Julius Winfield Erving II was born in Roosevelt, New York on 22nd February, 1950. Erving is a former American basketball player, commonly known by the nickname “Dr. J” and helped launch a common modern style of play which emphasises leaping and playing above the rim. Erving was an important player of his time and was the main asset of the American Basketball Association (ABA) which he helped to legitimise. The ABA merged with the National Basketball Association (NBA) after the 1976 season.
School and College
Erving began his basketball career whilst playing at Roosevelt high School and this is where he earned his nickname of “Doctor J”. He enrolled at the University of Massachusetts in 1968 and in two varsity college basketball seasons he averaged 26.3 points and 20.2 rebounds per game. Whilst at university, he became one of only five players to average more than 20 points and 20 rebounds per game in NCAA Men’s Basketball. During this time, professional basketball was split between two leagues, whose players often and rapidly switched between clubs and leagues. In 1971, Erving joined the American Basketball Association as an undergraduate with the Virginia Squires.
The Virginia Squires
Whilst playing for the Squires, Erving quickly established a reputation for hard and fierce dunking. On average, he scored 27.3 points per game as a rookie and was chosen for the All-ABA Second Team. He made the ABA All-Rookie Team, and came second in the American Basketball Association Rookie of the Year Award. He led the Virginia Squires into the Eastern Division Finals, but unfortunately they lost to the New York Nets, whom, at that time, Rick Barry was leading, and whom later in life, Erving played for.
Erving became eligible for the National Basketball Association draft in 1972 and the Milwaukee Bucks picked him in the first round. Instead, however, before the 1972-73 season, he signed a contract with the Atlanta Hawks. He played alongside Pete Maravich in three exhibition games until he was obliged to return to the ABA Virginia Squires due to a legal injunction. During this time, he achieved his career-best of 31.9 points per game. The small forward dazzled people with his flashy and exciting style of play, which was a great contribution to the American Basketball Association’s up-tempo image.
The New York Nets
In 1973, Erving was traded from the Squires, who were having financial problems, to the New York Nets and it was due to this trade that the Virginia Squires were disbanded. Soon after he joined the Nets, Erving led them to their first ABA title in 1973-74, defeating the Utah Stars and from here, he was seen as the most important player in the American Basketball Association. His playing style brought many fans and much more credibility to the league. Despite this, by 1976, the American Basketball Association began to fail. To try to avoid this, the Nets applied to join the National Basketball Association before the season but were forced, by court order, to play in the dying league. Erving led the Nets to victory and defeated the Denver Nuggets in the finals of the expiring ABA and was named the Most Valuable Player of the playoffs, with an average of 34.7 points. During his five-season career with the American Basketball Association, Erving managed to win two championships, three Most Valuable Player awards and three scoring titles.
Many of the original ABA teams, including the New York Nets, the Denver Nuggets and the San Antonio Spurs, joined the NBA for the 1976-77 season, and with some of the best players around (Erving and Nate Archibald) the Nets were predicted to pick up where they left off with the ABA. However, there were disputes between the New York Knicks and the New York Nets, with the Knicks claiming that the Nets were ‘invading their NBA territory’ and demanding a $4.8 million pay-off. The Nets had to pay for joining the National Basketball Association, which caused the Nets’ owner Roy Boe to break a promise to raise Erving’s salary. Erving refused to play under these conditions, which resulted in Boe signing Erving over to the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Philadelphia 76ers
As always, Erving quickly became the leader of his new club and took them into the NBA finals. The Philadelphia 76ers took a two-nil lead but unfortunately, their opponents – the Portland Trail Blazers – defeated them with four straight victories. Although thoroughly enjoying his success on the court, Erving began enjoying his off-court popularity more and more, becoming one of the first basketball players to sponsor products and to have a shoe marketed under his name. At this time, Erving began to appear in television advertisements. He also starred in “The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh”, a 1979 basketball comedy film.
Unfortunately for Erving, in the next few years, the Sixers were not up to his standard of play. The team was eliminated twice in the Eastern Conference Finals. Larry Bird entered the league in 1979 which revived the rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers. The two teams competed in the Eastern Conference Finals for the next four years. The rivalry between the teams, and more personally, The Bird vs. Dr. J, became one of the top personal rivalries in the sport and even inspired the early Electronic Arts video game – Julius Erving-Larry Bird One-on-One.
Erving stunned his adoring audience with his all-star calibre of play into his twilight years with an average of 22.4, 20.0, 18.1 and 16.8 points per game in his final few seasons. However, there was disappointment to come for his fans in 1986, when Erving announced that he would retire after the season. Every game in which he played from this point on in his career was sold out to hoards of adoring fans.
During both his career with the American Basketball Association and the National Basketball Association, combined, Erving scored more than 30,000 points and in 1993 he was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. After his retirement, Erving ranked in the top five in scoring, field goals made, field goals attempted and steals. On the combined ABA/NBA scoring list, he ranked third with 30,026 points and as of 2005, Erving ranks fifth on the list, behind Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.
- Erving was ranked number ten on SLAM Magazine’s Top 75 NBA Players of All Time in 2003.
- Games – 836
- Field Goal % – 507
- Rebounds – 5,601
- Assists – 3,224
- Total Points – 18,364
- Points per game – 22.0