By: Adam Callahan
When one entered the Izod Center last season, or what used to be called Continental Airlines Arena, six retired jerseys shine hanging from the ceiling. Drazen Petrovic, Wendell Ladner, John Williamson, Bill Mechionni, and Buck Williams. Just five names, huh? Who could it be that I am forgetting? Jason Kidd? Vince Carter? The correct answer is.. Julius Erving.
Dr. J. doesn’t look half bad rockin’ the retro New York Nets jersey if I had to say so myself. Although I personally feel he would have looked even better had he been with the Nets his whole career, but we don’t get everything we want, right?
Julius Erving was drafted 12th overall in the 1972 NBA Draft into the ABA by the Milwaukee Bucks. When he was picked, NBA greats Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabar were both members of the Bucks. Erving elected to sign with the Hawks, but was legally obliged to play for the ABA’s Virginia Squire. At the time, the ABA and NBA were separate league because the merger hadn’t taken place. Erving, as a result, spent the first five seasons of his career in the ABA.
Julius’s first season was with the Virginia Squires, the little known franchise that had brought in the one of the most talented players in NBA history. Erving had a strong rookie campaign, averaging 27.3 points and 15.7 rebounds per game. Pretty mind-boggling stats for a rook, huh? It’s important to remember that this was the ABA and the competition Erving faces was nothing compared to the big bodies we see in today’s league. Julius Erving was about 6’7 and 210 pounds. Nets’ rookie power forward is 6’10 and 246 lbs, not too mention he’s still working on adding muscle weight to his frame. The physique of players has great developed as time has progressed and the game has changed, big post defenders were a rare find during Erving’s time- especially in the ABA.
In his second season in the ABA, Dr. J continued to find success and developed into a more prolific scorer. He finished the year with an average of 31.9 ppg and a more-than-respectable 12.2 boards to go with it. After a 2-year stint in Virginia, there was a problem. The Virginia Squires were short on their money and had a rising star on their hand. They sold the rights of Julius Erving to the New York Nets in exchange for money.
Coming to the New York Nets, Erving provided the squad exactly with what they needed. He could score at will, crash the boards, and played good defense. The occasional spectacular dunk or two didn’t really hurt too much either. He shot the ball 51.2% in his first season with the Nets and averaged 27.4 points per contest. He also was a very respectable 76.6% from the free throw line. Dr. J was also a force defensively for the Nets, averaging 2.43 blocks per game. It’s safe to say that Erving could do it all for the Nets.
The Nets went on to play the Kentucky Colonels in Round 2 of the playoffs. They easily handled the Colonels on their home court, winning the first two games of the best-of-7 series. In game 3, however, Kentucky was essentially in a must win situation. With the score tied at 87 and 17 seconds remaining in the ball game, the Nets handed the ball to their man and he dribbled out most of the clock. With one second remaining, Erving released a fadeaway jumper from the foul line that banked in and gave the Nets a commanding 3-0 lead in the series. That year the Nets went on to win the ABA Championship, defeating the Utah Stars. Erving gave fans a reason to watch ABA basketball and brought a substantial amount of credibility to the league.
Looking to defend their NBA championship, the Nets set out for the 1974-1975 season. One that didn’t end how they’d hoped. Erving again was spectacular, averaging 27.9 points per game and 10.9 rebounds. He again was a force in the shot-blocking department, averaging just about 1.9 blocks a game. The Nets didn’t get the repeat, however, and began to get ready for the merger.
The NBA and ABA had proposed a merger in 1970. Both the Nets and Nuggets had applied to the NBA, but the merger was delayed for various reasons. That season, Erving lead the Nets to their second championship in his three years with the team. Erving posted a sizzling 34.7 point per game in the playoffs and was voted Most Valuable Player. In five ABA seasons, he compiled two championships, three MVP trophies, and three scoring titles.
The Nets were forced to deal Erving after three seasons with the teams for a reason that, frankly, is absurd. Had this trade never gone down, who knows what the Nets’ history would look like? Stay tuned next week for Part II of how Julius Erving ended up indirectly leading the Nets to one of their biggest rivalries today.