CelebritySeptember 10, 2015

11 questions: Dr. J on playing golf with MJ, still being able to dunk, and hosting his own golf event

The sport he dominated for so long. The game he can't get enough of these days. They'll both intersect for basketball legend Julius Erving when he hosts his first charity/celebrity golf event Sept. 12-14. Historic Aronimink Golf Club outside Philadelphia will become part course, part museum for the event, with each hole featuring a special exhibit commemorating the man many credit for transforming basketball with his above-the-rim style of play:

Co-hosted by Seema Sadekar and Jay Harris, and attended by celebrities like Charles Barkley, Cedric the Entertainer, and George Lopez, the Julius Erving Golf Classic will mainly benefit the Salvation Army, an organization that actually helped give Erving his start in basketball. Dr. J took the time to talk to us about his event, playing with a former President, gambling on the course with Michael Jordan, dunking into his 60s(!), and more.

1. How’s your golf game right now? Strengths? Weaknesses?

"My big miss is usually with the tee ball, unfortunately. That's what keeps me at a double-digit handicap. My strength is putting the ball, especially on long putts. I can really see the line. If I could fix the tee game, my handicap could drop a lot. But that's how it goes with my golf game. I fix one thing and something else goes! But I love to play and I try to play or do something golf-related a couple times a week."

2. When did you pick up the game?

"After I retired when I was 37. I learned mainly by playing in charity events and being invited to play in pro-ams like the one at Pebble Beach. . . . Knowing what I know now, I would have opted to learn how to play from someone certified instead of learning on the go."

3. What do you think about guys playing during the NBA season? Would you have done that if you took the game up earlier?

"I think I would have. Michael Jordan overlapped three years with me in the NBA. Michael took his clubs with him. I was keenly aware his generation played golf on the off-season. If I had an interest in golf then, I probably would have played."

4. Which other NBA stars do you enjoy playing with and how competitive are your typical matches?

"At first, I played with Michael's crowd, but they were somewhat ruthless. They made the betting more important than the game, so I dropped out of that. I decided I'd have golf friends I'd make lightweight bets with because I don't want lose a farm, a ranch, a college tuition to a friend. You do that and you're not going to be friends for long! I try to play with Clyde Drexler a couple times a year and Andrew Toney, a former teammate of mine. At my home club in Atlanta (Rivermont Golf & Country Club), I have a circle of friends that includes Victor Green and Chris Doleman."

5. What’s better: Dunking on someone or sinking a big putt against someone?

"When the match is on the line, dropping a putt is just as exciting as dunking on someone. Dunking for me, not that it was totally routine, but I was expected to do it. I can only remember missing a few of those in my career. And you have to consider the low percentage you have to make a long putt."

6. Can you still dunk?

"I'm 65 now, and I did it through 64. It's not a matter of not dunking; I just haven't tried to dunk. Once I tighten it up, I'll try. So in my mind, I can still do it."

7. What’s your favorite part of playing golf? Is it the competition?

"That's part of it. I like that I can play someone like Stephen Curry, who is a 2-handicap, and it's something we can be competitive with. If he gives me five a side, and we can have a game. I'll make him walk and I ride. And maybe I'll go up to my tees and make him tee off from the back tees [laughs]. Everything is negotiated on the first tee, right?"

"I also get joy out of the camaraderie, and the fact it's literally the only 'me time.' I don't think you play golf for someone else. Twenty-four/seven, I'm paying bills, checking the thermostat, feeding a pet . . . I'm a provider. So much of my life is in the giving mode that when I play golf, I do that for me. It might be the only thing I do just for myself."

8. Speaking of giving, how exciting is it to host your own charity golf event?

"For me, the completion of the mission comes from connecting to something that happened a long time ago. It's cold outside, 'here, you want to come inside and play basketball?' (Erving joined a Salvation Army-sponsored basketball team in Long Island, N.Y., when he was 9 -- his first taste of organized basketball.) And here we are 55 years later. We're doing something to help them and others. Grab A Ball & Play, an organization my daughter Jazmin started, my wife, Dorys' Foundation, Salvation Army of Philadelphia, Salvation Army of Long Island are all beneficiaries of what we do. . . . We're working on bringing Philadelphia together. We're going a lot deeper than putting the ball in the air and putting the ball in the hole. We have messages we have various people we want to deliver. Charles Barkley, Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Harris. It's going to be a very exciting week."

9. What's your favorite place to go on a golf trip?

"Well, I just went to Bandon Dunes and that became one of my top five destinations, but Shadow Creek [Las Vegas] is my favorite. I get lost in space when I'm there. I'm in golf heaven. Pebble Beach, Hilton Head and Augusta National are great. There are so many venues that make you feel a certain way."

10. How do you compare the nerves in a basketball game to the nerves in a pro-am?

"When I watch golf, I'll hear Johnny Miller use that word and if a guy hits a bad shot, he'll say, 'I think that shot is a reflection of his nerves.' Even at that level, when he's talking about pros making an error, he'll associate it with nerves. So I've just learned to accept that nerves are a part of golf. If I got to the foul line in a big moment, I would just imagine doing something that I've done thousands of times. You either make it or you miss it. In golf, there's a degrees to missing. You can be a couple degrees off and suddenly your ball rolls into a hazard. Nobody's always on target, so it's more difficult in that regard.

11. What’s your all-time golf highlight so far?

"Well, I have a hole-in-one. Sept. 25, 1989. Two years after retiring from basketball. I guess I've got an anniversary coming up! But the all-time highlight for me was being invited to play in Gerald Ford's golf event in Colorado. I went there for a number of years. First time I went there, I actually played in his group. We were out there chopping it up having a good time on the first hole, a par 5. I was about 100 yards out, and I hit a wedge into the hole. And he jumps into my arms! There were all these people watching, and here I have President Ford in my arms! What a moment."


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