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Hakeem Olajuwon’s five most impressive Ramadan performances The Hall of Famer played Jordan, Barkley, Robinson and Ewing while fasting, but how did he fare?

When sunset strikes, all around the world Muslims are dunking samosas in chutney like Giannis Antetokounmpo posterizing Aron Baynes. In fact, during this year’s holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, fasts are being broken and thirst quenched just in time for the Splash Brothers to tantalize us with how wet they are.

Despite the challenge of fasting this year during some of the longest days of summer, Ramadan continues to be a festive time for Muslims who sacrifice their appetites in hopes of becoming closer to the divine. Just as Stephen Curry battles through a knee injury to achieve his ultimate goal of another NBA championship, so too are Muslims pushing through this trying month.

For many Muslim fans of the NBA, Ramadan is also a reminder of when their two worlds collided in the shape of Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon. In the mid-1990s, Muslims in America were misunderstood in much the same way they are today, conflated in popular imagination with terrorists rather than seen as ordinary American citizens. But then Olajuwon challenged himself to observe fasts while playing during the month of Ramadan and raised awareness of another aspect of what a Muslim could be. He wasn’t just The Dream. To many Muslim-Americans, he was the epitome of the American Dream.

Olajuwon told The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears last year, “As for fasting, it is a spiritual mindset that gives you the stamina required to play. Through Allah’s mercy, I always felt stronger and more energetic during Ramadan.”

Even his former teammates marveled at Olajuwon’s ability to play during the month. “There are 48 minutes to a game and for you to play 42 minutes of that 48 and not even be able to take a sip of water, that is just phenomenal,” Robert Horry once said.

But the story of Olajuwon’s greatness during Ramadan may not be so simple. A closer look through the archives of the Houston Chronicle shows that Olajuwon’s observance of Ramadan evolved during his time in the league.

During Ramadan in March 1992, Olajuwon was sidelined while being “embroiled in hostilities with the Rockets.” Things got so bad between the team and their star player that season, he at one point demanded a trade. At the time, Olajuwon was not fasting on game days, so he was grateful for the opportunity to complete his fasts despite being suspended from the team:

“They have suspended me, so I’m not making any money.

“But fasting is priceless.”

Islam’s lunar calendar means Ramadan shifts up about 11 days every year. This year it takes place through May and June, whereas when Olajuwon played the holy month took place between March (early on in his career) and November (by the end of his career). When Olajuwon began fasting for Ramadan during the 1993 season, he told reporters, “I cannot do it on game days. So what I have to do is make up for the days I miss after the season.”

Olajuwon’s decision to not fast during game days early in his career was not an abdication of his religious responsibility, as Muslims who are traveling, as Olajuwon often was, can choose to make up their fasts at a later time.

But Olajuwon’s perspective on fasting shifted after a conversation with fellow Muslim NBA star Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. Olajuwon recalled the conversation with Abdul-Rauf to the Chronicle’s Michael Murphy: “We were discussing one day the excitement and the motivation to go all the way,” Olajuwon said. “When you are on the road, you are allowed to make it up. But to go all the way instead of delaying it to make it up [is exciting].”

So, beginning in February 1995, Olajuwon began fasting during game days. Incredibly, he was named NBA Player of the Month that month. He also fasted on game days during the holy month in 1996 and 1997. Olajuwon missed Ramadan in 1998 while recovering from knee surgery, and the lockout-shortened season in 1999 did not have any games during Ramadan. In 1999, Olajuwon did not return to the Rockets’ lineup until after Ramadan ended because of an injury.

In 2000, Olajuwon was playing significantly fewer minutes than in his prime, but he did fast during his last season with the Rockets. He also observed Ramadan the following year while playing limited minutes with the Toronto Raptors.

But not all of Olajuwon’s performances while fasting were created equal. Most of the games in which Olajuwon observed the fast tipped off after sunset, when he was allowed to break the fast. Which meant that at least during the game, he could drink water and have a light snack if necessary. With less food in his body, he claimed, he would experience less back pain. And rather than spending the day leading up to road games ordering room service, Olajuwon felt lighter and more energetic after a small snack to break the fast before tipoff of those night games. He once told the Los Angeles Times that other NBA stars should try it. “If they only knew,” he says, “they would be fasting.” Last summer, Celtics star Jaylen Brown, who “declined to share what religion he identifies with,” seemed to take his advice.

Spiritually centered, and sufficiently nourished, Olajuwon feasted on opposing teams at night after breaking his fast during the three Ramadans he observed between 1995-97. For example, after his first game-day fast on Feb. 2, 1995, Olajuwon dropped 41 points in a win over the Utah Jazz. On Jan. 30, 1997, Olajuwon tallied 48 points and 10 rebounds while playing 46 minutes in a close loss to the Denver Nuggets. When asked about how fasting on game days affected his performance, Olajuwon told the Houston Chronicle near the end of Ramadan in 1995: “But really, it doesn’t affect me except on day games.”

That wasn’t modesty. Indeed, his most impressive Ramadan performances were the handful of times he had to play in nationally televised games on Sunday afternoons while fasting. Playing against Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley and David Robinson already posed enough of a challenge, but Olajuwon went head-to-head against his generation’s greatest players without even the opportunity to hydrate until hours after the final buzzer.

Olajuwon was not superhuman while battling the league’s best under these conditions, going 2-3 in the five Sunday afternoon games he played while fasting in his prime. But his resilience and determination did show millions of fans, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, just how super a human could be.

’94-’95 stats Regular season Ramadan
Games played 72 15
Minutes 39.6 39.7
Points 27.8 29
Rebounds 10.8 10
Assists 3.5 3.9
Steals 1.8 1.7
Blocks 3.4 3.3
’95-’96 stats Regular season Ramadan
Games played 72 13
Minutes 38.8 40.5
Points 26.9 26.1
Rebounds 10.9 9.7
Assists 3.6 2.8
Steals 1.6 1.1
Blocks 2.9 2.8
’96-’97 stats Regular season Ramadan
Games played 78 14
Minutes 36.6 37.3
Points 23.2 25.4
Rebounds 9.2 8.3
Assists 3.0 3.4
Steals 1.5 2.1
Blocks 2.2 2.1

*LeBron James led the NBA in minutes per game in 2017-2018, averaging 36.9 minutes per game

Hakeem’s top five Ramadan performances

We ranked Olajuwon’s greatest performances while fasting in his prime. Whether it was bad luck or divine intervention, four of the five matchups came against future Hall of Famers. He put up some monster stat lines, but also suffered humbling defeats. I mean, he took an L to Rony Seikaly.

Getty Images; AP

No. 5: Rockets @ Magic (L, 90-103)
Feb. 2, 1997

Hakeem Olajuwon: 33 mins, 17 pts, 8 rebs, 4 asts, 3 blks; Rony Seikaly: 39 mins, 29 pts, 7 rebs, 1 asts, 1 stl, 1 blk

Olajuwon’s final game in which he fasted during his prime is definitely one he’d like to forget. Opposing center Seikaly was so dominant, he had the Chronicle’s Eddie Sefkoe writing: “If you didn’t know better, you would have sworn the Orlando Magic had Shaquille O’Neal again.” Seikaly, who is better known these days as a house music DJ than a basketball player, outscored Olajuwon by a dozen points. Although the Rockets were without an injured Barkley, they still expected better against a middle-of-the-road Orlando team that was dealing with injuries of its own.

If it’s any consolation, Seikaly would later refer to Olajuwon as his toughest matchup in the league: “He would shake you around and you were all shook up.”

As embarrassing as this loss was, a week later it was just a footnote in Olajuwon’s amazing career. On Sunday, Feb. 9, Olajuwon celebrated the Eid holiday, which marks the end of Ramadan, at the All-Star Game in Cleveland, where at halftime he was officially named to the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players list.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

No. 4: Rockets @ Spurs (L, 79-93)
Feb. 18, 1996

Hakeem Olajuwon: 40 mins, 18 pts, 10 rebs, 2 asts, 1 stl, 7 blks; David Robinson: 42 mins, 25 pts, 12 rebs, 5 asts, 2 stls, 7 blks

A Rockets loss during Ramadan meant endless speculation as to how Olajuwon’s insistence on fasting affected his play and the team’s performance. After blowing a 15-point lead late in the third quarter against David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs in a nationally televised game on a Sunday afternoon, Clyde Drexler said after the game: “We all played like we had been fasting.”

Olajuwon led the Rockets with 18 points, along with 10 rebounds and 7 blocks in 40 minutes of playing time without so much as a sip of water. Robinson matched his seven blocks and added 25 points and 12 rebounds to give his team the edge.

After the game, the Chronicle’s Dale Robertson wrote that “to deny Ramadan depletes his strength and endurance is to ignore the obvious.” The next day, on the second game of a back-to-back, after playing 40 minutes while fasting on Sunday, Olajuwon broke his fast on the final day of Ramadan and laced up to battle the Sacramento Kings on Monday night. He played 46 minutes and scored 40 points, including the first six points of overtime, to lead his team to a victory.

Jed Jacobsohn/ALLSPORT

No. 3: Rockets @ Knicks (L, 117-122)
Feb. 19, 1995

Hakeem Olajuwon: 43 mins, 27 pts, 9 rebs, 3 asts, 3 stls, 4 blks; Patrick Ewing: 39 mins, 31 pts, 9 rebs, 5 asts, 2 stls

After losing to the Rockets in the NBA Finals in 1994, the New York Knicks were hungry for revenge. Olajuwon, on the other hand, was just hungry. During a nationally televised Sunday afternoon game in Madison Square Garden, Olajuwon lost the battle against Patrick Ewing. Despite being on the court for 43 minutes and contributing 23 points, Olajuwon was no match for Ewing, who scored 31. After the game, Olajuwon lamented: “I couldn’t challenge a lot of the shots. I had a burning in my chest all day from not being able to drink and didn’t play the kind of game that would allow us to win.”

Although Olajuwon admitted that fasting during daytime games can have a debilitating effect on his performance, he also stated: “I feel like the sacrifices I’m making now will make me stronger mentally when there is much more on the line.”

Maybe it is no coincidence, then, that the Rockets capped off this season with their second NBA championship in a row.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

No. 2: Rockets @ Suns (W, 124-100)
Feb. 5, 1995

Hakeem Olajuwon: 39 mins, 28 pts, 11 rebs, 3 asts, 3 blks; Charles Barkley: 41 mins, 24 pts, 11 rebs, 7 asts, 2 stls

Olajuwon began fasting on game days during Ramadan in 1995. After breaking his second fast of Ramadan, Olajuwon played his first game of the holy month and dropped 41 points on Karl Malone, John Stockton and the Utah Jazz in a rout. He followed that game with a nationally televised showdown on Sunday afternoon against Barkley and the red-hot Phoenix Suns. Playing one of the NBA’s best teams, Olajuwon could not drink during the game, but that didn’t stop him. He led the Rockets with 28 points and 11 rebounds in 39 minutes. And despite Barkley’s 24 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists, the Suns were no match for the Rockets.

Olajuwon followed up this performance with a third straight win, earning him NBA Player of the Week honors. An incredible feat for a player adjusting to fasting on game days for the first time.

Getty Images

No. 1: Rockets vs. Bulls (W, 102-86)
Jan. 19, 1997

Hakeem Olajuwon: 39 mins, 32 pts, 16 rebs, 4 asts, 4 stls, 5 blks; Michael Jordan: 43 mins, 26 pts, 14 rebs, 5 asts, 1 stl, 1 blk

On the second day of Ramadan in 1997, Olajuwon and the Rockets visited the Bulls in Chicago and got blown out in a night game against Michael Jordan and the defending NBA champions. Despite posting 29 points and 8 rebounds, no other Rocket scored in double digits, and the team then set its sights on a rematch between the last two NBA champions that was going to be nationally televised in the afternoon on Jan. 19. With Olajuwon fasting, you couldn’t blame many for thinking that Jordan was going to feast on the Rockets. Despite being without Barkley, the Rockets responded. Olajuwon played 39 minutes and led his team with 32 points and 16 rebounds. Although Jordan had 26 points and 14 rebounds, he could not find his shooting rhythm, and the Bulls collapsed after the Rockets went on a 19-0 run in the fourth quarter.

After the game, Rudy Tomjanovich said, “If this doesn’t quiet down the questions about it [Ramadan], I don’t know what will.”

The Undefeated does 2017 The highs, the lows and the must-reads

Here at The Undefeated, we spent a trying 2017 attempting to cover the world through your eyes. We had the Colin Kaepernick saga on lock, the NFL protests covered. We learned from Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng that “the biggest misconception is people thinking Muslims are terrorists.” We reveled at Whitley Gilbert’s wardrobe and watched Tarik Cohen shine at North Carolina A&T before he was a rookie standout with the Chicago Bears. We showed you chic street style at Afropunk, brought back Drumline and demonstrated that love knows no color. 2017 was a tough year, but TU brought it to you, warts and all.

Hey, 2017, we’d hate to miss you but love to watch you leave.

Experiences

Collage of significant black Americans

The Undefeated 44 most influential black Americans in history A collection of dreamers and doers, noisy geniuses and quiet innovators, record-breakers and symbols of pride and aspiration.

Sports

Artist rendition of LeBron James making his way to the court from the locker rooms

LeBron Is Crowned On a Detroit night, about a decade ago — via 48 points in double overtime — LeBron graduated from ‘phenom’ to ‘grown man’

Culture

Artist rendition of Whitley

Whitley’s World “You can’t unsee A Different World. You’ve seen it, it’s kind of engraved in your psyche.”

HBCUs

Photo of the Honey Beez performing

Alabama State Honey Beez bring positive plus-size attitude to HBCU dance scene “Where one of us lacks, the other one will pick up. We’re plus-size girls and we still go through bullying in college. But we’re more confident now, so it’s not as bad. But we have a real sisterhood, and this is our home away from home. The Honey Beez took me all the way out of my shell, and I love it.”

The Uplift

Serge Ibaka and his daughter in a pool

NBA standout Serge Ibaka is a standout single father too “Since I was young I always dreamed of myself traveling, envisioned at least three, four kids, five. And then, I’m living my dream right now and something I always love to do, and it’s fun. It’s really changed my life. It’s changed everything about me. The way I think and the way I live my life. It changed everything.”

Videos

Leon Bridges at his piano

Leon Bridges sings his rendition of the national anthem The critically acclaimed soul singer explores the themes of the anthem, creating a beautiful rendition that feels like both a hymn and a benediction

Original Photography

Woman with a wig made of pink flowers

Inside Afropunk “They’re just the ‘standard of beauty’ and here you can be what you want and THAT’S beauty.”

Podcasts

The Plug podcast logo

The Plug It’s the debut of The Plug, hosted by Chiney Ogwumike, Kayla Johnson, Justin Tinsley and Tesfaye Negussie. In episode 1, the crew dives into current events, discuss LaVar Ball’s latest news, NFL social activism and more. Plus, hip-hop icons Jadakiss and Fabolous join.

  • All Day – The Undefeated Podcast: Clinton Yates spent a day in New York profiling various parts of the culture, when news broke that a legend had died. After spending the morning with the creators of Jopwell, a startup helping students of color in the tech industry, the the afternoon with Nike for a new shoe release, he ends up in Queens to talk with a family friend and musician about the life and influence of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy.
  • America’s Black History Museum: 9/20/16 – Jill Hudson, Justin Tinsley and Clinton Yates talk about the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the 86th Emmy Awards. Plus, Mike Wise discusses his story about Joe Paterno.
  • Morning Roast – The gang is all together, talking national anthem protests, possible NFL players strike, potential renaming of Yawkey Way and latest Bachelor in Paradise drama.
  • The Morning Roast & Live at NABJ – Clinton Yates is in for Bomani, and in hour three he is joined by Marc Spears and Myron Medcalf to discuss all the happenings at the National Association of Black Journalists convention.
  • Rhoden Fellows: HBCU 468: 5/11/17 – Stephen A. Smith praised Isaiah Thomas’ compelling effort in the playoffs and explained Kevin Durant’s impact on Golden State. He also talked about attending a historically black university.
  • O.J.: Made in America: 6/11/16 – Domonique Foxworth is joined by guests Jason Reid, Raina Kelley, Ezra Edelman, Sarah Spain and Carl Douglas as they take a look at O.J.: Made in America.

Welcome back, Tiger Woods is coming back to the PGA as a human, not a symbol of his father’s or golf’s hopes and dreams

The father spoke glowingly about his son to anyone who would listen. Once, at an awards dinner in honor of his son, the father issued a bold claim — or, under most circumstances, an asinine boast.

“My heart fills with so much joy when I realize that this young man is going to be able to help so many people,” the father said. “He will transcend this game and bring the world a humanitarianism which has never been known before. The world will be a better place to live in by virtue of his existence and his presence.”

His son would “do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity.” Limiting the absurdity of such a prediction strictly to sports, that would be more than Arthur Ashe or Jackie Robinson or Jesse Owens. More than Muhammad Ali. The father’s logic (to stretch the definition of the word) was that the son was “more charismatic, more educated and more prepared for this than anyone.”

More charismatic than Ali.

“He is the Chosen One,” the father said, anointing the son who he also said would have more of an impact upon the world than Nelson Mandela.

More impact than Nelson Mandela.

This father isn’t LaVar Ball. His son Lonzo had not yet been conceived when these statements were made. These words uttered in 1996 are the vocal property of one Earl Woods, father of Eldrick Tont Woods or, as first his father and then fame named him — simply Tiger.

Earl Woods was many things at many times. He was a philanderer and, at times, an opportunist. But he loved his son deeply and passionately and believed absolutely in the once-in-a-lifetime talent his son carried on his shoulders. It’s an impossible question to answer, but worthwhile to ponder. Much like Kanye West and his late mother, is so much of Woods’ rudderless time in the past few years toiling between mediocrity, irrelevancy and frustration because his father and his absolute faith is gone?

J.D. Cuban /Allsport

That Woods is not as socially transformative as Ali is as expected as the rising of the sun. That’s just a wild boast into the wind (even if you believe it). It also does not seem possible in this time space continuum that he will eclipse Mandela’s legacy. He is not the Chosen One. And yet.

Woods did try. In the 21 years since those words were uttered, Woods changed the entire culture of golf. There is very little beyond the rules of play left unchanged in his wake. He became a tour de force, the most dominant player of his generation. There is such a thing as Tiger-Proofing and a Tiger Effect. Only Sam Snead has more tournament victories than Woods’ 79 victories, and his attack on Jack Nicklaus’ majors record was thrilling to watch. His father has died — its own complex story. Then Nov. 27, 2009, happened. The fire hydrant crash and all the revelations of all the infidelities obliterated his idealized image. Injuries ground his career to a halt. Then in May, his mug shot from a DUI arrest became as synonymous with his life story as the red polo on Sunday. And yet.

Here we are, as Tiger, almost 42 years old, a father himself, a ghost of the player he once was, embarks on another “return” to competitive golf. And he is still the most captivating name in the sport by a country mile. Tiger is why the 18-man Hero World Challenge is on TV. He’s why, as the 1,180th-ranked golfer in the world, he commands more attention than the 1,179 in front of him combined.

If only the son, in so many ways, hadn’t tried to live up to the prophecy his father set forth for him as if they were the Eleventh, Twelfth and Thirteenth Commandments. If only Woods had known that his father was wrong twice more in that benediction that could also double as a curse. There is no education or preparation for the burden he assumed.


Golf knows it needs Woods back more than Woods needs golf. Young stars such as Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, immensely talented and superstar golfers in their own regard, have failed to move the needle. There is no post-Tiger plan.

His dominance reverberated around pop culture in a way the game could have never imagined (or desired) for the better part of a decade — portrayed by Sean “Puffy” Combs” in The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money, Mo Problems” music video and the subject of legendary Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle bits. Not after his statistical tyranny over golf made Babe Ruth’s stats look trivial, even now a decade after injuries and scandal exiled him. And surely not after his game assured him a spot on golf’s Mount Rushmore.

Oh, and Woods unquestionably dominated America’s most segregated sport. Jim Crow didn’t fully perish. It continued to live in country clubs when it could no longer legally claim residency at buses, lunch counters and water fountains. Woods reigned in a sport that drew much of its identity from its exclusion, snobbery, socioeconomic status and walled-off fairways.

Getty Images

When asked about golf’s history with racism in 1990, a 14-year-old Woods’ answer was telling, cognizant of the world around him and perhaps more prophetic than anything Earl Woods envisioned.

“Every time I go to a major country club I can always feel [racism]. Always sense it. People always staring at me. ‘What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here.’ When I go to Texas or Florida you always feel it,” he said. “They say, ‘What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be here.’ And that’s probably because that’s where all the slavery was.” But in his very next statement, there was Earl Woods’ optimism, his aim-for-the-stars mentality shining through in his son. Woods recognized his power. “Since I’m black, it might be even bigger than Jack Nicklaus. I might be even bigger than him. I may be like a sort of Michael Jordan in golf.”

Diversity was an issue in golf long before Woods. That, not even he could change. Nor should that responsibility have sat so squarely on his shoulders.

Golf failed to expand its reach when it had the biggest phenomenon in sports on all the TVs, winning all the trophies and making it look good too.

The game will never see another Tiger Woods. That rare combination of irresistible force and immovable object that shook the game up forever and once made it almost cool. That so-rare combination of power, grace and infinite marketability. But every run has an end, and Woods’ is nearer than any of us would like to admit, even with the excitement of his return to competitive golf.

He returns to golf as a human, not a symbol. He’s a 41-year-old man, not the 26-year-old phenom. That Tiger is dead. At this point, he’s playing for two goals. He mentioned one Tuesday during the Hero World Challenge news conference. He wants his kids to see how good he was, not just through word of mouth and YouTube videos. That their dad was once a pillar of precision and skill in a sport that demands laserlike focus even on bad days. The other one — and this is a hunch, and he’d never admit it anyway — is to go out like Peyton or Kobe. Woods likely won’t eclipse Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships, but a 15th would be the nightcap on a career that’s seen meteoric highs and soul-crushing lows.

Throughout Woods’ decade of course destruction, it was never his job to recruit people of color to play more competitive golf. To get the kids, who years earlier would have only been allowed to be caddies, and turn them into the stars of tomorrow. Woods was a window, not a door. Symbolically, he did lead people of color to take up golf in ways they hadn’t in the decade. Diversifying the sport fell in golf’s lap. But here we are, nearly 21 years after Woods became a household name at the Masters, and golf has shown minimal progress in the area. In 2011, Joseph Bramlett became the first player of African-American descent to make the PGA Tour since Woods in 1997.

Much remains the same on the LPGA Tour too. Founded in 1950, only eight black women have played the tour. Althea Gibson and Renee Powell were the first two, Cheyenne Woods (Tiger’s niece) came in 2015, and this year there is Mariah Stackhouse. Many black female golfers at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are up against a lack of avenues to improve their games as programs are slashed. No black woman has ever won an LPGA title.

But beyond the pristine beaches of the Bahamas and the competitive but fraternal bond of the Hero World Challenge, one unsettling question and one certainty looms.

Question: If this is really the beginning of the end of maybe the greatest golfer to ever live, was it all worth it?

Fact: A chunk of this is on Tiger, a chunk on Earl. The great majority, however, falls on golf and how it chose to capitalize on Woods’ glory years and ignore the diversity of the sport long term — determined to keep their chosen one. Woods may still owe a debt to the people closest to him. Golf and all who love it, though, owe him.

Dr. J. talks new projects, challenges and a little golf in his next chapter after basketball Julius Erving’s annual golf classic is a melting pot environment for community ideas

The year was 1977, and it was Game 6 of the NBA Finals. The Philadelphia 76ers were battling the Portland Trail Blazers. This was when basketball was basketball — hardcore fouls, showboat dunking and working it out in the paint.

One player who stood 6-foot-7 was known as one of the chief dunkers of the ABA and NBA. He was Dr. J, and he just couldn’t be stopped. He made a play that has gone down in history as one of the strongest dunks ever, and for Julius Erving, known as The Doctor, it was effortless. He threw down a dunk over NBA legend Bill Walton. The highlight back then would glorify it for years to come.

That was Erving in his glory, before the air was put in front of Michael Jordan’s. The four-time MVP has been out of the game for 30 years, but he earned his long-awaited NBA crown over 16 seasons while on the hardwood.

Now after three decades, Erving’s post-basketball journey is all about taking on different projects and challenges the same way he soared over his opponents. On Sept. 10, Erving, dapper in a black tuxedo, prepared to grace fans on the red carpet of his third black-tie gala and discussed walking away from the game.

“One of the thoughts prior to leaving the game at age 37 was to make sure that no two weeks would be the same for a while, that there would be different types of challenges that come periodically. … And [I’m] just more interested in doing projects and setting short-term goals, finishing that, doing something else, even if it’s totally different,” Erving said. “It always had to be challenging, but not stay in that repetitive cycle I had to get in being a professional athlete.”

Erving’s gala was part of a three-day fundraiser weekend benefiting the Salvation Army that included a basketball camp, meet-and-greet sessions, the gala and two days of golf titled the Julius Erving Golf Classic. Along with his family, friends, guests and colleagues, he roamed about the star-studded weekend, hosted by ESPN’s Jay Harris. From Sept. 9-11 in Philadelphia, celebrity guests included Hall of Fame athletes Marcus Allen and Reggie Jackson, iconic supermodel Beverly Johnson, plus legendary recording artists Jeffrey Osborne, Eddie Levert, with rhythm and blues singer Ginuwine as the headliner.

“It’s a process to build the event as it became very conspicuous with the things that were happening in the Philadelphia school system and health care issues,” Erving said. “I think our event can draw attention and allows us to integrate on philanthropical side into the community once again beyond my playing days. You’re asking people and us to give of themselves and their time. We’re all under the same roof for fun but also for a serious underlying purpose, and that’s to find a way to maybe turn some things around that are not right. We can create the melting pot environment where people can come up with ideas, some good, some not so good, but take the best of what you hear and then act on it.”

Born Julius Winfield Erving II, the New York native was one of the founding fathers of the above-the-rim style of basketball. He was the face of the ABA during its time and continued as one of the well-known players after the ABA-NBA merger in 1976. Erving won three championships, four MVP awards and three scoring titles while playing with the ABA’s Virginia Squires and New York Nets and the NBA’s 76ers. He is currently ranked in the top five in scoring, with 30,026 points (NBA and ABA combined). He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993 and was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996.

Erving attended the University of Massachusetts in 1968 and played for two seasons. He left college to pursue a career in professional basketball in 1971 as an undrafted free agent. He later returned to school and in 1986 made good on a promise to his mother, earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts in creative leadership. He also holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Erving made his way back onto the court this summer as a head coach in the successful first season of the BIG3 league tournament, and he said that when he left the game for good back in 1987 his transition was well thought-out.

“The focus was not wanting to do just one thing anymore. From age 8, there was always basketball,” Erving said. “You had to perform, deal with coaches, fans, if you will … and the moving around … because the schedule, nobody plays all home games.”

Erving supports the younger generation of NBA players, their projects and community efforts.

“A lot of players, like the Kevin Durants of the world you see on TV, are just trying to inspire and motivate people to be better. But I just see that from a distance,” Erving said. “I haven’t really partnered any current players, partly because we coincidentally end up at the same place, like Alonzo Mourning and Dwyane Wade, so I get to interact with them there. Fortunately, they are respectful of the things I was able to do on and off the court, and sometimes they’ll give you feedback stating that they were motivated and inspired by what you did.”

Not including Tiger Woods on a list of the 50 Greatest Black Athletes is beyond an oversight — it’s an injustice Tiger, even more than being one of the most accomplished and decorated athletes who ever lived, is the greatest lightning rod sports has seen since a young Ali

Let’s get something straight: Any ranking of the greatest black athletes ever that doesn’t include Tiger Woods is not something I can get behind. This list, the result of public responses to surveys conducted by SurveyMonkey for The Undefeated, could be called “50 Great Athletes People Admire Most” or “Americans’ 50 Favorite Black Athletes.” But it ain’t a credible list of the greatest if it doesn’t include Tiger.

You can dislike Tiger and you can dislike golf, but if you fail to acknowledge his competitive brilliance, his dominance of the oldest sport on the planet, his impact culturally, athletically and economically, then you should recuse yourself from weighing in on an effort to rank the greatest black athletes. There’s no responsible definition of “great” in the context of sports that Tiger Woods doesn’t fit. Any conversation that isn’t driven by personal agenda couldn’t put him any lower than 10th.

Dumping on Tiger became a sport sometime around Thanksgiving 2009, and it hasn’t let up. Surely, some of the folks surveyed hold it against him because of his salacious infidelities, others because he called himself “Cablinasian” or whatever that was 20 years ago, others because he married a white woman, others because his body broke down and he couldn’t catch Jack Nicklaus, others because he didn’t play football or baseball but made more money than anybody who ever played either. Tiger, even more than being one of the most accomplished and decorated athletes who has ever lived, is the greatest lightning rod sports has seen since a young Ali.

But none of that speaks to the criteria. Eldrick Woods is (or was) otherworldly great, and he’s black (or as black as some other people on that list). If it’s easier for people to list, when asked, Gabby Douglas or Simone Biles, go right ahead. They’re great and black AND admirable, and there’s not one reason to object to either. But if you think either — or the great Herschel Walker, for that matter — has had 1/100th the impact of Tiger Woods the golfer, then you’re delusional.

I have five personal heroes who made the list, four of them childhood idols (Gale Sayers, Ernie Banks, Arthur Ashe and Walter Payton) and one who is to this very day one of my adult heroes, a man whose career I covered and whose life is exemplary (David Robinson). But I wouldn’t try to make the case that any one of those five was the best ever in the sport he played (well, maybe Payton) or created the drama week after week after week for more than a decade that Tiger did … or dramatically altered his sport the way Tiger did, or redefined what a participant in that sport can look like the way Tiger did.

I’d like to say that his résumé needs no review, but clearly (and sadly) from the results of this flawed exercise, it does. At age 20 he became the first man to win three consecutive U.S. amateur titles. Without having played a single tournament as a professional, he signed the most lucrative endorsement contracts in golf history (and if you think Nike pays hundreds of millions to nonathletes, go ahead and keep deluding yourself). He was the youngest to win the Masters, the fastest ever to ascend to No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings and, at 24, the youngest to win the career Grand Slam. You know how many people have twice been named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year? One. Tiger Woods. Not Jordan, not Ali — Tiger freakin’ Woods.

He held down the No. 1 ranking for 281 consecutive weeks, which is to say five-plus years. The Associated Press named him Male Athlete of the Year a record four times. Not Tom Brady, Tiger Woods. Golf, whether we’re talking prize money, TV ratings or weekend hacker participation, shot to the heavens when Tiger came aboard, and they’re sinking like a stone now that he’s gone. Nike, in the context of golf, was a startup company, and Tiger made it the worldwide leader in golf apparel. When he limped out of contention, Nike waved bye-bye to the business of making clubs and balls. Buick was so convinced that Tiger’s association with its cars spiked their sales, the company signed him to a $40 million endorsement deal.

You want to define Tiger Woods by competitive impact: Only Sarazen, Hogan, Player and Nicklaus have all won the four major championships that constitute the Grand Slam. And only Tiger has won all four consecutively.

You want to define Tiger by economic impact: Forbes says only Oprah Winfrey, among people of color, is richer. Golf Digest reported he made nearly $770 million and will soon pass $1 billion. You want cultural impact? Every time he tees it up, even the people who were too dumb to appreciate him from 1996 to 2007 are now begging for a comeback because they realize, as every business in the golf industry does, that Rory and Jordan and DJ and all the young guys put together can’t add up to half of Tiger Woods. He’s still the world’s most recognizable golfer, the world’s richest and most celebrated golfer. Bo Jackson, who made the list, spends most every day of every week of his second life trying to be like Tiger.

And while it’s difficult at best for most folks to muster up any admiration for Tiger these days, what the folks who participated in the survey collectively also fail to acknowledge is that Tiger conquered a sport that directed a whole lot of hostility his way. He wasn’t Jackie Robinson, but it wasn’t like he was walking into an NBA arena every night, especially his first two or three years on tour.

In the context of how we measure athletes, there’s no category in which Tiger Woods comes up short. He’s either the second greatest person to ever compete in his sport (to Nicklaus) or No. 1. The other people who qualify for that discussion in their respective sports (Jim Brown, Jordan, Magic, Bill Russell, Ali, Joe Louis, Serena Williams, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt, LeBron) are all included.

Woods being left off is a glaring omission, one that undermines the intelligence and wisdom of thousands and thousands of survey respondents. Kobe Bryant being left off is a head-shaker — so is Mike Tyson — and Jack Johnson is nearly as egregious an error as Woods. The international search to find somebody to beat Johnson is the origin of the phrase “great white hope.” His July 4, 1910, victory over Jim Jeffries in the “Fight of the Century” ignited race riots in more than a dozen cities. No black (or white) athlete since has had that kind of cultural impact nationally. You can’t make the argument that Joe Frazier is greater than Jack Johnson. But I’m willing to believe you have to be nearly 60 years old to have any idea of how important Johnson was not just to blacks and athletes but to the United States early in the 20th century.

You can’t even tell the story of the black athlete in America without serious examination of Johnson. And you can’t carry the discussion into the 21st century, no matter how young you are, without including the incomparable achievements of a black man who, like Johnson, was a first: Tiger Woods.