In Appreciation of Julius Erving
Julius Erving is renowned the basketball world over.
As “Dr. J” he would fly to the basket on the fast break with his afro blowing in the wind. Whether with the ABA’s red-white-and-blue ball or the NBA’s standard-issue brown, the Doctor’s blazing speed would fetch your wandering eye. His stylistic finishes would spur your mind to wonder what other heretofore magical fantasies could become basketball reality.
And if the Doctor found himself in a predicament where dunks wouldn’t be possible, he conveniently doubled as one of the game’s best layup artists. He possessed gargantuan hands that allowed him to swing the ball however he pleased to create a plethora of scoring angles available only to him. Famously, those angles sometimes included going behind the backboard and emerging on the other side.
What gets understandably lost amidst Dr. J’s otherworldly athletic grace and power is that as regular old “Julius Erving” he was still quite the special player. In his five ABA seasons, Erving was a three-time MVP and two-time champion. In his 11 NBA seasons, all with the 76er, Erving was named MVP in 1981 and a champion in 1983. Every year he was named to the All-Star Team and garnered 12 All-NBA/ABA nods.
The man was entertaining, but simply being great at dunking or layups doesn’t deliver those kinds of accolades and achievements.
Nor does it deliver the stunning statistical mountain of 30,000+ points, 10,000+ rebounds, 5000+ assists, 2000+ steals and just a shade below 2000 blocks (1941). It takes a superior basketball intellect to make the most of the athletic gifts Erving was blessed with.
That mountain of individual stats was backed up by a bevy of team victories. As mentioned already, Erving was a several times a champion and MVP. But even that doesn’t quite showcase the steady and superlative level of success he spearheaded throughout his career.
During his 11 seasons in Philadelphia, only twice did the 76ers finish with fewer than 50 wins and averaged 55 victories per season. In the playoffs, the Sixers reached the NBA Finals four times and the Conference Finals seven times under Erving’s watch.
Even a player as great as Erving doesn’t do that single-handedly. A cavalcade of Sixers legends and stellar role players helped Erving with this consummate success: George McGinnis, Doug Collins, Darryl Dawkins, Steve Mix, World B. Free, Bobby Jones, Caldwell Jones, Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney, Lionel Hollins, Henry Bibby, Moses Malone, Charles Barkley, Clint Richardson, and Clem Johnson.
But the only man linking those names together on the court is Julius Erving. With the Doctor at the helm, the 76ers franchise achieved a longevity of success unparalleled in franchise history.
Indeed, Erving carried the NBA for years as its most recognizable and entertaining player. His personality certainly helped. Thoughtful, introspective and stylish, Erving set the stage for the NBA’s explosive growth in popularity during the 1980s.
Exemplifying Erving’s popularity was his final moments in the NBA. As the Milwaukee Bucks were in the final moments of defeating the 76ers in the 1987 playoffs, the Wisconsin crowd gave a full-throated, standing ovation for Dr. J. Despite having been a perennial nemesis, the Bucks fans showed that when a player as impactful as Julius Erving steps on or off the court, admiration is the only proper salutation.