Without a doubt, Julius Erving is one of the greatest players ever to play the game. Unfortunately, we won't see his name that often on the NBA all-time stats list as he played five of his prime years in the ABA. And the Doctor himself is well aware of it.
The lost Dr. J stats
Apart from being a relentless scorer, Erving was also an underrated defender. At one point, “Dr. J” was all over the list of all-time league leaders in almost every vital category. That is if we are talking about both his ABA and NBA stats. However, Erving knows that people often refer to NBA records as the bible of all-time basketball stats, which takes his incredible all-time totals out of the picture.
“A lot of people know me for my scoring, but those other top stats are defensive,” Erving told Esquire in 2017. “When I retired from basketball, I was third-leading scorer behind Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I was in the top ten in blocked shots. I was number one in steals—and there were two years when I was playing in which steals weren’t kept as a statistic. Too often, when people talk about lifetime stats, they don’t add in the ABA years. It happened to a lot of guys: five years of your statistics get kicked to the curb. Like what, they didn’t happen?”
Indeed, Erving was right. If we are to rank NBA and ABA all-time scorers, Dr. J’s 30,026 points put him at No. 8 on the list. His 2,272 steals also puts him at No. 8 on the list of all-time steals leaders.
The mentality of an ABA and NBA champion
As for titles, Erving is also an NBA and ABA champion, twice in the ABA and once in the NBA. So, technically, Dr. J is a three-time champion. But while many would argue that the ABA was different from the NBA, Erving is certain the qualities required to win in both leagues were pretty much the same.
“It’s difficult to be the top dog, to be the last one standing,” Erving said of winning in the ABA and NBA in 2015. “There’s a certain mentality, there’s a certain attitude, there’s a certain sink-or-swim piece to it that sometimes it takes experiencing the loss and figuring it out before you can be successful…. It’s nothing you can assume or take for granted.”
The truth is, no matter how we slice it, the ABA and the NBA have notable differences. But one thing they have in common, among others, is that Dr. J put on a clinic in both prestigious basketball leagues.