HE TALL, sophisticated-looking, gray-haired African-American man was just another guy in the elevator of a Tampa, Fla., hotel.
He was just another fan in town to see the Eagles play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their NFL regular-season finale, a meaningless prelude to the playoff meeting in Philadelphia between the same two teams. (Well, maybe not just another fan, because he was there as a guest of Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, a good friend.)
He was wearing a protective boot on one foot, recovering from minor toe surgery. Just another guy on his way to his room. That's all the next guy who stepped into the elevator knew. The guy was breathless.
"Did you see what Michael Jordan just did?'' the guy yelped.
"He scored his 30,000th point.''
"Yeah, he did.''
"That's hard to do.''
The tall, sophisticated-looking guy got off at his appointed floor. "He didn't know who he was talking to,'' Julius Erving said, chuckling. "I never told him.''
Julius Erving with the ABA's New York Nets.
That April 17, 1987 - nearly 15 years ago - he had scored 38 points against the Indiana Pacers, getting to 30,000 on his 36th?
And therein rests a conundrum for Erving, the legendary Doctor J. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, the late Wilt Chamberlain and Jordan all reached 30,000 exclusively in the NBA. Doc put up 11,662 in the ABA, 18,364 in the NBA.
"If you look at the NBA statistics, they don't tell the true story of my story, of a lot of other players' true stories,'' said Erving, who plans to be in town for the All-Star Weekend events that begin tomorrow. "It's as if it never happened.''
Two pages of the Official NBA Guide include some combined NBA/ABA statistical leaders.
"Where 99 percent of the people don't know about it,'' Erving said.
Erving took his spectacular game through two seasons in Virginia with the Squires and three in New York with the Nets. He won three scoring titles and two championships in that fabled league with the red, white and blue ball. He played in the last ABA All-Star Game, for the All-Stars against the league-leading Denver Nuggets, coached by current Sixers coach Larry Brown.
He was the shining light of the first slam-dunk contest, on a magical evening that included a concert by Kenny Rogers. The next season, he was playing for the East in the NBA All-Star Game, and Brown was coaching the West.
When that final ABA season ended in 1976, the Sixers bought his contract from embattled Nets owner Roy Boe, paying Boe and Erving $3 million each.
When then-Sixers general manager Pat Williams told then-Sixers owner F. Eugene Dixon that Erving was available, Dixon asked exactly who Erving was.
"He's the Babe Ruth of basketball,'' Williams said.
"Are you recommending this?'' Dixon asked.
"Yes sir, I am,'' Williams replied.
With Erving, the Sixers went to the Finals four times, finally winning the championship in 1983. In 1993, Erving was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame; three years later, he was included among the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
"If all of those moments, in both leagues, were celebrated as they happened, if all of the achievements were documented then, why aren't they recognized now?'' Erving said.
"I hear talk on TV about how four men in history have scored 30,000 points, and I know I did. But if I stand up in front of a group and talk about it, people would say it sounds self-serving.
"It wouldn't be self-serving of the NBA to recognize what the players in the ABA did. I find it very disappointing that we're not recognized.''
The combined scoring list includes Moses Malone, 29,580; Dan Issel, 27,482; George Gervin, 26,595; Rick Barry, 25,279; and Artis Gilmore, 24,941 - all players of impeccable reputation in both leagues.
Erving averaged 28.7 points in the ABA, 22.0 in the NBA. If scoring had been all it was about, he knows he could have done more.
"Could I have scored 30 a game with the Sixers?'' Erving said. "That was never my role with them, that wasn't what I was brought there to do. And that's not my point. I'm just saying that a lot of documented history isn't being recognized, other than on those pages in the Guide.
"It's a battle I know I can't win, because if I lodge a public campaign it makes me look bad, and the players from our league have already been disappointed enough.
"And I'm not living in the past, either. I have a full cup, I have more than enough to do. It's just something that came to mind, something I've always thought about. I thought about it when that guy got on the elevator and told me what Michael Jordan had done.
"I did that, too. But it's like we played in a league that never existed.''