LONG ISLAND, N.Y. – "It's as sweet as it ever was, I'll tell you. Now, hopefully, we started something and we can win some more championships, but we're going to enjoy this one right now. Have a little champagne," said Julius “Dr. J” Erving, after winning the 1976 ABA championship with the New York Nets.
It was the last ABA game before the NBA merger ... and the last basketball championship won by any New York pro team.
A little more than 40 years later, Julius Erving will make his return to both the Coliseum and the Nets organization to honor his mentor, Don Ryan, now Village of Hempstead Mayor, at the Long Island Nets home opener on November 4.
The Long Island Nets will also retire Erving’s #32 jersey, just as the parent club did 30 years ago.
As he said in ’76, Dr. J was hopeful that he started something special. And he did, said Alton Byrd, Long Island’s vice president for business operations ... and a New York hoops contemporary, having played at Columbia in the late 1970’s.
“There was a Julius and the Coliseum before there was an Islanders and a Coliseum. We’re lucky that he’s agreed to come and honor Don Ryan, who probably helped save his life. He’s from Roosevelt.
“For us, it’s an ideal start. An ideal opportunity for us to build a consistent and long-term legacy with where we are today versus where we were 50 years ago,” Byrd told NetsDaily.
Dr. J won two ABA championships with the Nets at the Coliseum in 1974 and 1976, and earned three MVP awards during his time with the team.
“It’s a clear message to Long Island fans, Brooklyn Nets fans, that we’re connecting the Long Island Nets to the history, the legacy, to not only the team but to all the folks that came to the Coliseum to watch Dr. J,” Byrd explained.
Trajan Langdon and Ronald Nored, Long Island’s GM and head coach, hope they can build off the precedent he set and create a brand of basketball that people want to watch.
“This place definitely has some history and mystique. We’re hoping to build off that and it’ll be great to have the Doctor [Julius Erving] in the house opening night.
“We’re looking forward to getting here and building our own brand basketball, playing hard, getting up and down the court, being competitive and winning some games. Hopefully our fanbase here can be proud of that,” Langdon told NetsDaily.
“To have Dr. J back in this place where he used to play and to be a part of it… It’s just so cool,” head coach Ronald Nored told NetsDaily.
Along with honoring Dr. J, the Long Island Nets will honor Don Ryan. Ryan volunteered as the Biddy Basketball coach at the Salvation Army’s Hempstead headquarters when he met the 12-year-old Erving, who grew up in Roosevelt.
The two built a lifelong relationship – one that extends beyond the basketball court. Ryan will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award for his community contributions as a teacher, coach and local civic leader.
“He was excited,” Byrd said of Erving. “Any time you mention Don Ryan to Dr. J he gets excited. Don was a father figure, Don was somebody who spent time with him, taught him nuances, taught him about life. So, anything with Don Ryan, Julius is always excited. When we brought it up to Julius that we’d honor Don he said, ‘I’ll be there.’”
The jersey retirement ceremony will take place at 6:30 p.m., 30 minutes before tip-off. The first 5,000 fans in attendance will receive a replica Dr. J jersey mini banner to commemorate the celebration.