Basketball Was at it’s Highest Point When the ‘Doctor’ Was In!
Respect is a lot more important, and a lot greater than popularity.
These words were said by the MOST respected basketball player to ever don a uniform and step onto the court. And, to this day, Julius Winfield Erving II – the immortal Dr. J – is still the greatest player that the sport of basketball ever gave to the world.
Dr. J is the player who helped launch the style of play that makes fans in this day and age stand, shout, and jump for joy. Dr. J was the original basketball player to inject adrenalin onto the court – leaping and playing ‘above the rim.’ Dr. J. is also the man who helped the American Basketball Association (ABA) to become known as being a truly legitimate sports organization, In fact, he was the most popular player in the ABA when it merged with the NBA after the season of 1976.
Dr. J won three championships during his career on top of bringing home four MVP awards, three scoring titles, and becoming the fifth-highest scorer in professional basketball history. But the Slam Dunk contests were Dr. J’s true gift. Even though there are spirited athletes who can make baskets, Dr. J could slam-dunk from the free throw line. His moves were stellar, and made crowds gasp in awe at the new methods and shots he brought out onto that court.
Named to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Star Team in 1993, Dr. J’s basketball uniform was also inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. There are many fans that will always consider him to be the most extraordinary basketball player in the history of the sport to watch. This was the man who brought the words “slam dunk” into the basketball world. In fact, his signature dunk WAS the original “slam” dunk, and the way he executed it was like watching a movie star in action.
Now Dr. J actually received his nickname in high school and then went on to the University of Massachusetts. While earning his bachelor’s degree in 1986, he also blew every basketball player off the court. This was a time in history where professional basketball was in a state of confusion, split between two leagues whose players switched clubs in seconds.
Dr. J joined the ABA in 1971 as a free agent with the Squires and established himself as a force to be reckoned with. Quickly, he was selected to the All-ABA Second Team, made the ABA All-Rookie Team, and finished second for the ABA Rookie of the Year Award.
When Dr. J became eligible for the NBA draft in 1972, he joined with the Atlanta Hawks and traveled to the Hawks’ training camp to prepare for the upcoming season. Unfortunately, he was only able to play three exhibition games before a legal injunction was put into place and Dr. J had to return to the ABA. There, even though Dr. J would’ve rather stayed in the NBA, his career went crazy. He achieved a career-best 31.9 points per game in the 1972–1973 season. And then the Squires had to trade Dr. J because of financial concerns to the Nets, where the Doctor led them to their first ABA title ever.
NO matter where he went or what the trade was, Dr. J established himself as the most important player in the ABA, and not only brought credibility to the league, but also a tremendous amount of fans! Then, when the ABA-NBA merger finally happened – Dr. J was named the Most Valuable Player of the playoffs.
Joining up with the NBA, even more legal issues came up. The NBA, in fact, was upset that the ABA was ‘trading on their territory’ and brought a lawsuit against the Nets. In response, the Nets offered Erving’s contract to the New York Knicks in return for waiving the lawsuit, but the Knicks turned it down. When the 76ers offered to buy Dr. J’s contract, the Nets manager had no choice but to accept the offer in order to pay off the Nets.
The Nets crashed once Dr. J was gone – ending up dead last in the league. Years later, the manager stated that: “The merger agreement killed the Nets as an NBA franchise. It got us into the NBA, but forced us to destroy the team by selling Dr. J to pay the bill.”
Unlike the Nets destruction, Dr. J’s career soared. He became the leader of his new club and led the 76ers to a fifty-win season. They won the Atlantic Division and were the top drawing team in the NBA. Dr. J helped them beat the beloved Celtics and took them to the NBA Finals.
Dr. J also enjoyed success off the court; he was one of the very first basketball players to endorse products AND even got a ‘shoe’ under his name. He appeared in television commercials and the 1979 basketball comedy film, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh.
It took a few years for the 76ers franchise to build around Dr. J, but when they did their success was truly phenomenal. Of course, Dr. J. had to cope with a team that was nowhere near his playing level, and were eliminated twice in the Eastern Conference Finals. It was in 1979 that Larry Bird entered the league, reviving the Boston Celtics and the much talked about Celtics-76ers rivalry, and the Bird versus Dr. J match-up became the top personal rivalry in the sport.
In 1980, the 76ers finally prevailed over the Celtics to advance to the NBA Finals, and there, Erving executed the legendary Baseline Move – a behind-the-board reverse lay-up. The Lakers still won, but Dr. J made the history books.
Even though the 76ers remained behind the Celtics and Lakers, Dr. J was still the one named as the NBA MVP in 1981. But it was the next season when the team added a man at their center position named Moses Malone, and with the team of Malone and Dr. J, the Sixers dominated the whole season, sweeping the Lakers to finally win the NBA title.
Erving maintained his all-star caliber right up until his retirement – and every game he played was in front of sold out crowds full of adoring fans. Retiring at the age of thirty-seven, Dr. J. went down in history as the “Thomas Edison of basketball” – a man who invented almost every move that is still in use in modern basketball today. He is also one of the few players to have his basketball uniform retired by two franchises: the New Jersey Nets (formerly the New York Nets) and the Philadelphia 76ers. .
No matter who comes along – all the Michael Jordan’s that will arrive on the court – will never live up to the magic and majesty that Dr. J showed to the world. In fact, even Mr. Jordan, himself, is quoted as saying: “Here I was, trying to win a championship, and my mouth just dropped open. He actually did that! I thought, ‘What should we do? Should we take the ball out, or should we give him the ball back and ask him to do it again?’ It’s still the greatest move I’ve ever seen in a basketball game, the all-time greatest.” This was Michael Jordan’s response to the incredible Baseline Move – and he was absolutely right.
No matter how many games are played in the future of basketball – Dr. J will forever be remembered for doing the impossible!