Julius Erving is often regarded as one of the pioneers of how basketball is played nowadays. His incorporation of dunking helped revolutionize the game, and his all-around superb play has helped him become recognized as one of the greatest players in NBA history.
While Erving started his career with the now-defunct American Basketball Association, winning two titles with the New York Nets, Erving would eventually transition to the NBA and win a title with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1983. Many fans debate the importance of titles in the context of discussing players’ legacies, and in Erving’s opinion, while it may be a bit overstated nowadays, every great player needs to have that defining moment for themselves:
“I think ultimately, you have to have that crowning moment where you are a champion. As far as winning multiple championships being the determining factor, in a team sport, it’s little different than a sport like golf or tennis. In golf you can win a major tournament and it will take you Thursday from Sunday. In basketball, it will take you from September to June to win a title, and you need 11 other guys who are in sync with you to make it a reality.”
Julius Erving, ESPN
Julius Erving raises some good points in the NBA title debate
In individual sports, there’s not as much to discuss. Since one person is responsible for their own success in a sport like golf or tennis, as Erving mentions, how much they win, or how many titles or majors they win, should be a pretty clear indicator of who is the best player.
In basketball and any other team sport, it’s not that clear-cut. Individuals can take over games (like Erving did so often throughout his career), but you cannot rely on one person to win a title for an entire team. On the other hand, it makes it difficult to truly determine who the GOAT is in the NBA because there are so many different things to consider.
Erving’s belief that great players need to win at least one title seems like a no-brainer. At some point, the talent of great players will most likely overcome the attrition they face on the way there. But if you can’t manage to accomplish that throughout your career, that will leave a significant mark on your legacy.
While there is a bit of an emphasis on titles in the discussion nowadays, Erving seems to think it’s a bit overstated. Sure, winning it all is essential, but championships are often won by great teams rather than just players. So while winning multiple titles is neat, that may be a product of a great team rather than a great player.
Should the number of championships play as big a factor in establishing legacies as it does in the modern NBA?
As the GOAT debate rages on in the NBA today, a lot of the discussion centers around how many titles certain players won. This helps a guy like Michael Jordan, who went six for six in the Finals during his esteemed career, more than a guy like LeBron James, who has won four titles but has also lost six times in the Finals.
But if the GOAT debate were determined solely by how many rings you won, that would leave Boston Celtics great Bill Russell as the undisputed best player in league history, as he won 11 titles in his 13-year playing career. But that’s why more goes into determining legacies. Russell won his first title in 1957 when there were only eight teams in the league, and his last title in 1969, when there were 14.
Nowadays, it’s much harder to win titles considering there are 30 teams in the league, and more than half of those teams will make it into the playoffs. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily take away from Russell’s winning pedigree, but the difficulty of what a guy like Jordan or James has done is increased.
Winning titles have become more critical because they have become much harder to win. So while Erving is right that titles weren’t necessarily as important back in the day, they weren’t as hard to come by. So when you combine players’ individual success with their ability to win with their teams, you will begin to see just how good or bad the legacy they have forged for themselves is.