Upon Further Review: The Best Players in NBA History, #15

In what will become a daily entry over the course of the next month, Waiver Wire writers Greg Kaplan and Vinny Ginardi will release a list of the the 25 players who they believe to be the best in NBA history. Players were judged on their careers as a whole rather than short stretches of dominance (for example, Bill Walton didn’t make the list due to injuries cutting his career short).

Number: 25 | 24 | 23 | 22 | 21 | 20 | 19 | 18  | 17 | 16

Number 15: Julius Erving

Vinny Ginardi: Julius Erving is one of the most difficult players to rank historically. He spent one third of his career in the ABA (which he dominated), so it wasn’t until he was 26 years that he played in the NBA. While our feature is entitled “The Best Players in NBA History”, it is imperative that we note Dr. J’s accomplishments in both leagues.

In his five seasons in the ABA, Erving led the league in scoring three times and while leading his team to two ABA championships, where he also earned three ABA MVP awards and two ABA playoffs MVP awards. In his five years in the ABA, Erving averaged 28.7 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game and was named to an All-ABA team in every season. Erving also was one of the first players to play above the rim and help revolutionize the way the game was played. Before the merger, Doc was the ABA’s most important and most impressive players (first all-time in points per game).

Erving didn’t dominate the NBA the way he did the ABA, but he still put up an impressive career. Erving played 11 seasons in the NBA, earning seven All-NBA teams (five first team) and winning the 1981 MVP award. Erving also helped the Sixers to four NBA Finals appearances, including a championship in 1983.

If you look at Erving’s NBA resume, no, he is not a top 20 player all-time. But by looking at his career as a whole you can see that he is deserving.

Greg Kaplan: I often think that many in my and Vinny’s generation too frequently remember Dr. J for only the memorable dunks and completely forget about the type of all-around talent Julius Erving was. 

In the relatively brief history of the ABA, there was no better talent and player than Erving. Three times he led the league in scoring, including a career-best 31.9 points in 1972-73. More importantly than the numbers Erving put up in the ABA, he became one of, if not the biggest reason the NBA needed to work towards a merger. Good college players were jumping the NBA for the ABA mostly because ABA owners were willing to overpay for the best talent. While some great players did go to the ABA, none were larger than life like Dr. J.

If the ABA never had Julius Erving, it never would have been the viable competitor it turned out to be to the NBA. Erving was the money maker, and he was what the NBA wanted most from their competition. As Vinny mentioned, Erving never dominated at the same level in the NBA compared to his time spent in the ABA, but he was still one of the biggest ticket draws and an all-NBA talent. Would we view Erving’s career differently if he didn’t go to the ABA and played exclusively in the NBA? Potentially. But, the NBA was better for what Erving accomplished in the ABA. He made the NBA change some of their rules to produce a better product.

We can’t understate how important that is for the direction the league took post-merger. And all of that is largely thanks to Julius Erving.