Yes, the Legend, Dr. Julius Erving of basketball fame and greatness, was in the same restaurant as our family having lunch today.
Of course, we had followed him there, since this was All-Star weekend in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the first time our city has hosted these festivities since 1993.
I heard Dr. J was staying at the downtown Marriott, along with all of the legends of NBA history, and so we camped out in the lobby until we spotted him eating…and thus, we got a table!
Soon he was making his way out to more meetings.
He was stopped at every table, fans and families eager to say hello, as my family, anxious for a photo and autographs, sat wondering how dad might stop him.
Now his handlers came to his rescue, just as he was coming towards us, to whisk him away.
I knew my chance was slipping by.
I also knew that he wouldn’t have time for what my family wanted, and I also know what it’s like to not have time to talk with everyone, even if you want to.
As he passed by me I said, very hesitantly,
“Dr. Erving, I know you’re in a hurry and respectfully was hoping…”
He cut me off.
“I’m so sorry, I just have to be on my way,” he stated.
“I understand. I was hoping you might be willing to quickly say hello to my family and children.”
Graciously, he turned, and offered his hand to my 16-year old son, who immediately jumped up and shook the biggest hand he’d ever seen, as Dr. J said,
“It is wonderful to meet you all, I’m sorry as I’m already late to a meeting.”
We all said hello, that it is ok, and I replied,
“We are just honored to meet you, thank you for bringing so much joy to us through the years.”
He smiled, nodded, turned, and left.
My family was thrilled.
We weren’t in any way disappointed.
We knew it was inappropriate to ask someone of his caliber in that moment for an unreasonable request, such as a photo with our whole family, or an autograph.
I am thankful my children were sensitive to that.
After all, we had just come from the All-Star practice session, paying an unreasonable amount for tickets to watch current players casually shoot and miss 3’s, and stand as far from the fans as possible, as my sons reached through screaming strangers over balconies with markers, jerseys, and basketball cards in hopes of getting an autograph.
My sons somehow came away with everything signed.
Zion, Ja, Donovan, Giannis…the biggest names of today’s game, signed their cards and sweatshirts, to their astonishment and satisfaction.
Overpriced event now became invaluable.
The kids were thrilled, and had already gotten their fill by lunch time.
Now, here was Dr. J.
The greatest player they have ever met, and possibly ever will, and my children acted with great dignity and maturity.
I was especially grateful my teenage son was automatic in his respect, to have jumped up to shake the hand of a man offering it, no matter a friend, neighbor, or NBA Legend.
He nearly knocked the entire table over in his quickness to leap to his feet and spin around to face the man.
That’s my kind of young man.
This is also that same son who owns Dr. J’s 76ers #6 jersey, and wears it often to Jazz games, as he was so disappointed in himself for this day wearing his Luka Doncic #77 Mavs jersey and Magic Johnson Lakers jacket.
We are truly fans of basketball through and through.
I’ll never forget the first time I met a hero of mine.
My Dad stopped him in the halls of the Salt Palace in 1987, I was 9.
“Mr. Pistol Pete Maravich, this is my son, Jason, he is maybe your biggest fan!”
Pistol bent down to my eye level and in his southern drawl said,
“Are you practicing the basics? Dribbling, passing, shooting properly?” he asked.
“Yes sir, Mr. Maravich!” I stammered.
“Good job! Great to meet you,” he replied, as he strode off into the haze.
He passed away the next year.
I asked my Dad if he had ever met him before, even though my Dad had front row seats to Utah Jazz games my entire youth, he said, “I’ve said hi to him, but we’ve never really spoken. He’s a neat guy.”
I remember thinking, as a little kid, “Wow, he was more interested that I speak with my hero than him taking the time for himself.”
I knew, if ever the opportunity to introduce my children to a hero, that’s how I would want to do it.
Today with Dr. J was that day.
Celebrity culture is tricky.
Humans who do great things are treated like public property and objects without feelings or schedules.
It is assumed they should always be willing, constantly interested in meeting fans and doing whatever they need.
I can testify to this.
There have been times I’ve been in middle of eating a kale salad or caviar, and been interrupted by a well intentioned dad wanting me to do the raptor for his children at the next table…
Kale and caviar make your teeth look horrific enough, let alone stopping a person from eating to become a prehistoric dinosaur and make people laugh.
I’m not even famous as a Z-level celeb, and I find it annoying! Imagine being actually world famous everywhere you turn!
Dr. J and I had a great interaction, he was cordial and amazing with my family, and in that was extremely gracious.
He kept the promise as a celebrity, while we kept the promise as fans.
Think about that the next time you see someone at an event, in a conversation, in a space where it may be best to wait your turn, not make unreasonable demands or requests, and keep the promise to be a decent human in connection and allowing someone to breathe.
This weekend was about interaction with famous people, and they know that.
And it was also about learning how to respectfully engage, never assume what ought to be done, and instead be grateful for the moments to rub shoulders with giants.
Thank you Dr. J, you absolutely lifted my family today, as we have enjoyed so many hours watching your greatness and all you have mentored in today’s NBA game.
After the encounter, my daughter surprised me and shared that she snapped this photo during the interaction!
LOL and… go figure.
~ Jason Hewlett
Husband, Father, Writer, Mentor, Hiker
- Speaker Hall of Fame * Award-Winning Entertainer * Coach & Mentor
- World’s Only Keynote Speaker utilizing entertainment, musical impressions, and comedy to Create Legendary Leadership through the Power of Commitment
- Author of “The Promise To The One”