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Exclusive: Julius Erving talks Ben Simmons, Sixers, Barkley, Golf Classic, and more

Julius Erving, Sixers

For a third consecutive year, Hall of Famer Julius Erving will put on his annual Golf Classic in Philadelphia. The three-day event will take place at The Logan Philadelphia Hotel on Sept. 9-11.

Ahead of the Julius Erving Golf Classic, the Philadelphia 76ers legend spoke to ClutchPoints in a wide-ranging interview about his annual event and a number of NBA topics, including what’s in store for the Sixers, Ben Simmons, LeBron James’ future, Magic Johnson, the BIG3 League, and his former teammate Charles Barkley.

Ryan Ward: The 3rd annual Julius Erving Golf Classic is coming up on Sept. 9-11. Can you tell us a little about the annual event and what it entails?

Julius Erving: “It entails a fundraising effort on my behalf and my team’s behalf in Philadelphia that benefits the Salvation Army, No. 1. No. 2 a foundation that my daughter, Jazmin Erving, is the head of called, Grab A Ball & Play.

“We’ve had tremendous support in the first couple of years from people from all over the country. Over the years, I’ve attended a lot of different individuals golf events because golf is my hobby. Reciprocity is true to form. Get out for them, and they come for you.

“We have a who’s who list in the world of sports and also entertainment. I’m very happy to do it and it being 9/11 weekend to acknowledge those who perished in that terrible tragedy.

“Have fun with a serious focus in mind.”

What motivated you to start this annual event?

JE: “I’ve had golf events in the past. In Massachusetts and New York before, you know, Long Island. It’s not something that was totally foreign to me. The last time I had a golfing event, it was to benefit the UMass program and my coach Jack Leaman’s memory at UMass, and then we hit the recession. There was a down period during the early 2000s all the way to 2010-11, and then the conversation came back in 2014.

“It followed my documentary and my book. Let’s do something meaningful. For a good cause. Keep our face and likeness out there in a positive way and let’s do it in Philly.”

You’re going to have a number of celebrities along with current and former pro athletes at your event. Who is the best golfer of the bunch?

JE: “Last year, Marcus Allen was the best. His team was the overall winning team, and he hit the winning shot because we had a playoff. So Marcus is very good. Reggie Theus is very good. John Starks, very good. Reggie Jackson is pretty good.

“Out of celebs, you’ve got these people from the world of entertainment who really love to play. Smokey Robinson. Cedric The Entertainer. Steve Harvey. George Lopez is good, very good. Two years ago he went to the winner’s circle.

“As much as I love it, I don’t play in the event. I’m the host 100 percent of the time. I’m trying to make people feel comfortable and thankful that they’re taking the time to support us, and I get to play the day after [laughs].”

A few up-and-coming Sixers players are joining you at the Golf Classic. What do you think of the team’s efforts to build the squad back up with all these promising young players?

JE: “I think the responsibility of management was challenged when they broke up a team that was a game away from the Eastern Conference Finals and said, ‘This team is not good enough. I don’t like the makeup, the balance, the economics. We’re going to blow it up. Continue this process to get us back to that level.’

“That still has yet to happen. I bought in. I feel I was very fortunate during my career never playing on a team that didn’t play in the playoffs. 16 years. Six Finals. Winner in three. ABA and NBA.

“There are a lot of guys that have been in the league a few years already, and they don’t even know what it’s like to be in the playoffs. I think the way there’s no sense of parity in the league that could be someone’s career without making the playoffs once because the good teams keep getting better and the bad teams are not getting better.

“Philly does have a plan. Philly will be a model to look at for other franchises with Josh Harris at the helm. I think with Brett Brown and with management obviously being friendly with one another, we gonna be alright. I can see the Sixers right now, if I were to count the top 30 young players in the league, the Sixers have four or five of them. They may not be the four or five best players in the league, but one or two of them could ascend to that level in a very short period of time.”

What is your impression of Ben Simmons? He’s getting a lot of attention heading into what will now be his rookie season.

JE: “Not having seen him play on the pro level, he’s a question mark. But he’s got credentials of being a No. 1 pick. Sharing the stage with this year’s No. 1 pick, [Markelle] Fultz and [Jahlil] Okafor. No. 1 pick doesn’t guarantee anything, but it does create an expectation that this guy, in the class that he came in with, was the pick of the litter.

“I’m expecting him to do great things, and by great things, I mean with his capability. Long, he can facilitate. Makes players around him better and he’s a tough matchup if he develops a low-post game. Gets a mouse in the house every now and then. 6’8″ getting a guy 6’1″, you’ve got to make the best of that.”

Will the Sixers’ playoff drought come to an end this year?

JE: “I don’t know. I’m looking at a lot of movement in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland is going to be the same. Boston is probably going to be the same. Toronto is probably the same, so there’s one-two-three.

“Playoffs, you got to be in the top eight…Chicago and Atlanta giving way to Philadelphia. I like that. You heard it here first [laughs].”

You played with Charles Barkley in Philadelphia for a short time. Do you have any funny Barkley story you can share?

JE: “There’s plenty of funny stories about Charles Barkley [laughs]! Where do you start? Day one he comes in and he’s like a lamb. ‘Yes, sir. No, sir. Mr. Erving. Mr. Cunningham.’ Then he suddenly got empowered. We couldn’t even have a practice. You know the way Charles used to take over games? He used to take over practice like that. Charles just grabs a rebound and goes with it. Goes through the other four or five players.

“He was just hard to coach [laughs] and I wasn’t even trying to coach him. Billy Cunningham was trying to coach him, so after one year, Billy says, ‘I’m going to move on.’ Leaves us with Matt Guokas [laughs].

“Charles, he ran by Billy but he ran over Matt [laughs]. If you know what I mean.”

Magic Johnson recently became the president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers. Do you see Magic succeeding in his new role and would you do something like that in the future?

JE: “I think Magic is going to succeed because he’s succeeded at every level and has taken on every challenge that’s put in front of him and channel it.

“It’s not the role for me. It’s just not. I had my time in basketball and now I kind of like having the freedom that I have…that role is one that locks you in.”

What was your experience like as a coach in the first-ever BIG3 League season?

JE: “Probably the best part was having George Gervin, Clyde Drexler, Rick Mahorn, and the other coaches around for 10 straight weekends, so we could go to dinner and chop it up about the old days. Get out on the golf course and knock the ball around a little bit.

“That was really the best part about it. Plus, we all brought our kids at different times where they got a chance to see us appreciated by the crowd. Our younger kids didn’t have that experience. My kids didn’t have that experience, so that was pretty neat.”

Will you be returning to the BIG3 next year?

JE: “I don’t know. I haven’t been asked, so I don’t have to answer just yet.

“It was a good summer. Next summer I am going to be involved with hopefully a series being pitched to me by ShondaLand, so we’ll see what happens with that what it involves and what it entails.”