Skip to main content

When Julius Erving Described Competing Against Michael Jordan in the NBA From 1984 to 1987

Hall of Famer Julius Erving, better known as Dr. J, was a pioneer on the basketball court. His flashy playstyle and exceptional performances made him one of the league’s marquee attractions in the 1970s and 1980s, something he is revered for, to this day. However, when Dr. J was at the tail end of his glorious NBA career in the mid-1980s, a new force emerged to take over his mantle as one the NBA’s marquee attractions.

The Chicago Bulls‘ then-young star, Michael Jordan, quickly ascended to the top of the sport, and Dr. J knew from his limited battles against him that he’d be a force to be reckoned with before long. During an appearance on the Knuckleheads podcast in 2021, he spoke about a game where he and Jordan butted heads and went after each other,

“I remember one time he came down and dunked on our whole team … and then I went down and dunked on his team. So I’m looking at him, and he’s looking at me. And he was like … ‘I can do it again, you know?’ And I was like, ‘Alright, well, I only get one shot at it and I made it!’ But it was fun.”

Dr. J and Jordan faced each other eight times between 1984 and 1987, with the former winning his first five games before the latter winning two straight. Their last game against each other in April 1987 finished 98-96 in Dr.J and Irving’s favor. Among players with at least eight games against Jordan, Dr. J’s 75% winning rate ranks second only behind Hall of Famer Bill Walton, per Basketball Reference.

The 76ers icon retired 12 months before Jordan won the first of his five MVP awards. Dr. J’s exit from the NBA came on the eve of the commencement of Jordan’s unparalleled dominance. They never faced off in their primes, but still went at each other when they faced off and respected each other’s talent.

Michael Jordan’s admiration for Dr. J


Michael Jordan and Julius Erving’s admiration was mutual. In January 1985, the Chicago Bulls rookie was asked about facing Dr. J, and he responded,

“I have a lot of respect for him. As much as anyone else has.”

In his book, titled ‘For the Love of the Game,’ Jordan revealed that Dr.J was the player he admired the most when he entered the league. He wrote,

“When I came into the league, I wasn’t nearly as enamored with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as I was with Julius Erving. As a kid, my first nickname was ‘Magic’, but the only player I really knew about was Dr. J… I had a couple of good games against Philadelphia during my first season, but I couldn’t do anything when I was matched up with Julius because I had so much admiration for him. I was just happy to be on the same floor.”

Jordan and Dr. J’s admiration for each other has always been endearing to see, especially in an era where players from the past and present have berated those who played the game after or before them.