Hats off to Julius Erving, who exhibited tremendous class in defeat last Sunday. Though his team, the Philadelphia 76ers, lost its fierce seven-game battle to the Boston Celtics, he and several teammates, plus Coach Billy Cunningham, entered the Boston locker room to congratulate pro basketball's new Eastern Conference champs.
His mission would have been a noble gesture under any circumstances, but it carried special significance considering the team's litany of disappointments.
Since leading the New York Nets to a pair of ABA titles, Erving has seen a league championship slip away each of his five seasons in the National Basketball Association. The Sixers practically promised to make amends after losing the 1977 NBA finals to Portland. "We Owe You One" became the team's 1977 -78 slogan, utilized in a television commerical starring Erving.
This season the end came when Boston rallied from a 3-games-to-1 deficit to beat Philadelphia in dramatic fashion, winning the decisive seventh contest by a point. Many players might have retreated into shells of sorrow at this juncture , but Erving made his way through the Celtic locker room, shaking hands with those he had battled tooth and nail only minutes before. Not even Celtic benchwarmer Eric Fernsten was overlooked. Remembering Fernsten's strategic 10 -second entry into Game 7, Julius smiled and said, " Nice foul."