Julius "Dr. J" Erving, the airborne forward who led the 76ers to its NBA championship way back in 1983, is 64, and still hustling. He said today that his Dr. J Enterprises has signed a deal with Anthem Media Group, owner of the Fantasy Sports Network (FNTSY), to help it gain coverage with video giants like Comcast, DirectTV and AT&T, and marketing partnerships with pro leagues and advertisers.
Anthem, headed by veteran Canadian media executive Leonard Asper, also owns fantasy-sports site RotoExperts.com, the combat-sports-oriented Fight Network, SportsGrid.com (sports commentary), and a stake in Pursuit Channel (hunting). "Anthem needs to get into mainstream outlets," Erving told me. "When that's accomplished, when they are part of the basic cable subscription package, the fun really starts. Compared to how it is now, it'll be as easy as turning on CNN." Erving says he'll work his old Philly media-business contacts. He takes inspiration from CNN's energetic founder: "Ted Turner, he had people out there selling door-to-door."
Anthem doesn't compete with the Sixers' new fantasy-sports partner, DraftKings Inc., or the NBA's official fantasy-sports partner, FanDuel Inc.; to the contrary, "they get most of their content from Anthem," says Erving. "There's just one network. We're content providers. They are outlets."
Erving says he was recruited by Chris Doleman, the retired NFL Minnesota Vikings Hall of Fame defensive end who heads business development at Anthem, which has offices in New York, Toronto and L.A. "We're not rich enough to invest" cash in the company, Erving told me. "We structured a deal around earning equity," based on the deals he helps to close.
He's no stranger to business: "I've been diversified since halfway through my (pro) career," Erving says. He was an owner of Garden State Cable, had "strategic partnerships" with Converse and Spaulding, and joined New York investor J. Bruce Llewellyn as an investor in Coca-Cola's Philadelphia-area bottling plants before Llewellyn sold out in 2006. "That was the goal after hours: I didn't want to wake up every morning and be consumed by one thing," Erving told me. "I wanted variety. I got it, in spades."
Erving invested in a golf course near Atlanta, where he lives, only to fall behind on the loan and lose the property in a 2010 foreclosure. Soon after, he sold off more than $3 million in championship rings and other memorabilia; a spokesman told ESPN the deals were unrelated, and part of the sale proceeds went to charity. Buyers at the auction included then-Sixers executive Adam Aron, who said at the time he hoped to lure Erving back to Philadelphia to work with the team.
Erving says his current investments include three "medical-related collaborations, in cord blood, radiology and recordkeeping. And I'm still under contract with Converse," now part of Nike.
He'll be in Philadelphia on Friday to help the Sixers and the late Wilt Chamberlain's family kick off the new U.S. Postal Service stamp of the high-scoring center, a Philadelphia native who, like Erving, missed the multilmillion-dollar era of high NBA salaries.
I asked Erving what to tell young Sixers fans, like my son Carl (a guard on St. Mark's 2014 team, which made it to the state quarter-finals, and now a business student and Delaware Blue Hens broadcaster on WVUD-FM), about the future of the currently woeful pro franchise.
"This all started with Andrew Bynum," the star center who landed with the Sixers in a 2012 franchise trade, but failed to play a game, Erving said. "We got nothing. That really hurt."
Is there a better way for the ownership group led by billionaire investor Josh Harris to position the team, besides being so bad the franchise gets good draft position? "I don't think there's an alternative approach," Erving told me. "They are this far into it. It's a three- to five-year strategy. We're asked to be patient for the 2013, 2014, 2015 season. By 2018 we should have the makings of a competitor.
"But the guys still gotta get out and perform," Erving added. "I'm on record saying, 'By the time the 2016-17 season comes, you gotta have two guys on the team who are top 15 players.'
"You tell those kids to hang in there."