Erving, Julius "Dr. J" (1950—)

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Erving, Julius "Dr. J" (1950—)

Julius Erving led a revolution in the style and substance of the game of basketball beginning in 1971, when he joined the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association (ABA), following his junior year at the University of Massachusetts—it was playing college basketball that he earned his famous nickname, Dr. J. As a collegiate player with the Minutemen, Erving was one of only six players in NCAA history to average more than 20 points and 20 rebounds per game. During a professional career that spanned two leagues and 16 years, Erving redefined the role of a forward in not only the professional game, but in basketball as a whole. His athletic talents evoked an artistic flare that the professional game had never seen before. Erving also became an ambassador for the sport and a driving force in the revitalization of the game as a profitable spectator event.

During his five years in the ABA with the Squires (1971-1973) and the New York Nets (1973-1976), Erving was voted the league's Most Valuable Player (MVP) three times (1974, 1975, 1976), and led the Nets to the ABA Championship in 1974 and 1976. He was credited by many with single handedly keeping the financially strapped ABA afloat. Because the league had no national television exposure, many teams struggled at the box office. Arenas throughout the ABA, however, were consistently sold out for games in which the Nets and the flamboyant Erving participated. In his five ABA seasons, Erving averaged 28.7 points and 12.1 rebounds per game, led the league in scoring in 1973, 1974, and 1976, and was a four-time first team ABA All-Pro.

Following the 1975-76 season, four ABA teams merged with the larger and more financially stable National Basketball Association (NBA). This merger, which had been the initial hope and dream of the original founders of the ABA, was due in large part to the popular and charismatic play of Julius Erving and a handful of other star ABA players.

After the NBA/ABA merger, Erving joined the Philadelphia 76ers, with whom he played for the next eleven years. During his NBA career, Erving was a five-time first team NBA All-Pro (1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1983), and was voted the league's Most Valuable Player in 1981. In 1983, the 76ers, led by Erving and teammate Moses Malone, won the NBA Championship, the third championship of Dr. J's illustrious career. In addition to the 1983 title, the 76ers appeared in the Championship Series three other times during Erving's tenure with the club (1977, 1980, and 1982). As an NBA player, Dr. J averaged 22.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Over the course of his career, Erving would leave his mark throughout the combined NBA/ABA record books, ranking in the top ten in career scoring (third), field goals made (third), field goals attempted (fifth), and most steals (first). At the time of his retirement in 1987, Dr. J was one of only three players to have scored over 30,000 points (30,026) as a professional player.

Julius Erving was chiefly recognized as a player who helped to establish the individual artistic creativity that has come to permeate professional basketball since the 1980s. Erving was the first player to win a league wide slam-dunk contest in 1976 while in the ABA, a feat he repeated several years later during his NBA career. He also possessed magnetic charm and an unquestionable dignity, which attracted the admiration of basketball fans and the general public in a manner few other players have enjoyed. The equally talented and charismatic Michael Jordan is known to have stated that he would never have conceived of his basketball style without having seen Dr. J play during the prime of his professional career.

Since his retirement as a player, Erving continues to be a worldwide ambassador for the game, both through his personal business dealings and his regular appearances on NBA television broadcasts as a commentator. In 1993, Erving was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

—G. Allen Finchum

Further Reading:

Dickey, Glenn. The History of Professional Basketball. Briarcliff Manor, New York, Stein and Day, 1982.

Sachare, Alex. 100 Greatest Basketball Players of All Time. New York, Pocket Books, 1997.