We all have that one play. The play that delays time to process the visual feat. The watershed moment where you know exactly where you were. The brimming excitement just waiting to be talked about it. The play that kind of, sort of makes up for the nine-dollar beer that you slightly spilled on the way back to your seat.
For Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza, Julius Erving’s rock the cradle dunk was that play.
Dr. J’s Cradle Dunk
The Philadelphia 76ers hosted Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers on a cold day in January 1983. Dr. J comes away with a loose ball near the sideline. He glides down the court, knee-length socks and all. Lakers guard Michael Cooper sets up for a meeting at the rim.
As Buzz Lightyear said, “I don’t believe that man’s ever been to medical school.” To be a doctor in the NBA you don’t need four years of schooling. The only requirement is to rock the baby to sleep.
The former ABA star took two giant steps, cradled the ball, and slammed it home. The Philly crowd went bananas. From an alternate angle, the crowd stands up in anticipation as Dr. J puts it in gear. They feel the rarity of the in-progress dunk. After realizing he couldn’t make a defensive play, Cooper made the wise decision to duck out of the way. It was a preview of Erving, Moses Malone, and the Sixers sweeping the Lakers in the NBA Finals later that year.
The cradle slam holds a secure place among the greatest dunks in NBA history. Some of the greatest dunkers ever such as Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Dominique Wilkins have to be jealous. The power, the finesse, and the finish are glorious. It was just another dunk for Erving. He hustled back on defense like it was nothing.
NBA TV’s The Doctor documents Erving’s playing days and accomplishments. The cradle dunk has a special place amidst Erving’s illustrious career. The eruptive crowd couldn’t keep it down even with a sleeping baby. Who can blame them?