my children, of rising up and out of the Hempstead, Long Island, projects to become Julius Erving, founder and CEO of Dr. J Enterprises and the Erving Group, partner in the first minority-owned NASCAR team in the modern era, board member of corporations such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Meridian Bank, Williams Communications, and Sports Authority, and institutions including Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park Commission—are those I wish to be measured by.
I am an American man whose journey has been blessed by the great gifts that America offers—wealth, fame, championships, awards—and also scoured by the tragedies that are a part of the human experience. I have lost too many loved ones.
I ask for no pity; I only want to relate what I have felt and seen.
I have hurt too many people.
For that I ask forgiveness.
An American life, after all, is the sum of its parts, the successes and the failings, and mine has been rich with both.
I want to be candid about my life. I want to recall with you everything that I have seen and done, and try to make sense of this ongoing journey. I am living a bountiful life, and while it has not always been easy, it has been exciting and, I believe, emblematic of our time.
Mine is an American life, fully lived.