While Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell dominate the conversation for Most Dominant Centers ever and Oscar Robertson is an automatic selection in the top-5 point-guards of all time, it’s time to shift attention to one of the great forwards the game has ever known, Julius Erving.
Before Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant came along and wowed us with their gravity-defying exploits and spectacular dunks, Erving was the man who made a living walking on air. In this edition of Know your NBA legend, we take a look at the man who brought the ‘oomph’ factor into the game of basketball as it exists today.
Who: A 16-time All-Star over his 16-year career in the American Basketball Association (ABA) and the National Basketball Association (NBA), Julius Erving was one of the great scoring forwards in the history of the game. He was that rare talent who had a phenomenal scoring appetite, but played with a distinct sense of grace and athleticism that made him the marquee attraction in his five seasons with the ABA and one of a handful of players who contributed to the expansion of the NBA fanbase in the late ’70s through to the early ’80s.
Nickname: Dr. J
Teams: Virginia Squires (1971-1973; ABA), New York Nets (1973-1976; ABA) and Philadelphia 76ers (1976-1987; NBA).
ABA Champion: 1974 and 1976 (New York Nets)
NBA champion: 1983 (Philadelphia 76ers)
Kobe Bryant may have brought up the 30,000-point career mark recently, but he moved into fifth position on the all-time scoring list (NBA + ABA) only when he overtook Julius Erving’s 30,026-career points. Erving, therefore, is ranked sixth on the all-time scoring list, which takes into account player’s career tallies in both the NBA and ABA.
Erving is ranked 13th on the list of all-time offensive rebound leaders with a total of 3,689 rebounds aggregated over 16 seasons in the NBA and the ABA. His 1,622 offensive rebounds in the ABA puts him in 10th place on the list of all-time offensive rebound leaders in the ABA.
Another example of Erving’s versatility is that he is ranked seventh on the list of all-time steals leaders with a total of 2,272 steals in the NBA and ABA. However, his ABA total of 764 steals, puts him in second place on the all-time ABA list.
In Game 4 of the 1980 NBA finals, Erving made one of the most spectacular buckets in NBA history, which has since come to be known as the legendary ‘Baseline Move’. As a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, who were competing against the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA championship, Erving received the ball off a pass on the right side of the court. He then made one dribble to get past his defender along the right baseline and left his feet on that side of the backboard with a layup in mind. However, with Abdul-Jabbar's outstretched arms blocking his route to the rim, Erving brought the ball back down and just continued to float, passing behind the backboard while appearing to glide slightly to the left in midair. He finally cleared all the way to the other side of the hoop before he reached back in toward the court and put up a soft, underhanded scoop for the score.
The Lakers were once again on the receiving end of Erving’s genius during a regular season game in 1983. After picking up the ball of a deflection, Erving charged down the court’s left side after which he cupped the ball into his wrist and forearm, rocking it back and forth, and then brought the ball around his head and dunked it with complete disdain over the hapless Lakers’ defender. The move is famous as ‘Dr. J rocks the baby to sleep’ and was ranked No. 1 on the NBA’s most spectacular dunks show called NBA Posterized.
Legacy: Dr. J was to the dunk what Michelangelo was to frescoes, what William Wordsworth was to English poetry. Erving imparted a sense of style to the dunk, which has since evolved into an art form, with the annual Slam Dunk Contest at the All-Star weekend a canvas for players to build on Erving’s legacy.
Hall of Fame induction: 1993
What they said about him:
“It wasn’t Julius Erving, it was Dr. J which meant that when he got on the floor, on the court, he operated on a guy." -- Nate Archibald.
“He was in the ABA the symbol of the league.” – Bob Costas, sports broadcaster.
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