LOS ANGELES – Basketball great and humanitarian Julius Erving was awarded the Hennessy Privilege Award Friday night at an intimate dinner inside the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. Mogul Russell Simmons presented Erving with the award and the two men led a conversation with roughly 100 athletes, agents and business executives on a variety of topics including mentorship, values and integrity, financial literacy and branding and brand alignment.
The Hennessy Privilege Award was created in 2003 to recognize outstanding individuals who give back to their communities through service, leadership or the arts. Past recipients include Julian Bond, Rev. Al Sharpton, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and Spike Lee.
“It’s very flattering,” Erving said following the event. “I have received a lot of awards in my life. The award is a surprise but it’s a pleasant surprise. For Russell [Simmons] to participate in it makes it that much more special.”
Erving candidly discussed the five mentors in his life that helped shape him along the way — including former Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell and comedian Bill Cosby. He’s returned the favor by serving as a mentor for other young people.
“I would say it’s a huge number,” Erving said of the number of people he’s mentored. “I had a policy when players came in the league, if they were on my team, [to] extend a hand of friendship to them. There would be multiple nights where I would invite them to my home or take them to lunch. When we would go on the road, just spending one-on-one time with them. If there were guys that came into the league with a lot of baggage, like a Quintin Dailey, I would try to spend some time with them.”
One of the greatest dunkers of all-time, Erving said he doesn’t think the NBA needs to entice players to enter the Slam Dunk contest, and says sponsors have had a negative impact on the event.
“I don’t really like the props but I think since it’s such a heavily sponsored event that [sponsors] have made suggestions that have been taken into consideration and sometimes applied. So that’s changed the nature of it. If they are going to have the LeBron Jameses and Kobe Bryants in the Slam Dunk contest competing against each other, then that’s probably a decision those guys are going to have to make as opposed to sponsors making the decision.”