Fabled and legendary for his dunks, Doctor J was deserving of all the mythical praise. Sure other players before him had dunked with power (Wilt Chamberlain), dunked with boom shakalaka oomph (Gus Johnson), and dunked with splendid grace (Connie Hawkins), but Dr. J combined all of these traits. Furthermore he injected it all with a measure of artistry never quite seen.
He’d fly to the basket with his afro blowing in the wind. The red, white, and blue ABA ball would fetch your wandering eye. His stylistic finishes would ensnare your wondering mind. And if the Doctor found himself in a predicament where dunks wouldn’t be possible, he conveniently doubled as one of the game’s best layup artists. Like Hawkins, he had gargantuan hands that allowed him to swing the ball however he pleased to create an angle for scoring. Famously, those angles sometimes included going behind the backboard and emerging on the other side.
All of this is just a part of the story, though. Dr. J was more than a dunker. Julius Erving was an all-around great basketball player.
As a rookie with the ABA’s Virginia Squires, Erving grabbed a ridiculous 17 rebounds per game thanks to his off the chart athleticism. In that 1972 postseason, Erving averaged 33 points, 20 rebounds, and 6.5 assists in 11 games. After being traded to the New York Nets, Erving continued his all-encompassing assault on ABA opponents.
In 1974, 1975, and 1976, Erving was named the ABA’s MVP. He led the Nets to the title twice in this period, and was named Playoff MVP both times. He led the league in scoring three times. He was good for two blocks and 2.5 steals every night. He found teammates for assists six times nightly.
The man was everywhere and the standard bearer for the ABA. But as that league finally succumbed to the NBA, Erving would be sold by the Nets, who were in dire financial straits, to the 76ers in the summer of 1976.
Over the next seven seasons, Erving would lead Philadelphia to four NBA Finals appearances and with the supreme aid of Moses Malone, Bobby Jones, Andrew Toney, and Maurice Cheeks, captured the 1983 title. Erving was still a marvel through these years. He continued to make the All-Star Game annually, was the NBA’s MVP in 1981, and his suave, cool demeanor off the court was a needed dose of positivity for an NBA struggling with an image of being overrun with drugs and pouting millionaires.
As Erving took his farewell tour in the 1986-87 season, he was feted across the league with celebrations.
Fans gushed over the mark he had left on professional basketball: scoring over 30,000 points, grabbing over 10,000 rebounds, dishing out over 5000 assists, capturing over 2000 steals, and blocking almost 2000 shots. In every year of his career he was a member of the All-Star team, whether NBA or ABA. The sheer weight of Julius Erving’s numbers demonstrate just how impressive a player he was.
Most important of all, though, is that as Dr. J he inspired the imaginations of millions to push the boundaries of what basketball could be.
Seasons Played: 1971 – 1987
2x Champion (1974, 1976)
2x Finals MVP (1974, 1976)
3x MVP (1974-’76)
4x All-ABA 1st Team (1973-’76)
All-ABA 2nd Team (1972)
5x All-Star (1972-’76)
All-Rookie Team (1972)
5x All-NBA 1st Team (1978, 1980-’83)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1977, 1984)
11x All-Star (1977-’87), 2x ASG MVP (1977, 1983)
ABA - 407 Games
28.7 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 4.8 APG, 2.4 SPG, 2.0 BPG, 50.4% FG, 77.8% FT
3x PPG Leader (1973-’74, 1976)
NBA - 836 Games
22.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 50.7% FG, 77.7% FT
Contemporary NBA/ABA Ranks (1971-72 season through 1986-87 season)
2nd Points, 6th PPG
2nd FGs Made, 29th FG%
2nd FTs Made
5th Rebounds, 28th RPG
5th Assists, 25th APG
1st Steals, 8th SPG
5th Blocks, 9th BPG
2nd Games Played, 3rd Minutes Played