Throughout its 75-year history, the NBA has gone through several different phases. Currently, the game revolves around the three-point line. Teams have realized that three points are better than two, and if you can hit threes consistently, you are typically going to be able to win.
But for a period of time, dunking was all the hype in the NBA, thanks mainly to Julius Erving, popularly referred to as "Dr. J." Dunking had been around in basketball for a while when Erving came about. Still, he helped bring dunks to the forefront of the NBA, and in the process, he changed the way basketball would be played forever.
Julius Erving influenced a generation of NBA players
"Everybody wants to be like Julius Erving. Everybody wants to jump like him, and he is one of the rare talents of our time, and there isn't many guys that can do the things he can do with the ball on the floor."
That quote comes from Dominique Wilkins, another player notorious for his vicious slams. Wilkins said that in 1986 during a dunk show at the Gateway Arch at the VP Fair in St.Louis, which was just his fourth year in the league and his first All-Star campaign. While Wilkins was still young and largely unproven at the time, he would eventually have a legendary career, and in the process, he showed just how much of an impact Erving had on the sport.
Wilkins wanted to be like Erving, and for a good reason. As Wilkins would say in the same interview, "he's one of the rare top talents of our time right now." Erving was an exceptional talent, and as we would soon find out, so was Wilkins. Little did we know that Wilkins would develop into a similar player as Erving.
Wilkins ended up being pretty similar to his idol
Wilkins' quote from back in 1986 presents the opportunity to make a pretty unique comparison between Erving and himself. While their careers overlapped for a short time, they never really played in the same era of the game. Erving flourished right at the start of the slam-dunking hype; Wilkins was part of the crew that took things to the next level. For the most part, though, their career averages are pretty similar:
Julius Erving: 24.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 4.2 APG
Dominique Wilkins: 24.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.5 APG
Erving was the more well-rounded player (especially considering he was a much better defender than Wilkins), but they both managed to get their points in a similar way, and that was in the paint. These guys made their money feasting in the paint, whether it was a ferocious slam over a helpless guy standing under the rim or an easy uncontested layup.
Many players like Wilkins aspired to be like Erving, but few came close to doing so. Erving was in the second to last season of his career in 1986, and it was time for the next wave of stars to take control of the league.
While nobody knew it at the time, Wilkins' words were prophetic, as he ended up being one of the leaders of the NBA's dunking revolution. And by the time he retired, there was a whole new generation of players saying they wanted to be just like Dominique Wilkins.