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"He would physically get after guys” - Rod Thorn on an underrated aspect of Julius Erving’s game

Thorn gushed over Erving's ability to lead his team on both ends of the floor.
Philadelphia 76ers forward Julius Erving in action against the Atlanta Hawks

Julius Erving

Julius Erving is one of the greatest players in the history of the Association. Many NBA stars, including Michael Jordan, looked up to the legend. Because Dr. J made most of his mark on the offensive end of the court, he also had a quality that a lot of people may have overlooked.

Dr. J, a tough guy?

In an interview with longtime analyst David Friedman, Rod Thorn, a former league executive who was also Erving's assistant coach on the ABA (American Basketball Association) New York Nets, raved about the superstar's ability to guard the opponent's best forward. Thorn also explained why Erving was a solid defender.

"He was a tough guy—that is one thing that is not talked about that much when you talk about Julius because of his great athleticism, but he was a tough guy," Thorn said. "I mean, he would physically get after guys and play hard."

It seems that Erving's numbers check out with Thorn's argument. During his last two seasons with the Nets in the ABA, the forward put up impressive offensive and defensive stats.

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In addition, it seems that the former face of the ABA had no qualms about putting it all out on the court. Apparently, in the beginning of his professional basketball career, Erving could play nearly the entire game and still lead his team on both ends of the court.

"He took a challenge," Thorn continued. "He played 43-44 minutes a game for us and guarded the best guy on the other team every night and was our leading scorer, so the energy that he expended during a game was much more than the average player did. It was just phenomenal what he did."

Thorn's take certainly adds an element to Dr. J's mythical career, especially for those who were unable to see him during his playing days. But for fans who got to watch his career, they probably aren't surprised to read that Erving was a plus-defender.

Nearly joining the 2,000-2,000 club

Further proving that the 11-time NBA All-Star was outstanding on defense was that he almost recorded 2,000 steals and 2,000 blocks throughout his playing career. A problem is that he is 59 rejections short of reaching the 2,000 mark.

Also, Erving's 764 steals and 648 blocks came when he was still part of the ABA. Thus, his NBA totals add up to "only" 1,508 steals and 1,293 blocks. But that's all technicality and shouldn't discount the notion that he is a good defender.

So, how exclusive is the 2,000-2,000 club? For now, only Hakeem Olajuwon is its member, although it should be noted that the league started tracking steals and blocks in 1973.

"The Dream" is regarded as one of the most complete defensive players in the league, and it's interesting to see that Erving nearly matched a feat that no one other than Olajuwon has achieved.

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