Very few players shaped the history of basketball as Julius Erving. Dr. J enjoys the utmost respect to this day. Today, Erving celebrates his 69th birthday!
Here are the pioneers who have changed the basketball, bringing the flair to a previously dry sport (such as Bob Cousy) that established athleticism and hangtime (Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor), which inspired rule changes (Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), or that were so popular that they commercialized basketball to a whole new level (Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, later Michael Jordan).
This circle also includes Julius Erving for a variety of reasons. He revolutionized the game by effectively transferring jazz from freestyle to professional sport, making the game “cool” like no one before him. But he also changed the image of the professional athlete in itself, because in a more than the wild time he was always a dignified representative who was respected and liked everywhere – even by white spectators who otherwise did not want to have in common so much with the “too black” sport.
Last but not least, Erving is in this list because he combined all these qualities and was the main reason why the NBA merged with the former competitor ABA league in 1976, after having worn them almost alone for years. He could not and did not want to miss the NBA any longer.
Erving was sold to the 1976 Philadelphia 76ers as part of the merger, where he met a team that was bursting with talent, but at the beginning was also characterized by a classic “too many chefs” situation.
George McGinnis wanted to throw. Doug Collins wanted to throw. World B. Free wanted to throw, Henry Bibby and Darryl Dawkins too. Erving, who was perhaps the best player in the world at the time, wanted that too, but initially, he has so withdrawn from the Sixers that NBA fans doubted if this year-long hype about the fabled Doc was even justified.
The all-destroying dominance of his ABA days reached Erving in the NBA – but don’t get me wrong: his NBA years would have been enough to make him a Hall of Fame player. Within his first seven years in the “big league,” he reached the finals four times alone and was always All-Star (16x in total).
He also secured the MVP Award in 1981, becoming the only player to win the most valuable player in both leagues. “That was a relief,” Erving later admitted. “I was criticized , nd people said I was no longer the player I was in the other league and I felt I had to prove myself once again.”
By 1987, Erving continued his impressive career. Even at the age of 37, he then put 18.2 points in the playoffs, before he finally hung the sneaker on the nail. The NBA lost one of their big icons, even though with Michael Jordan in some ways Erving’s successor was already spreading his wings. Already during the regular season there had been a farewell tour, similar to decades later for Kobe Bryant.
A lot of time has passed since then, and as with many other legends, gaps in Erving’s game have been identified retroactively: a rudimentary jump shot, lack of defense in the ABA, and so on. All of this is completely gone by what made Erving a defining figure in basketball history. Few players have ever been so captivating – even to those who stood next to him on the court.
“There I was, playing for a championship, and just dropped my jaw,” Magic Johnson said as he described Erving’s “Baseline Move” in 1980. “He really did, I just thought, ‘What are we going to do now, should we go ahead or just ask him if he can do it again?'”
The Doctor himself called his most famous move just “just another move” – and that said a lot about him. He probably had hundreds of moves of this kind. In the ABA. Before basketball became a mass phenomenon. Not least thanks to him.