Julius Erving was an early pioneer of basketball. He was affectionately known by fans as Dr. J.
In his 16 seasons of professional basketball, his popularity led him to make All-Star appearances in all 16 seasons. Moreover, he also made 12 All-NBA or All-ABA teams.
Erving produced some of the best basketball highlights during his time on the court. However, winning became a cornerstone of his career. For his first thirteen years in the sport, his team was a top two seed in their respective conference for 12 seasons. He would ultimately make 10 conference final and 6 final appearances over his tenure with the ABA and NBA. This includes winning three championships with two different teams.
Most fans forget about the success that Erving had prior to joining the NBA. It is one of the forgotten stories in basketball history. Prior to his debut with the 76ers, Erving had already played 7 years in the ABA and NCAA. For the University of Massachusetts he recorded 51 double-doubles in the 52 games that he started. And he led them to two conference titles. When he left, he was the team's all-time leader in points and rebounds. However, at the time players were not allowed to dunk in games.
He was selected 12th overall in the first round of the 1972 draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. However, due to a contract dispute he would end up playing in the ABA for the Virginia Squires. The franchise would soon experience financial hardships that would have Erving playing for the New Jersey Nets. As a player Erving soon became known for his high flying dunks that wowed audiences.
Erving's ABA Career
He would jump from the free throw line in a one-hand dunk dunk would shape the event for decades. His over 40 inch high vertical gave him the ability to really perform dunks that other players could not. Another trademark of his game was his large hands. Despite his 6’7’’ frame, he had hands that were reportedly larger than Wilt Chamberlain's hands.
In his last season in the ABA, Erving propelled the New Jersey Nets to a championship. That season, Erving would lead the ABA in points and was top 5 in both rebounds and assist. Passing was probably the most underrated part of his game. All three seasons with the Nets he would win the Most Valuable Player award.
The NBA-ABA merger in 1976 left the Nets cash strapped and Philadelphia 76ers bought Erving’s contract. This would begin a new era for the 76ers franchise. And they began to see success reminiscent of when they had Chamberlain on their roster. Irving transitioned well into the NBA and soon found his role with the 76ers.
His NBA's Career
The 76ers had not been to the NBA finals since Chamberlain was with the team for the 1966-67 season. The prior season the 76ers had lost in the first round of the playoffs. Irving was also top 10 in points that season. The NBA had slightly different rules than the ABA that Erving had to become accustomed to while playing.
However, after his 6 first six seasons with the 76ers, they had lost three times in the NBA finals. These include two losses to the "showtime" Los Angeles Lakers and once to the gritty Portland Trail Blazers. Both teams had dominant centers that the 76ers had no match-up for in the NBA finals.
Erving and the 76ers fate would change when Moses Malone was added to their roster. The 76ers dominance soon became unmatched in the playoffs. The 76ers would go 65-17 for the 1982-83 season and 12-1 in the playoffs 12-1. At that time, the 76ers had recorded the fifth most regular season wins and the best playoff record in NBA history.
When Erving retired he was third all-time in the NBA scoring list behind Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Chamberlain. He was also first in steals in NBA history. His defensive presence was something that many of his opponents remember most about his game.
In 1996, Erving was selected into the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team and he is considered to be one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history.