What do NBA Hall of Famer Julius Erving and Watergate have in common? Absolutely nothing … except for legal Hall of Famer– Archibald Cox.
It would be reasonable for a person to ask how the lives of two men working in such different professions could overlap. Professor Cox never performed a “Rock the Baby” style dunk and Mr. Erving never served as a special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation. Their lives intersected from approximately December 1972 until May 1973 when Cox served as an arbitrator in the Matter of Julius Erving and the Virginia Squires Basketball Club of the American Basketball Association.
Very briefly: Erving turned pro after his junior year at the University of Massachusetts and signed a 4-year contract with the Virginia Squires starting on October 1, 1971. In April, 1972 he signed a contract with the Atlanta Hawks of the National Basketball Association – hence the legal issue. (Erving claimed that the Squires contract was invalid.) Erving lost the case and returned to the Squires who folded shortly thereafter due to financial problems. He went on to a Hall of Fame career most notably with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Cox was unable to complete his engagement as arbitrator for this case. In early May, 1973 he accepted appointment as the first Watergate special prosecutor. In a letter to the attorneys for Erving v. the ABA, he apologized for removing himself explaining that, “It seemed to me that the same circumstances of national importance gave me no real choice but to undertake the assignment and made it proper to have to override the arbitral engagement.”
Historical & Special Collections holds the Archibald Cox papers, which has several boxes of material from his time as special prosecutor. The Library’s Watergate research material is enhanced by the James S. Doyle collection of Watergate material, and the papers of James Vorenberg, who was a senior assistant to Cox, (as well as a Harvard Law School colleague).