Meet Julius Erving's Formerly Secret Daughter, Tennis Star Alexandra Stevenson

On the basketball court, Julius "Dr. J" Erving was known for being an innovator who changed the way the sport was played. His ball handling skills, artistic midair spins and thunderous slam dunks — sometimes all the way from the free throw line — were a combination unlike anything fans of the sport had seen. During his 11-year NBA career with the Philadelphia 76ers throughout the 1970s and '80s, he played in the NBA All-Star game each year, won the NBA Most Valuable Player award, and led the Sixers to the NBA championship in 1983 (per Biography). When Erving retired in 1987 at the age of 37, former player, coach, and color commentator Johnny "Red" Kerr told sportswriter and basketball historian Terry Pluto for his book, "Loose Balls," "A young Julius Erving was like Thomas Edison, he was always inventing something new every night."

But off the court, the once shy and insecure teenage Erving became something of a sexual thrill-seeker in his adult years. Well before he became a household name, Erving reaped the sexual perks of being a professional basketball player. At age 21, he challenged himself to sleep with eight different women over the course of eight straight nights. "There is something wrong about how I treat women," Erving later wrote in his 2013 book, "Dr. J: The Autobiography." The New York Daily News quoted the book: "When I went on that run of eight women in eight days, it left me feeling like I had failed at something, was in some ways a disappointment to my mother."

Julius Erving meets Samantha Stevenson

During the 1977-78 season, Dr. J met Samantha Stevenson, a freelance journalist who had been assigned to cover the Philadelphia 76ers. Stevenson didn't keep her ordeal of trying to get into a locker room as a woman in the 1970s a secret, but it was also a hint to the future. "I think (then-owner) Ruly Carpenter is fighting me so hard because he thinks I'll seduce his superstars, and find out what's really going on with that team," she told the Philadelphia Inquirer (via Daily Mail). She added: "If he's thinking that, he's not too smart. If he's smart, he treats me just like any other writer. But no. Fine. Now maybe I will go out and seduce his superstars."

It's not clear who initiated contact, but Erving later revealed that he had been having an affair with Samantha Stevenson. He insisted they had sexual intercourse a single time. "She becomes someone who helps me unwind if I'm feeling high-strung or stressed. I can drive over and spend a relaxing evening ..." Erving wrote in his 2013 book, "Dr. J: The Autobiography." "I can only remember one time that we actually had intercourse ..."

Wimbledon success revealed a family secret

For 18 years, the affair between Dr. J and Samantha Stevenson remained a secret. But that all changed in 1999 when a young tennis phenom by the name of Alexandra Stevenson (above) had become the first American to work her way through the qualifying rounds and into the semifinals of Wimbledon since John McEnroe did so in 1977. The amazing feat led Tennis magazine to name her Rookie of the Year. But other news from Wimbledon made People magazine decide to add her to their Most Fascinating People list. During the fortnight at the All England Club, the Sun-Sentinel published a copy of her birth certificate (via The Washington Post), which lists Erving as her father.

Erving responded to the press by acknowledging the relationship with Samantha Stevenson — and Alexandra Stevenson as his daughter. ESPN later reported an agreement between the parties. The terms were that Samantha must remain 200 miles away from Erving and she must never publicly disclose the father of her daughter. All of that was in exchange for a small stipend he would provide mother and daughter. For her part, Alexandra Stevenson tried to brush away the explosion of interest in something other than her stellar performance on one of the world's biggest tennis stages. "I just focus on my tennis and let everyone else deal with all that," she said, according to CBS News. "I'm quite oblivious to most of it. I haven't been reading any newspapers, just playing tennis."

Alexandra Stevenson wasn't ready for a fatherly relationship

The revelation that Julius Erving was Alexandra Stevenson's father answered a number of questions that had swirled her whole life. People had wondered where she got her 6'1" frame and off-the-charts athletic ability. They questioned where the father of this multi-racial girl with the big personality had been. And they wanted to know if there was any truth to Dr. J being her father when a tearful Alexandra blurted it out on the playground as a toddler. However, for Alexandra, having that information in the public wasn't enough to pursue a relationship with Erving. It took another decade before she was ready to finally deal with her legendary father. And when they met, Erving later recalled to ESPN, "I wasn't there when she was born, but that's right up there with the birth of your child — and this one is a rebirth."

Over the next two decades, Stevenson struggled to regain the form she displayed during that fairy tale run at Wimbledon. She rose to No. 18 in the world in 2003, but was soon hampered with a shoulder injury that kept her from playing her power game. "I haven't been able to compete properly, so I can't walk away from that," Stevenson told The New York Times. "My age doesn't mean anything to me. It's a hard sport; it's not forgiving." Despite some flashes of brilliance over the years, she was never able to get back inside the top 200 again.

Stevenson retires from pro tennis and hops in the ESPN booth

With little fanfare, Stevenson hung up her racquet and retired from the pro tour for good in 2018 at the age of 38. However, tennis was still part of her future. Just a year later, she got her chance to realize her second choice career in broadcast journalism by joining the ESPN team for the 2019 U.S. Open. Stevenson told Tennis that she was treated just like any other rookie in broadcasting and was put through her paces during the qualifying rounds to make sure she was a good fit for prime time programming. She's been given just about every broadcast assignment, including pre-game shows, sideline commentating, practice court reporting, and joining the roundtable on the anchor desk.

It wasn't the smoothest of transitions during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, but ESPN executives saw something in Stevenson and brought her back for the 2020 U.S. Open. They've since kept her in the U.S. Open line-up and added her to Wimbledon coverage, as well as special events on ESPN+, the company's streaming service. For Stevenson, it's been something of a dream come true, but she still brings her competitive edge to the table. "Doing TV is exciting. I've always liked performing, being on stage and being in front of the camera," she told ESPN. "I approach it like tennis, setting goals and trying to improve."