Matt Breen at the Philadelphia Inquirer recently interviewed NBA basketball legend Julius Erving about his pivotal role in Electronic Arts’ 1983 Apple II game, Dr. J and Larry Bird Go One-on-One. The retrospective, forty years after the game’s release, makes the case that sports video games to that point were rudimentary, and EA’s groundbreaking basketball game gave them the cred they needed to later develop John Madden Football, a franchise that began on the Apple II and which continues to this day.

“There wasn’t a lot of video game action out there at that time,” Erving said. “There were some games, but they were very robotic. It wasn’t people moving, it was blocks and columns and triangles moving. This was a fun project.”

‘The right to miss’: How Dr. J changed video-game history and paved the way for Madden

Breen also interviewed the software developer who made the game:

Erving soon flew to EA’s offices in San Mateo, Calif., to play basketball at a YMCA and meet the staff. They wanted to take pictures of Dr. J in action, hoping they could best replicate it on the 8-bit Apple II machine. And then they met with him in that conference room.

“He was really fun to talk to,” said Eric Hammond, the game’s 19-year-old programmer. “He didn’t have that superstar ego, and he was a real guy. He was so gracious. Back then, I idolized him. It was like this guy isn’t just amazing, but he’s super cool.”

Hammond finished earlier games as fast as eight weeks but One on Onewas a different beast as the teenager pushed the limitations of what an Apple II could handle. Hammond spent the first part of the 18-month project at home before EA started to worry that the game would not be ready for Christmas of 1983. So EA moved Hammond north to an apartment in San Mateo before he asked if he could just work in the office.

‘The right to miss’: How Dr. J changed video-game history and paved the way for Madden

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Editor & publisher of Juiced.GS, the Apple II community's longest-running print publication dedicated to the Apple II; co-host of the Star Trek podcast Transporter Lock; digital nomad at Roadbits.