For the longest time, Doctor J was the basketball player and Julius Erving was the man.
Gradually, the two personalities merged as Erving became appreciated for himself, rather than for the instantly recognized nickname attached to the skywalking legend of the old American Basketball Association.
When the time came to announce his retirement, however, it was Erving, and not Doctor J, who said the time had come to pinpoint the end of his career.
"Last season was a season spent evaluating the toll the game of basketball takes on my family life and, with each passing day, I saw the effect it had on the kids," said Erving, the father of four who has announced he would retire at the end of the current season.
Erving had given some thought to quitting at the end of the 1985-86 season but decided to return for at least one more year. During the summer, the Utah Jazz offered Erving, who was a free agent, a two-year contract but he chose to sign a one-year deal with the 76ers because he did not want to uproot or be away from his family.
Through training camp, Erving had hedged when asked if he intended to play only one more year. He did not announce his decision until Philadelphia opened the season, distributing a one-page statement during the first quarter of the 76ers' first game.
"I didn't want people to persuade me one way or another," he said. "It was a decision I had to make. And did make. And upon making it, I knew this was it. I look over the history of the game and the number of times the decision has been made in a wishy-washy way versus a concrete way and I kind of shudder."
It was important to Erving that he leave the game on his own terms and with his skills intact. At age 36, he has lost a step or two but he can still show some of the old flashes.
"He can do it for stretches of time," said Philadelphia Coach Matt Guokas. "Even if he can't do it like he could when he was 23, 24 or 25, he still has some life in his legs and can get make some great plays to get the crowd alive.
"He realizes he is productive. He wants to go out on a high note, not a sliding note."
He also wants to go out on a happy note.
"I'm going to enjoy every minute of this season," Erving said. "Coaches hollering, players in disarray, I'm going to enjoy it all. If it ever looks like I'm not enjoying it, tell me 'Hey, you said it was all going to be fun."'
Erving said the decision to retire was a gradual one, not caused by any bad game or single event.
"It was no individual thing associated with the game," he said. "It is what it is--a real peaceful feeling inside of me that it should be my last year. The timing is right for me. It may not be for the fans or my teammates but this is an individual decision."
Erving, who is in his 11th season with the 76ers after playing for five years in the ABA, is the third-leading scorer in pro basketball. His 29,021 points entering this season trailed only Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He won three most valuable player awards in the ABA and one in the NBA and has one NBA championship ring.
"He's the one I'll miss the most," said Danny Vranes, in his sixth season in the NBA and first as Erving's teammate. "He made the ABA what it was. Being in an ABA city, everyone would get excited when he was coming to town. He brought a new dimension to the game with his high-flying dunks and moves. He brought the game to new heights."
And he knew when it was time to go.
"It just felt right," Erving said. "It just made sense."