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We must remember that she's only 19. That she never misses Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That she has it taped when she's in Europe. That her bedroom is three shades of pink. That she's never been kissed. That she's never sipped an ounce of alcohol. That she prays every night from her knees. That she can't go three sentences without laughing like hell. That she attended exactly one high school party. That her mom called at 10 that night to say hurry home. That she has a crush on Derek Jeter. That her favorite expressions are "As if --" and "That's so retarded." That she always wanted to be a cheerleader. That she wishes for Gabrielle Reece's legs. That she doesn't wish for Lindsay Davenport's. We need to remember all of this because the rest of her world is a nauseating one. Like the father who ignores her. Or the tennis tour that ostracizes her. Or the coach who's in jail for child molestation. Or the lesbian players who glare at her mother. Or the player who called her fat. Or the player who called her "nigger."

Alexandra Stevenson
In her 19 years Alexandra Stevenson has had to overcome more than backhand volleys.
She used to dream she was blue-eyed and blonde, and she still crinkles up any newspaper that calls her African-American. For years, she'd hear people ask who her father was. They'd guess Wilt or O.J., until some reporter actually bought her birth certificate last year with company money. And then the sordid family secret was out, and it was all fair game, and now she cannot sail through an airport without grown men shouting, "Hey, Dr. J's daughter!"

She wants to tell them, screw you, I'm Alexandra Stevenson. But she avoids them because Julius Erving-basketball Hall of Famer-is a name she chooses not to hear. He is undeniably her father, and she has his face to prove it, but her feelings for him are cold and raw, and the events of these last few weeks do not help. Just recently, Erving stood at a podium to discuss his missing 19-year-old child-and he wasn't talking about her. His son Cory, a long-time drug user, had disappeared, and Erving was there begging a sympathetic public to help find him. But the natural response of the daughter was, I feel your pain, but why not come and find me? "People keep asking how I feel about the boy who's missing," she said that day. "Well, I don't even know my father. How can I know his kids?"

And so if Julius Erving is in a private hell, so is Alexandra Stevenson. He has a son who has vanished, and she has a father who has essentially vanished. Four children grew up under Erving's roof, but only she, who grew up estranged from him in a one-bedroom condo, has demonstrated his athletic genius. That is why the world is fascinated by her, but the world also needs to know she is not so fascinated by him. "He didn't change my diapers," she says.

Her white mother did all that-gave birth to her, raised her, schlepped her, shared a bedroom with her, explained her affair with Dr. J to her. "I'm my mom's daughter, not his daughter," she says. Alexandra doesn't intend to sound callous, not as he holds vigil for his son, but as far as she's concerned, "I don't want to be in the same sentence with him. I don't want it to say 'daughter of Julius Erving.' It's not who I am. It's annoying. I don't like being labeled. It's like being called African-American. I mean, part of me is African-American, but not all of me. Just like he's part of me, but not all of me."

Perhaps this is why she hates basketball, the sport her father transcended. Her coach, the one in jail, used to ask her to play H-O-R-S-E, and she'd lose every time. He'd say, "You're not very good at this," and she'd say, "Thank you." Instead, she played tennis, and tennis soon became her joy, and also her curse. If she hadn't been the first female qualifier to ever reach the semis at Wimbledon last July, she wouldn't have her new villa right now or her new Nike contract or, for the first time ever, her own room. But if she'd lost in the first round, no one would care who her father is, and she wouldn't feel an ounce of pressure. She wouldn't have everyone wondering why she's kept losing in the first round since then. She'd be at UCLA. But instead, here she is at Wimbledon one year later, wishing she could just be Alexandra Stevenson. Wishing the other players would stop hazing her. Wishing the press would stop asking about a missing half-brother she never knew or a father she's never embraced. Wishing they would see her and not think Dr. J. "Yeah, right," Alexandra says. "When monkeys fly out of my butt."

The pregnant woman would have this awful dream. She'd dream she was in labor and that her baby had come out green, absolutely green. This was the spring of 1980 and the pregnant woman was a blonde sportswriter named Samantha Stevenson, and she was not sure if her baby needed to be born. It was so complicated: her relationship with Julius, the colors of their skin, the color their baby's skin would be. They had met in Philadelphia, circa 1976, and in those days, athletes and sportswriters weren't archenemies. She was in Erving's circle. "We were friends like you were friends in the '70s," she says. "You go have a glass of soda, you share lunch, you share a conversation."

She was flashy and opinionated. She'd demanded equal access to the 76ers' and the Phillies' locker rooms, and the players' wives did not want her near their men. "We'd never seen the likes of a Samantha Stevenson," one former Sixers executive remembers. "She'd come in the locker room dressed provocatively. I remember it got to the point where Bobby Jones wouldn't shower. He'd be across the bridge to New Jersey by the time the locker room doors opened."

But Erving connected with her. He was spending his basketball seasons apart from his wife, Turquoise, who preferred to remain in their home on Long Island, and this left Erving unattached. Confidants of Erving say his marriage was in trouble at the time, and one thing led to another. "The intimacy wasn't as important as the friendship," says Samantha. "We talked about everything; we were friends the moment he arrived from the ABA."

But theirs was an on-again, off-again affair, and he already had young children, and Stevenson became convinced he would not leave his wife for her. When she learned she was pregnant, she decided to have an abortion, but a small outbreak of Legionnaires' disease had hit the city and she was reluctant to go to the hospital. She had time to rethink her decision. She was certain she and Erving were still in love, and at the urging of some of her more religious friends, she kept the baby. Alexandra was born in Samantha's hometown of San Diego, on Dec. 15, 1980, and Erving, who declined to be interviewed for this story, telephoned that day to say congratulations, and to ask what the baby's name was. He also told her he was coming to see them soon, real soon.

"I never doubted him," she says. "I waited. I always thought he'd come. I waited 19 years."

Mother and daughter managed. It was the two of them and their Volvo station wagon against the world, and in the two decades that followed, the daughter saw her father only twice-once on a day she cried, and once on a day he did.

From the start, it was Samantha's idea to raise her daughter as an athlete. The child tried swimming, gymnastics, ice skating, ballet and soccer and, before she was 4, she was gripping her first tennis racket. To outsiders, who now have the benefit of hindsight, this was her mother's grand scheme to cash in on Erving's genetics. But the truth is, Samantha was having a hard enough time just dealing with the covert racism. At grocery stores, the checkout clerks would say to her, "Are you babysitting?" And one day, a playmate's parent came to their La Jolla apartment, fingered Alexandra's hair and said, "This must be difficult to brush." Samantha said, "Actually, it's easier to brush than my hair, and, to be honest, do you see me touching your daughter's hair? I'd like you to leave my home." She realized any child of color would need protection, and so she wrapped herself up in her daughter's life. Over the next 19 years, she went out on exactly one date, and that date ended with 3-year-old Alexandra tossing ice water on the gentleman's lap. Theirs was a tidy cocoon, and if sports was their avenue to a better life, so be it. In the interim, she had not much money, even with an undisclosed income from Erving, and she began writing for World Tennis magazine. The editor proposed that she do a diary about raising a child in tennis, and her journalist friends, knowing she needed the cash, urged her to be bold with it. So she wrote that she envisioned her 4-year-old daughter being on Wimbledon's Centre Court someday. It was a line, not a manifesto, yet it would come back to haunt her.

It was around this time that Alexandra began asking if she had a father somewhere. It became a sore subject when all the students in her class were asked what their fathers did. Alexandra's response was, "That's my personal business, not yours." She was only regurgitating what she'd heard at home, but the incident forced Samantha to break out her 76ers pictures. "I said, 'This is your father, and he plays basketball, and he's a very nice man, but he doesn't live with us,'" Samantha says. "She'd look for a minute, and then go back to playing with her Barbies."

Actually, father and daughter had already laid eyes on each other, when Alexandra was 18 months old. Samantha was still in Philadelphia, and was walking with her baby when a limo pulled up. It was a surreal moment. The baby's bawling, the limo's window rolls down, and it's Erving. "I look right at him," Samantha says. "And he looks right at her, screaming away. I was, like, paralyzed. And he rolled up his window and drove on. It was like someone throwing ice water over me."

It was seven years before father and daughter met again, one final time, at a San Diego basketball clinic. Alexandra was 8, and was upset that the boys at school were abuzz over Julius Erving's one-time-only appearance. She asked to go see him for herself, and Samantha reluctantly agreed. Samantha wouldn't go, and asked her own mother and a family friend, Geneva Kandel, to accompany Alexandra. The two women made sure to write "Alexandra Stevenson" on a name tag in huge, block letters.

But Alexandra's demeanor soured the moment she eyed Erving. As soon as they were face to face, she snapped, "I don't want an autograph." Erving instead extended his hand to say, "Nice to meet you," but she glared and walked away. He told one of the boys to give her a signed ball anyway, and that was the end of it.

"Geneva told me that when Alexandra got to the front of the line, he looked at her and realized he was looking at himself," Samantha says. "She said that when Alexandra walked away, he just sat there with tears in his eyes. Geneva said she knew then he could never do anything."

People close to Erving say he kept his distance that day out of respect for his wife. They say Erving simply felt it was in everyone's best interest if he supported Alexandra financially, and left it at that. But they say that deep down he cared. Of course, this was no consolation to Alexandra, and after that clinic, she wrote him out of her life. Samantha still felt that her daughter needed a male role model, but tennis soon took care of that. Samantha began freelancing for The New York Times and was tipped off about a 10-year-old tennis phenom from the streets of Compton named Venus Williams. Venus was playing a tournament that day in a San Diego public park, and Samantha took 9-year-old Alexandra along. Venus was tall, powerful and dark-skinned, and the parents at the public park were clearly threatened by her. One woman asked to see Venus' birth certificate, and the confrontational Samantha intervened to say, "Well, why don't we get your daughter's birth certificate? You are so racist." The parents backed off. And while Samantha was bonding with Venus' parents-Richard and Oracene-Alexandra, Venus and Venus' little sister, Serena, played on the jungle gym.

Samantha soon wrote the first major story about Venus in a national publication, and the Times began using her more. She would bring Alexandra on her assignments-she didn't believe in babysitters-and one story took them to Palos Verdes to interview Pete Sampras' childhood coach, Pete Fischer. After the interview, Samantha mentioned she needed a tennis coach for her daughter, and Fischer offered to take a look. After one session, he announced she could be No.1 in the world someday, and they began negotiating. Fischer, a pediatrician, wasn't going to come to La Jolla, so Samantha would have to make the five-hour round-trip drive to Palos Verdes. Samantha asked Alexandra if she was willing to make this sacrifice, maybe miss out on school dances and dates with boys. Alexandra had just seen Martina Navratilova on TV saying, "There's some 11-year-old out there who's going to serve and volley like I do someday," and she'd sprinted around the house shouting, "That's me! That's me!" She was all for it.

So mother and daughter practically lived in their white Volvo. That car had clothes and food and Band-Aids and shampoo inside. They drove it to L.A. even during the Rodney King riots, with Samantha often ordering Alexandra to hide on the car floor. "In certain neighborhoods, if they saw she was in a car with a white woman, we might get shot at," Samantha says. And they did have a close call. A man almost ran them off the road one day, and when Samantha raged at him, he pulled a gun. Alexandra dove to the floor, her peanut butter sandwich flying, and the whole time Samantha was howling, "Put down that gun. It's people like you that make this a bad country."

This five-hour commute not only bonded mother and daughter, but Alexandra finally had her male role model. Fischer helped her with homework, took her to the opera, attended her school plays and never let her mom speak during tennis lessons. His coaching partner, Robert Lansdorp, taught her a lovely one-handed backhand and Fischer turned her serve into a 100 mph weapon. If she ever asked if she could skip conditioning drills, Fischer would say, "When monkeys fly out of my butt." That was his favorite saying. She adored him. Before every match, he'd say, "Remember, you're not playing Steffi Graf," and if she lost, he'd say, "Well, you lost to a suckpot." That was his other favorite saying. She began dueling it out with Venus, although Williams always won. "Don't feel too bad," Venus would say. "Someday you'll beat my sister." Richard Williams, impressed with Venus' rapid progress, asked Fischer if he would coach his daughters exclusively. "No," Fischer said. "I've got the better athlete." And the truth was, Fischer knew who Alexandra's father is, knew she had the genes. Fischer and Sampras-who used to come home to Palos Verdes at Christmas and play against Alexandra-had each guessed early that her dad was Erving, which is why Fischer always wanted her to shoot baskets. But neither Samantha nor Alexandra would fess up. "We used to say, 'My father's dead,' that he died in the war," Alexandra says. "We really hammed it up. We'd say he was a famous sheik in the desert, that he was lost in Kuwait. We'd say that when I turned 21, I'd inherit millions."

Alexandra and Fischer put in seven years together, and by the time she was 16, she was 6'1" and had more junior trophies than Sampras, and Fischer had drawn up a manual for her on how to beat the top 10 players in the world. Then came the police report. Fischer had been arrested and charged with child molestation. Mother and daughter were mortified, because they had never once felt threatened by him. He eventually pleaded guilty and accepted a six-year jail term. And on the day he went to prison, in February 1998, Alexandra rushed through a tournament match in Michigan, just so she could phone him before he left. "I won, Pete," she said. "I played a suckpot." She then handed the phone to Samantha, who could tell Fischer was weeping. He told her, "You're the coach now," and she knew what he meant.

So once again, it was mother and daughter against the world. Except by this time, the Volvo had 250,000 miles on it.

The N-word changed everything. A foreign player-neither mother nor daughter will say who-called Alexandra a "nigger" during the 1998 Roehampton junior tournament in London, and Samantha knew the hate was on. Oracene Williams intervened and told Alexandra, "Listen, girl: Next time someone does that to you, go up to the net and start singing, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' And you say, 'Does that make you feel better? Come up here. I'll help you say it.' Because, girl, you're a beautiful person, and don't you let anyone ever do that to you." But it was still a difficult stretch. That same summer, at Wimbledon's Junior Championships, a reporter for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel asked Alexandra, "Who's your father?" Samantha shooed him away, saying, "If you ever try to hurt my child again, you'll have to deal with me." But the hurt stayed with Alexandra, and the following June she learned she'd have to return to Roehampton. Wimbledon qualifying was being staged there, and she was ranked too low to go straight into the main draw. She either had to return to the scene of the N-word or skip Wimbledon. She didn't want to go at first. But Fischer wrote from jail, urging her to have a "big Wimbledon," and because she loved grass-court tennis, she acquiesced. The events of the ensuing fortnight were mind-boggling.

It started when the Roehampton N-word incident hit the British tabloids. Samantha mentioned in an interview that she wanted to protect her daughter from racism and from the odd cliques on the tour. Egged on, she said she wanted her daughter to marry and have kids, and the tabloids inferred she was attacking the lesbians on the tour. One headline, she said, was "Keep Your Filthy Hands Off My Daughter." The gay players were livid. When Alexandra played her fourth-round match, several lesbian players came to root against her, and during the changeovers, some stood and stared at Samantha.

The press began portraying Samantha as an evil tennis mom and, if that wasn't enough, the Sun-Sentinel purchased Alexandra's birth certificate, which stated Erving was her father. Erving at first denied the story, which tore Alexandra up. "How weak was that?" she asks. Two days later, he admitted it.

While all this was happening, she became the first woman qualifier to reach the Wimbledon semis, tying John McEnroe, the only other qualifier to do it. Nike's Phil Knight-whose tennis people had cut Alexandra a few months before-personally flew in to re-sign her. But her shoulder was gone-she'd already played eight matches-and Davenport routed her, 6-1, 6-1. Samantha-who all week took pictures of Alexandra for her baby book-told writers she'd heard Davenport feared Alexandra's serve, and Davenport reacted by ripping Samantha as an ogre tennis mom. Even Alexandra's Wimbledon coach, Craig Kardon, came out later and said Samantha should step back and let her daughter be the star. Samantha took the hit. She'd always thought that if her relationship with Erving surfaced, it would be a blip. But she was dead wrong. She was criticized for sleeping with an athlete she'd covered, and the Times stopped publishing her, citing a potential conflict of interest because her daughter was now a prominent player. And the same female sportswriters she had once fought for turned on her. Some of them were particularly livid when they heard she'd dressed provocatively while interviewing players in the '70s. "That's how we dressed in the '70s," Samantha says. "We didn't wear bras. Miniskirts were in. It was just the era. Everybody was doing it." As for Alexandra, her world ranking climbed as high as No.33, but life on the tour, she found out, was vicious. She says Jennifer Capriati called her fat. "She should look in the mirror," Stevenson says. "The girls are catty. Like a high school locker room. Or worse. In high school, they weren't mean or didn't ignore you. They love to say I'm overweight and fat and can't move. I guess because they're not used to tall girls. But Lindsay's tall and not muscular, either, and I don't hear it about her. Lindsay doesn't have muscles. Look at her, she's flabby."

Her only true friend on the tour was Venus, who promptly nicknamed Alexandra the Big Baby. "Well, she's an only child," Venus explained. "And she's kind of spoiled." But the truth is, Venus knew how Alexandra felt. She and Serena had been similarly ostracized when they joined the tour-players even left dirty underwear in front of their lockers. That's why Venus and Alexandra began giving unflattering nicknames to a lot of the tour players. "Like, we call Martina Hingis 'Little Martin,'" Alexandra says. "Because she's like a little Martin who walks around gawking. She's a dork. She's a nerd. She tries to be cool." At the '98 U.S. Open, Alexandra says, Davenport crossed Stevenson's name off the list for massages and replaced it with her own, saying, "Get this [bleeping] junior out of here." She then kicked Alexandra's bag, at which point Venus told Alexandra, "Just let me know; I'll beat her up for you." Davenport won't comment on the incident.

It didn't help that after Wimbledon, Alexandra kept losing. The expectations after Wimbledon had been too high, considering how inexperienced she was-she was one of the few rookies who'd finished high school, and her body wasn't truly toned yet. Plus, she'd had no steady coach since Fischer, and no one had ever taught her how to construct a real tennis point. She would just blast away, never changing pace, and while that had worked at Wimbledon, she was now spraying unforced errors everywhere. "Losing Pete crushed us," Samantha says. "We had spoken to him every day from the time she was 9, and now he was gone at such an important time." She lost 13 of the next 21 opening-round matches after Wimbledon, crying after virtually every defeat or telling her mom, "I can't play tennis." She eventually moved to Florida to train with Nick Bollettieri, who predicted it would take six months to a year to get results. He told her she just had to learn to control her raw power, like Davenport and Venus had learned to do. And she also had to learn to stop pouting. But the tour was almost swallowing her whole. At a tournament in Strasbourg, France, in May, Alexandra was playing France's Amelie Cocheteux, and she says Cocheteux repeatedly made racist and vulgar comments during changeovers (which Cocheteux denies). Then at the French Open, Alexandra says Cocheteux tried to bump her in a hallway (which Cocheteux also denies). "They're big bitches," Alexandra says of the players she believes are harassing her. "I think some girls are jealous. And others are so in their cliques that they don't talk to you and give you dirty looks. Next time someone bumps me, they're gonna be knocked out." The Stevensons mentioned the French incidents to tour officials. Alexandra says it was dismissed as rookie hazing. But this is why they don't stay at the tour hotels, why Alexandra now dresses in the coaches' locker room. "It's a war out here," Samantha says. "If I'd known it was such a battle, I wouldn't have opened these doors for my daughter. I would've steered her to an academic life. I'd have her in college athletics. They try to take your soul out here, and I worry about her spirit. I think I could've given her a better life than this. I used to tell her about the glory of the sport. I was naive." In fact, she is trying so hard to restore Alexandra's sagging confidence that she has done the unthinkable: She has brought up Erving. Several years ago, Samantha had shown Alexandra film of him playing, just to show her how graceful he'd been in the last two minutes of games. And now she has mentioned him again. She wants Alexandra to know that she is Dr. J's daughter. That she can be as graceful as he was. And not to discount that. Never. "She has the same aura he had," Samantha says. "I can see it. And I want her to know that. It was not her choice to be born into this world. It was my choice." This is all so hard for Alexandra to hear. Her father never called after Wimbledon, and her response now is, "It's his problem. I'm a good person to know, and if he doesn't want to know me, he's missing out." But then again, she is only 19. He may be wrapped up in his missing son, but she's determined not to be wrapped up in him. She simply denies his existence and plays her Wimbledon, and hopes someday to get her date with Yankee shortstop Jeter.

"Me and 50,000 others," she says. "I met him after Wimbledon. He said, 'I'm a big fan of yours,' and I said, "Me too.' I was so retarded." It's her mother who worries. It's her mother who speaks with Erving's lawyers, but never with Erving. It's her mother who prays Cory is found safe. It's her mother who thanks God she didn't have the abortion in 1980. They sit at lunch, just the two of them, one white face and one brown face, and they talk about the last 19 years.

Samantha: "I did the best I could do."

Alexandra: "Yes, you did, Mom."

"I tried to have men around you-like Pete."

"Yeah, Mom, but hardly any women."

"But you had me-you didn't need any women. I was enough."

"I didn't need any men. You were enough."

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