Julius Erving watches players warm up before an NBA game...

Julius Erving watches players warm up before an NBA game between the Nets and the Spurs on Friday, March 6, 2020 in New York. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

When Kyrie Irving, who grew up as a fan of the New Jersey Nets, first signed with his favorite team last summer in free agency, he made a clever remark to hoping to be the “next great Irving” in Nets history. Of course, it was a sly reference to Hall of Famer Julius (Doctor J) Erving, who grew up on Long Island and attended Roosevelt High School before leading the New York Nets to ABA titles in 1973-74 and 1975-76 before they merged with the NBA, where Erving starred with the Philadelphia 76ers.

For the first time since the Nets moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn, Erving was the team’s special guest Friday night at Barclays Center. The first 10,000 fans to attend the Nets-Spurs game received a Doctor J bobblehead doll.

The Nets honored Erving with a video tribute in the second quarter, and the NBA legend stood up at his courtside seat to acknowledge the warm applause.

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson was just six years old during the first of Erving’s three Nets seasons, but as a Northport native, he certainly was aware of the great Doctor J.

“I was real little when he was in his heyday with the Nets,” Atkinson said. “He was kind of like Michael Jordan. Who is this guy? How smooth he was. Just a great, great player. Obviously, he’s a Long Island product. Have to mention that.

“For me, it’s really special. He really helped pique my interest in basketball. I remember going out and trying to palm the ball and do that underhand dunk and all that stuff. It’s great that he’s here. I think there are a lot of people in this area that [feel] he’s a Net. I know the Sixers want to claim him, which I understand.”

Erving was not made available for interviews with the media that cover the Nets on a regular basis, but he sat for a brief interview with SNY, which televises the games. Atkinson said he did not ask Erving to address the team because “he hasn’t been here in a while…I’ll ask him down the line.”

More Brooklyn Nets