The 1970s: Dr. J and Dynasty Days
Led by the great Julius Erving, the Nets won two ABA titles
The 1970s opened with two major additions to the Nets franchise. Lou Carnesecca arrived as head coach and the team acquired Rick Barry.
At 22 years old, Barry had been the NBA’s leading scorer with 35.6 points per game before jumping to the ABA. But he’d had to sit out one season in a legal battle, played one year in Oakland before the team relocated to Washington, D.C., and now he was a Net.
“His shooting skills were tremendous,” said Herb Turetzky, then and now the Nets’ official scorer. “He could jump, rebound, pass beautifully. And again, for the red, white and blue ball, perfect. Perfect form and rotation. To watch that ball go off of his hands was magic.”
Barry is still the franchise’s career leader in scoring average with 30.6 points per game in his two years with the Nets before he jumped back to the NBA. In 1971-72 Barry and Carnesecca led the team to the ABA finals, where they lost to the Indiana Pacers in six games. That same season, the Nets left Island Garden to move into the brand-new Nassau Coliseum.
After that, Barry was gone. When the team dropped to 30-54 the following year, so was Carnesecca, back to St. John’s.
The team rebounded quickly under Kevin Loughery, the longest-tenured coach in team history with seven-plus seasons. With the acquisition of ABA scoring leader Julius Erving and rookies John Williamson and Larry Kenon, the Nets won 55 games and their first ABA title, defeating the Utah Stars in five games.
Erving led the league in scoring and went on to win three ABA MVP awards with the Nets. In 1974-75, the team won a franchise-record 58 games, but was upset in the playoffs by the Spirits of St. Louis. The Nets retooled for the 1975-76 season, dealing off Kenon and Billy Paultz.
“The key guys were really Soup (Super John Williamson) and Doc,” said Turetzky. “It was his game. Kevin would just give it to Doc to go. The second play was LA-23. That was Soup. John, you just take the ball and do what you want to do. One on one, it was his ball. That’s how they did it.”
As the Nets charged toward their second ABA title in 1975-76, the league was crumbling around them. Two of the 10 teams folded before the season began; another dropped out during the year.
As he had two years earlier, Erving turned in an epic playoff performance. He averaged 37.7 points in the six-game championship series win against the Denver Nuggets. The Nets came back from 22 points down in the second half to clinch Game 6, with Williams scoring 24 points in the second half and 16 in the fourth quarter.
During the finals, Virginia folded, leaving six ABA teams. Four of them — the Nets, Pacers, Spurs and Nuggets — were accepted into the NBA.
The Nets fortified themselves for the new challenge with the acquisition of point guard Tiny Archibald, who a few years earlier had led the NBA in both scoring and assists. But just days before the season opener, with owner Roy Boe facing huge costs due to the NBA and the Knicks, the Nets sold Erving to Philadelphia.
“We had a team that as it was structured then if it had gone to the NBA, we were a competitive team,” said Turetzky. “We could have fought for a championship with the Celtics and the other people. Until we traded Doc.”
Archibald was limited to 34 games with an ankle injury, Williamson was traded to Indiana, and the Nets finished 22-60 in their first NBA season, which was also their last on Long Island.
On their way to New Jersey’s Rutgers Athletic Center, the Nets grabbed Bernard King in the first round of the 1977 NBA Draft. The only Hall of Famer drafted by the franchise was the Nets’ first NBA draft pick.
King averaged 24.2 points as a rookie and 21.6 the following year before being traded to Utah. Williamson was reacquired and averaged 29.5 points in 33 games in 1977-78. But the Nets did not crack .500 in their first three NBA seasons. Midway through the 1979-80 season, Williamson, the last link to the ABA championship team who averaged 17.8 points in his Nets career over parts of seven seasons, was traded away.
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