Basketball legend Julius Erving returned to his hometown of Roosevelt Thursday as Nassau County celebrated the career of the sports icon by renaming the street where he lived as a teenager.
The basketball hall of famer, also known as Dr. J, emerged from an SUV just before 3 p.m. and was immediately swallowed up by a scrum of fans that braved a torrential downpour to shake hands and hug the hometown hero.
The Hempstead-born Erving eventually made it to a podium waiting for him on the corner of Nassau Road and Pleasant Avenue, but not before embracing Hempstead Village trustee Don Ryan, who coached a young Erving on Hempstead’s Salvation Army team before the budding basketball star moved to Roosevelt. He remains one of Erving’s closest confidants.
“What a wonderful opportunity,” said Erving, 63, wearing a blue Roosevelt cap. “It’s raining, but it ain’t raining on the parade.”
Erving, who joined Ryan’s Salvation Army team when he was 12 years old and later starred at Roosevelt High School, reflected on his time on LI as a teenager and how his return brought back memories of his family.
“The name on the street is going to be mine,” he said, “but I wouldn’t have it if it wasn’t for them.”
Renaming Nassau Road from Pleasant Avenue to the Southern State Parkway required approval from the Nassau County Legislature, which unanimously passed the legislation last month.
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead), who sponsored the bill and spearheaded the event, said having Erving as the local hero was always a source of pride for many in Roosevelt who will never forget Dr. J’s infamous slam dunk from the free-throw line—the first ever from that distance—during a slam contest in Denver in 1976.
Abrahams, perhaps the tallest member of the Nassau legislature, joked how he appeared diminutive standing next to Erving, adding that it was a “great honor” to be able to look up at the basketball icon in person.
Erving is best known for his soaring trips to the basket during his time in the NBA, but it was his high-octane performances in the American Basketball Association, an obscure league that later merged with the NBA, that remains the stuff of legend.
Dr. J starred at the University of Massachusetts before joining the ABA’s Virginia Squires. He later returned to LI as a member of the New York Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets) in 1974, where he would play his home games at the newly built Nassau Coliseum.
Erving earned three ABA Most Valuable Player awards with the Nets and led the team to two championships.
“Julius is a tremendous part of this community,” smiled Ryan.
Erving led the crowd of nearly 100 fans in the singing of the Roosevelt High School song and finally climbed atop a ladder to officially rename the road where he once lived to Julius W. Erving Avenue.
He ended the speech by promising to become more involved in the community by working with local government to help push social and economic initiatives. It is important to reinvigorate the hamlet and to do away with “broken down buildings [and] dilapidated houses,” he said.
“I’m going to play my role,” Erving pledged. “I’m going to play my part.”