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Hundreds gather to remember Cory Erving

SHARE Hundreds gather to remember Cory Erving

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Surrounded by family and friends, Julius Erving moved from person to person, embracing and consoling some and thanking others for their support during a difficult time.

The 19-year-old son of the basketball great was found dead in his car at the bottom of a pond last week, and Wednesday more than 1,500 people came to Heartland Community Church to pay their respects.

"The hardest part comes when everybody goes home and you're left to deal with the loss," close friend and Orlando Magic executive Pat Williams said. "There are tough grieving days ahead. But they are a strong family."

Erving's first public appearance since Cory's body and car were found submerged in 8 feet of water came on the same day the Volusia County medical examiner said preliminary tests indicate the troubled teenager might have been using cocaine just before he died.

Dr. Thomas Beaver stressed, however, that the early results of an autopsy are "not completely reliable." More tests will be conducted to determine what happened to the youngest of four Erving children.

A 90-minute memorial service featured Patti LaBelle singing "The Lord's Prayer" and personal testimony from friends who met Cory after Julius Erving took a job with the Orlando Magic in 1997.

Stedman Graham, a family friend and longtime boyfriend of talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, delivered personal remarks, while Cory's brothers and sister took turns reflecting on their relationship with the youngest Erving, who struggled to stay off drugs and alcohol for most of his teen years.

"I don't have to tell you about Cory. You already know he would give you the shirt off his back . . . and he didn't have a mean bone in his body," Graham said. "We know he was trying to find himself as many young people do at that age."

Friends fondly recalled him as a compassionate person who was also fun-loving. Oldest brother Cheo, 27, chided himself for sometimes setting a bad example, and sister Jazmin, 23, sobbed as she talked about "the only little brother I had."

"I took Cory's life for granted. I promise I won't take anyone else's life for granted," a second brother, 26-year-old Julius III, said.

"You looked up to me," Cheo added. "I apologize for some things I showed you that were not the right things."

Touched by the response of central Florida after his plea for help in finding Cory launched a nationwide search, Julius Erving and his wife, Turquoise, opened the memorial service to the public.

The crowd began gathering more than an hour before the doors opened. Inside, a four-piece brass ensemble played music in the lobby, and the church was lined with dozens of floral arrangements flanking a picture of Cory .

Overhead, two large television screens were used for a service-ending slide presentation celebrating his life.

Among the celebrities attending were current and former NBA players and executives Rod Thorn, Billy Cunningham, Pat Croce, Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks, Clyde Drexler, Darrell Armstrong, Corey Maggette, Ben Wallace, Gerald Henderson, Artis Gilmore and Jack Givens, and sportscaster Bob Costas.

Williams, coach Doc Rivers and general manager John Gabriel were among the Magic contingent at the service.

Cory, last seen alive at a bakery May 28, when he was buying bread for a family cookout, was found dead in his submerged car in a retention pond less than a mile from the family home in a gated community just outside Orlando.

A test for cocaine on water in Cory's bladder was positive, but further tests on his liver, lung, heart, kidney, brain and skeletal muscles are needed before anything can be determined conclusively, Beaver said.

The medical examiner also said the autopsy showed there was no trauma to the body and Cory most likely had been in the pond since the day he disappeared.