50 YEARS OF NETS HISTORY: 1976 ABA CHAMPIONS
By Tom Dowd
The nine-year ABA era closed on May 13, 1976 with the Nets claiming the upstart league’s final championship.
By then, only six teams remained from the 10 that were planned to start the 1975-76 season. Baltimore and San Diego never made it to opening night, and Utah folded mid-season. During the championship series the Virginia Squires — Julius Erving’s original team— folded as well.
The Nets opened the finals against the Denver Nuggets with a 120-118 win on Erving’s 18-foot baseline jumper over the reach of Denver’s Bobby Jones in the final second.
“I wanted to drive,” Erving told Sports Illustrated. “I wanted to try for a dunk or at least get some contact, draw a foul. But Bobby cut me off, and I didn’t feel I had time to spin back. Also, you don’t have power right away after a spin. So I shot it.”
The game-winner gave Erving 45 points for the night and he added 48 in a Game 2 Denver win. The Nets went ahead to a 3-1 series lead before the Nuggets won Game 5.
Trailing by 22 points in the second half of Game 6, the Nets stormed back for a 112-106 win to claim the ABA’s final championship. John Williamson scored 24 points in the second half, including 16 in the fourth quarter.
Erving was named the ABA playoffs MVP for the second time in three years. He averaged 37.7 points in the finals and 34.7 over 13 playoff games. The final game in ABA history was also Erving’s last as a Net. The merger with the NBA and Erving’s sale to the Philadelphia 76ers marked the end of an era.
“Erving’s valedictory, the ’76 series in which he led his New York Nets past the Denver Nuggets for the league’s final championship, may be the least-seen great achievement in sports,” wrote Alexander Wolff in Sports Illustrated in 1994.
After being upset in the 1975 playoffs by one of the ABA’s most infamous teams, the Spirits of St. Louis, the Nets returned with a different look for the 1975-76 season. Around Erving, the strength of the team had shifted from the forwards to the backcourt.
Brian Taylor and Williamson were second and third on the team in scoring, averaging 16.7 and 16.2 points per game, respectively. Erving averaged 29.3 points to lead the league in scoring for the third time in four years and won his third straight ABA MVP Award.
The Nets posted a 55-29 record to finish second in the league and went right to the ABA semifinals, surviving a seven-game series against the San Antonio Spurs, led by George Gervin and featuring former Nets Larry Kenon and Billy Paultz from the 1974 championship team.