Julius Erving speaks at a basketball clinic in Tokyo in 1990.

Julius Erving speaks at a basketball clinic in Tokyo in 1990. (Brent Johnston/Stars and Stripes)

TOKYO — When Dr. J paid a housecall on the basket, opposing ballplayers had to be treated for shock.

One of only three players in the history of professional basketball to score 30,000 points, Julius Winfield Erving II electrified fans all over the world with his gravity-defying leaps which culminated in thundering slams or a patented finger roll through the hoop.

Detroit Pistons All-Star Isiah Thomas, recalling a basketball camp in Lansing, Mich. when he was young, said Dr. J "started out at the other end of the court. He had all the kids clapping and then ... that man jumped. It looked to me as if he jumped from the top of the key — and then he just stopped, in the air now, and (looking over his shoulder at the kids) said, `Come on.' "

For 16 years, basketball fans were thrilled to watch Dr. J's on-court class, finesse and style. Now they do it in his clinics.

THE FORMER CAPTAIN of the Philadelphia 76ers turned teacher last weekend at two basketball clinics held for Japanese players and coaches in Tokyo in conjunction with the National Basketball Association's first regular season games held outside the United States.

"In addition to playing the games, we wanted to do something special," said NBA senior vice president and general counsel Gary Bettman.

"It's an opportunity to expose coaches and children to more of the technical side of basketball and to help them understand the game a little better. That's a bit different than going to watch a game."

"When you watch a game, you're watching something different," agreed Erving. "You're looking at the whole pie. A clinic looks at the ingredients."

About 140 Japanese students and 100 coaches were selected to attend the 90-minute clinics, during which the articulate University of Massachusetts graduate stressed the importance of those fundamentals.

A founding member of the NBA's international division, Erving is very interested in building a global interest in American basketball.

"THE IDEA IS worldwide competition," he said. "But you need worldwide acceptance and then you have to build up competency to be fair. You couldn't use a format of competition now like (soccer's) World Cup. It's too one-sided. Too many countries are ill-equipped to compete on a level with the USA., Italy, Spain, Yugoslavia, Soviet Union, Greece ... Canada. There are 64 countries in the World Cup."

That's where instructional clinics come in.

"The value of the clinic," Erving said, "is that it simulates a practice. It's a teaching situation that allows one to understand the different components that lead to full-scale competitive play."

Admittedly, many of the aspiring cagers attending the clinic came primarily to see the slams and aerial displays Erving made famous during a professional career that started with the Virginia Squires of the fledgling American Basketball Association in 1971.

"I have seen Dr. J on television and wanted to see him dunk in person," said Hideki Iwamoto, a 17-year-old student attending the special clinic.

"That's all they want to see!" laughed the Doctor. "Kids don't want to see how you got there. They don't want to see the beginning and the middle. But this isn't about instant gratification.

"THERE'S A WHOLE list of things that come into play that have to be shared. We're trying to raise their level of understanding and be entertaining and interesting at the same time. We don't always pull it off, but we always try."

Pull it off he did, said Rod Hundley, who manned the microphone for the clinic and provided explanations and instructions to the eager youngsters.

"The kids loved it and they idolized him. He knows the game frontward and back. And he's so good. I think everyone learned a little something in spite of the language barrier," said Hundley, the play-by-play announcer for the Utah Jazz.

"It was very exciting," said clinic participant Satsuki Ishikawa. "I never realized just how important the basic fundamentals are."

The communication problem is not a new one to Dr. J and the NBA.

"We do clinics on a regular basis," said Bettman. "(The NBA) ran coaches clinics this year in Hungary, Germany, Spain and Italy."

Erving held a clinic at the McDonald Open in Barcelona, Spain in August, "so I've had some experience working through an interpreter."

"It went quite smoothly," said Hundley, a former Minneapolis and Los Angeles Laker. "We would say something, then stop for 15 seconds or so for the translation.

"But it's kind of hard to do when you're in the middle of a thought, then you have to wait. But it worked out."

And a workout it was.

Dr. J explained the importance of fitness as he led the group through stretching exercises.

"The single most important thing in basketball is superior conditioning," he said amid the groans of his straining students. "You've got to be in better shape than the guy guarding you."

Still as trim as when he led the 76ers to the 1983 NBA championship, the 6-foot-7 40-year-old demonstrated various techniques, exercises and drills, outpacing his teenage helpers.

A full-court game between two groups of assistants served as a final demonstration of the skills covered in the clinic.

Cheers and applause broke out from the spectators as Erving stripped off his shirt to join the "skins" team.

"Oooohs" and "aaaahs," which needed no translation, erupted as Erving passed behind his back, then scored moments later with a balletic airborne finger roll.

Then there was silence. The audience was to be treated to a slam dunk demonstration.

The anticipation was thick in the gym.

SOUNDS TOLD THE story: A dribble, a squeal of rubber on hardwood, a whoosh as Dr. J became airborne, then the snap of nylon as the roundball was jammed through the hoop. The fans gasped as one.

He did it again — this time slamming two basketballs in one dunk.

The third time was the strangest, though, because after he leapt from the top of the key, Dr. J stopped in the air, looked at the kids and said, "Come on."

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