Julius Erving remembers the first time he saw Nassau Coliseum 40 some years ago.
“It was brand new,” Erving recalled in a recent telephone interview with Scott Cacciola of the Times. “You’d drive past it and you’re looking at this place, like, ‘Wow!’”
He’ll get a second chance to be wowed Saturday night when he’ll once again be the headliner at the Coliseum, now known as NYCB Live after a $165 million renovation.
Dr. J wont be playing, but will be honored by the Coliseum’s new tenants, the Long Island Nets of the G League, during their opening night game vs. the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. His No. 32 will be raised in the rafters, this time with with “Long Island” rather than “New York” lettering.
Everyone admits it’s about marketing ... and honoring the man who set Erving on the right path at age 12, Don Ryan, now the mayor of the Village of Hempstead.
The Nets decided to give Ryan a lifetime achievement award on opening night and Alton Byrd, the vice president of business operations for Long Island, who literally cornered Erving this summer at the Big3 tournament.
Byrd asked if he would be able to come. Cacciola recounted Erving’s response. Anything for Don. “It’s an honor for me to honor my friend and mentor and one of the great role models of my life,” Erving told the Times.
Dr. J is a bit concerned that his legacy with the ABA Nets —three MVPs, two championships— could get confused with the G League, which he notes is not at the same level as the great ABA teams of the 1970s.
“It’s awfully confusing to the next generation, all that history,” Erving said.
Indeed, but it is, after all, Long Island history. Erving grew up in the projects in Roosevelt and won the first pro championships for his “home town” — years before the Islanders’ four Stanley Cups. (If you’d like a primer on that time, visit Remember the ABA page on the New York Nets.)
It will be a nice moment, a nice way to re-christen pro basketball —and all that history— on the Island.
- At Age 67, Dr. J Is Going Back to the Beginning - Scott Cacciola - New York Times