An iconic rivalry impacted their careers
If you are an older NBA fan, you probably remember the fierce rivalry between the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics throughout the majority of the '80s. These two teams were stacked with great players and during that period were constantly exchanging with each other as the number one team in the eastern conference. The main guys on these squads were two forwards, Larry Bird and Julius Erving, who had some epic battles that were often on the verge of a physical confrontation.
In his autobiography, Bird details what made his rivalry against Erving so special and how he had a lot of respect for his game. When Bird came to the NBA, Erving was already an experienced player still in his athletic prime and was considered the best player in the league at the time. Bird had to observe and study his habits because he was aware that it would be almost impossible to stop him but only slow him down at best.
"My personal rivalry with Julius Erving was growing. It's still the most exciting confrontation I've ever had at the forward spot. In my first couple of years, Dr. J was at his peak, and I was just starting to come on. It was a battle every single time. The most important I had to do while guarding Dr.J was to get help. When he started going along that baseline, you knew what was on his mind. He wanted to dunk. Once he got a step on you, there was nothing you could do. Any daylight at all, and Dr.J would jam it through."
Erving was one of the first highflyers that could do almost anything when he was in the air, and when he jumped, there wasn't much you could do about him. His shooting wasn't elite, but Bird noticed after playing against him the first few times, he could make jump shots from the left side.
Bird never trash-talked Julius
These two legends even got into a fight one time that got really ugly, and even though Bird was a notorious trash talker that was able to back it down, contrary to some beliefs, he never said a word to Erving.
"Some people said, 'You should just give him the outside shot". Well, when the good doctor was on the left side he had a very good bank shot, and I was scared to death of that, so that wasn't necessarily the answer either. Julius Erving also was a much better defensive player than most people gave him credit for. We never spoke on the court. It was said I yelled things at him one night, but that was M.L. talking trash from the bench, not me. Believe me; I never said a word to Dr. J on the court."
When you talk about true professionals and legends of the game, Erving and Bird perfectly epitomize that to the full extent. They put on a show every time they stepped on a basketball court, and even though they had several heated moments between each other during that epic rivalry, the mutual respect was always there. Bird always spoke highly of Erving and his impact on the game and vice versa; Erving acknowledges Bird is one if not the best player he had to go up against in his HOF career.
Many people talk about the rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Still, the rivalry between Bird and Erving was equally exciting and almost similarly impactful on the NBA and their respective fanbases.