imagejewelry, grace museums or inspire awe throughout the world. The transformation from an opaque stone into a model of perfection that represents love, power and beauty requires exceptional skills and knowledge, as well as specialized tools, equipment and techniques. Only a dedication to the craft and a love for the art can produce those eye-catchingly cut diamonds that soar above their brethren to become symbolic stars in their own right. Those raw, uncut diamonds are perfect representations of children; every child has the potential to become a star, whether academically or through some physical prowess, it simply depends on the people supporting and shaping their self-image and potential. Inspire a child to dream, and the future is limitless.

IMG_2159That has been the crux of the last three days for Julius (Dr. J) Erving. The legendary basketball MVP returned to Philadelphia to host a three-day event in support of the Salvation Army, as well as multiple other charities that benefit children and youths, such as the GRAB A BALL & PLAY foundation, the DEFY Foundation and the Hempstead Dons. The Hall of Famer’s career started with the Salvation Army, and a coach that believed in him and refined his abilities through practiced techniques, Don Ryan.

The dedicated coach, who is still instructing young basketball players at the age of 72, strives to instill a 9 word mantra (Integrity, Character, Discipline, Effort, Courtesy, Standards, Fitness, Fun and Friendship) in the children he works with, one that is meant to inspire, encourage dedication, and incorporate strong values. Without this exemplary encouragement and training, the world may never have experienced the remarkable Dr. J, nor the astonishing feats that he was able to achieve, and it is with that background that Erving decided to give back to the community that gave him so much, and dedicate his time and resources towards shaping the next generation of stars.

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The Julius Erving Golf Classic took place over the expanse of three days and focused on the Erving Youth Basketball Clinic at the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Center, the star-studded Erving “Black Tie” Ball at Philadelphia’s historic Rittenhouse Hotel, and the Julius Erving Golf Classic (JEGC) at the Aronimink Golf Club. During my time at the Erving Ball, and the Erving Cigar & Jazz Experience at the Ashton Cigar Bar afterwards, I was given a mere glimpse of the commitment made by Dr. J and his supporters for the benefitting charities and the children they aim to support and encourage.

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Dr. J and his stunning wife, Dorys, attending the Ball exquisitely clad in a tuxedo and red dress, respectively, that were custom-designed by Michael Costello. While normally known for designing high-end fashion for individual celebrities, this was the first time the fashion industry was shown his talent for creating couture for a couple attending an event together. Although I was initially star struck by those in attendance and their breathtaking presence and fashionable attire, I was honored to see that their beauty truly shone from deep within.

Julius Erving’s philosophy can be summed up quite eloquently with a simple statement he made during his speech at the Erving Ball, “if you’ve got a shirt on your back and somebody’s got no shirt, and you’re cool, give him your shirt.” He went on to explain that this event was a chance to build on that in a deeper way, and to present children with the opportunities he once had, those which helped him become the legend that he is. Throughout the more than 3 years that he has taken on an involved role with the Philadelphia 76ers and their rebranding efforts, he has been looking for the chance to become more personally and physically involved with the area, in an effort to show his gratitude to the City of Brotherly Love. While the weekend was sadly affected by the unexpected and distressing news that not only his trusted friend, Moses Malone, but another valued coach and mentor since the age of 13, Ray Wilson, had both passed, Erving showed extreme strength and determination in an effort to keep the event’s focus on the cause at hand – children, especially those in need of as strong and memorable of supporters and mentors as those that the world had recently lost.

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His commitment was not in solidarity. While the night was filled with hall of famers and MVPs from a range of sports and franchises, as well as celebrities from a variety of entertainment genres, their impressive statures came not from who they all were, but from what they believed in; they believed in Dr. J and the children he was there to support. Their goal wasn’t to make the night about themselves or to market their newest ventures, it was to be there to encourage this nation’s future, to ensure that children and youths around the area know their dreams are always attainable with the right support and training, and to remind them that, despite their celebrity status, they were once merely dreamers themselves.

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I came to this realization not as an eavesdropping guest who may have heard the same speeches as everyone else, but through the other distinction bestowed upon me that night. Aside from attending the Black Tie Ball as guest, I was given the remarkable privilege of conducting interviews on the red carpet. As the esteemed sports-greats and screen favorites streamed though the beautiful Rittenhouse Hotel and down the carpet, I took the opportunity to ask them what this event meant to them and why they felt it was important. The most memorable explanations came from Alan Thicke, Vivica A. Fox and George Lopez. Each understood what this event meant to Dr. J, a man they held in deep regard, and had their own significance to add.

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As he reminisced and joked about Julius Erving being the first doctor he had ever seen (counting pediatricians, dentists and the like), at the ripe old age of 12, George Lopez took a moment to also consider how cherished each child is, and should be. He expressed that once you have children, “they all become your obligation,” and to see one sick or hurting in any way is a travesty that should be prevented at all costs. He supports Dr. J and his endeavors because he wants to be there for as many children as possible, in any way that he can, to make sure that they feel the support they deserve.

IMG_2202Alan Thicke and Vivica A. Fox shared those sentiments, as, when asked about the night and its importance, they both gladly proclaimed the children above all else. To them, the night wasn’t about catching up with the people they knew, but about making sure that children knew they were the stars of the night.

IMG_2196When stars relinquish their effervescence to the diamonds amongst them, the night lights up as it never has before. That is what happened this past weekend; through the generosity and support of individuals willing to be shape the next generation, the path to greatness was opened.

All it takes now is the courage to follow it and the determination to achieve.

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