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Trailing 113-112 in Game 7 of the 1986 Eastern Conference Semifinals on the road, the Philadelphia 76ers had the Milwaukee Bucks right where they wanted them. The Sixers had eliminated the Bucks from the playoffs in four of the last five seasons. Milwaukee had never won a Game 7 in the postseason. Julius Erving had the ball in his hands.

Erving had a good look. He was wide open from 15 feet out. He missed. The final buzzer sounded. The Bucks hung on for the victory and met the Boston Celtics in the conference finals. After the game, there was no sulking, nor were there any excuses from Erving. He handled the gut-wrenching loss just the way you’d expect — with class.

At age 35, Julius Erving was still going strong

Philadelphia 76ers forward Julius Erving guards Denver Nuggets forward Bobby Jones during an NBA game at McNichols Arena on Jan. 30, 1977, in Denver, Colorado. | Mark Junge/Getty Images.

Julius Erving was 35 years old when the Bucks finally took care of the Sixers in the postseason. Despite his age and the fact he was taking part in his 15th year of professional basketball, he still showed he could get it done. During the 1985-86 season, Dr. J played 33.4 minutes per game and averaged 18.1 points and 5.0 rebounds on a good team.

Erving began his pro career with five seasons in the ABA, where the led the league in scoring three times. During his 11 years with the Sixers, he averaged 22.0 points and 6.7 rebounds. He was an NBA All-Star all 11 seasons.

He and Sixers newcomer Moses Malone won a championship in their first year together. During that 1982-83 season, the Sixers had, by far, the best record in the NBA. Philadelphia was the lone team with 60-plus wins, finishing with a 65-17 record.

The Sixers had gone to the 1982 NBA Finals, but the Los Angeles Lakers ousted them in six games. In 1983, however, the teams met again for the championship. The Sixers dominated with a four-game sweep.

Erving played one more season after that ’86 loss to the Bucks. He was All-NBA seven times and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.

Erving handled the 1986 loss to the Bucks with class

Erving had the final shot against the Bucks in 1986. If he makes it, the Sixers advance to the conference finals. If he misses, they go home. While many expected him to make the wide-open shot, he missed.

“When I saw Doc take the last shot, I knew, I was positive, he would make it,” said Bucks coach Don Nelson after the game, per Sports Illustrated.

“I was the most surprised person in the whole world when it didn’t go in. Doc’s made so many big ones over the years you just expect it.” 

For Erving, there were zero excuses.

“It was a good shot,” he said. “I just missed it.”

There was no finger-pointing. There was no getting down on himself. Despite the missed shot, Erving saw an exciting seven-game series that went right down to the wire.

“A classic series with a classic finish,” said Erving. “It’s part of the beauty of the game to have a battle like this.”

They don’t make ’em like Erving anymore.


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