Julius Erving sat in a black leather chair on the Air Flight Court at Nikes NYHQ on Sixth Avenue and offered his endorsement of Sixers star Ben Simmons in his campaign for Rookie of the Year.
Bens a special player, Erving said. He makes it seem effortless, what he is doing. Its almost like a musical component to his game, how he rebounds the ball, which he does a lot. He can penetrate all the way to the dotted line, and I think its almost impossible to stay in front of him because his handle is so good.
Erving paused to emphasize the difference between the current approach of players and his reign during a panel talk about past playoff performances.
If Im on the dotted line, Im trying to dunk the ball or make a layup. Im not even cognizant of where the other guys are, but this is a different era, Erving said. Hes totally conscious of where the other guys are. Its almost like he has eyes in the back of his head, and those guys are responding to him. His upside is huge.
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Simmons and the Sixers (50-30) have won 14 consecutive games, which is a team record, and will finish the regular season with back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Simmons is averaging 16 points, 8 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game as the Sixers attempt to lock up the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket behind the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics.
Erving, 68, won the NBA championship with the Sixers in 1983. He noted that Simmons had probably gone ahead of Donovan Mitchell from Utah over the last quarter of the season in the Rookie of the Year race.
Erving also reflected on chasing a title for Philadelphia fans prior to the Eagles’ Super Bowl win. Erving keeps memories of losing three finals in a six-year span prior to claiming the title.
I dont think its the worst thing in the world to come in second, but in Philly they made it feel like it was the worst because they let you know, they let you know, Erving said.
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He expressed relief at finally winning the title.
The standout moment was when the clock said 00:00, and Philly had won four and the Lakers hadnt won any, Erving said. The journey to the championship was harrowing. It was almost like there had been a brick up there waiting to hit me on the head.
He cautioned the current Sixers to focus on the task at hand as they try to stave off the Cleveland Cavaliers late charge for the third seed.
From personal experience, you have to take it one game at a time, Erving said. Not only one game at a time, but one quarter at a time, really a minute at a time. You have to be present, in the moment in the playoffs. Thats pivotal.