Stats: 22 PTS, 6.7 REB, 3.9 AST, 1.8 STL, 1.5 BLK, 50.7% FG
Accolades: 11-time NBA All-Star, 2-time NBA All-Star Game MVP, 1980-1981 NBA MVP, 5-time All-NBA 1st team (two-time 2nd team), 1982-83 NBA Champion
Before I get into his time with the Sixers, you can’t look at Dr. J’s career and not consider his ABA years. During Iverson’s post, I mentioned that he really did carry the offensive load for his teams. Well, Dr. J did one better – he carried an entire league. By any account, Dr. J was the crown jewel of the ABA. He played the most minutes and was promoted as a way to legitimize the league in the public’s eyes. He was THE moneymaker for a league that had a weaker financial foundation than a straw house. And he stuck with the ABA until the very end, when it eventually merged with the NBA. Then the Sixers got a gift, akin to the Babe Ruth trade between the Yankees and the Red Sox: Dr. J was sold by the Nets, his ABA team which merged into the NBA, to the Sixers for money to pay the Nets’ NBA-imposed expansion fee.
The gift of Julius Erving instantly made the Sixers a legitimate threat for years to come. In each of his eleven NBA seasons, all with the Sixers, his teams made the playoffs. More often than not his teams won a playoff series. And he was the highlight of most of those.
Dr. J may be the most athletically talented player ever compared to his era. Wilt had physical gifts and many mistresses, but his size was the difference between he and his competition. Julius was just so much more athletic than anyone else in the league and, combined with size and length, he was a athletic marvel. He had the ability to dominate a game in every way. While not the greatest defender in the world, he consistently had strong block and steal numbers. A better description about his defense can be found in an older article from 20 Second Timeout (found here) – while not at Bobby Jones’ level (which would be saying one of the best of all time) he was valuable at that end. Steals and blocks can be terrible indications of player defense, especially when you appear on an All-Defensive team just once in an 11 year career. But here, I think this may be a place the good doctor was actually underrated. By all accounts he played well on that end and was instrumental in the schemes for several dominant defensive teams. This isn’t an Iverson or Javale McGee situation, where the gaudy counted defensive numbers make them look like good defensive players – he was a legitimately good defender.
He shone, however, when he had the ball in his hands. Arguably the first of the dynamic, do-it-all swingmen (including, but not limited to, MJ, Kobe, LeBron, T-Mac) Dr. J was a force of nature, chewing up the defense with all of his abilities. He wasn’t a great shooter, but he got to the rim at will, slashing around or rising above the defense. Again, his athleticism was unmatched during his playing days – even after the five long ABA seasons (they had much fewer luxuries than NBA players at the same time) Dr. J was still the best in class. He had the scoring, the rebounding, the defending, the playmaking, the awe-inspiring moments only an all-time great can have. Oh, and he could dunk:
Erving, like Iverson, also became a cultural icon. The nickname, Dr.J, lives on to this day. He starred in commercials and a movie called The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, though I don’t know if that’s saying much*. He had the dunks and the always-remembered under the rim layup that everyone that has ever played basketball has tried to emulate.
*Think about it this way – the movie seems as realistic as Space Jam, but was nowhere near entertaining, in my opinion. I do know a few people who like it, though.
The good doctor, unlike Iverson, won a title in Philadelphia, which is a big consideration. He scored less than AI but provided better numbers across the board. His teams made the playoffs in every season, and he was routinely mentioned among the greatest players of his time as well as the greatest of all-time. For those reasons, Julius Erving is the greatest Sixer of the past 30 seasons.