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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Dreams and Memories--Some Personal Reflections on the 2006 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony

Dreams and memories--anything that is great begins with a dream and after it is over only memories remain; that is what I thought of as I watched the NBA TV telecast of the 2006 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement ceremony, which honored Geno Auriemma, Charles Barkley, Joe Dumars, Sandro Gamba, Dave Gavitt and Dominique Wilkins. Based on their comments, none of the enshrinees dreamed of making it to the Hall of Fame when their basketball careers began--but they all dreamed of creating a better future for themselves and basketball proved to be the vehicle for achieving that. They played and/or coached because they loved basketball and their great accomplishments flowed naturally out of their passion and dedication for the game.

I couldn't help but notice that each of the NBA players who were enshrined this year--Barkley, Dumars and Wilkins--mentioned how much Julius Erving inspired them and how he served as a tremendous role model not only on the court but off the court as well. Wilkins selected Erving to be his presenter, "stealing" him from Barkley, a former teammate of Erving's who otherwise would have chosen him. Barkley tapped Moses Malone and Jerry Colangelo, but made sure to mention Erving more than once in his speech. Joe Dumars logically picked his backcourt mate Isiah Thomas to present him, but cited Erving in his speech as an example of an athlete who expressed himself articulately and always conducted himself with grace and class, win or lose.

I don't know if the Hall of Fame keeps statistics for who has served most often as a presenter, but Erving could very well become the all-time leader at some point, if he isn't already. He mentioned before the ceremony that he has been honored to fill that role a few times previously and looks forward to the chance to do so again if asked. The next few years will witness the induction of NBA players who played in the 1980s and 1990s, guys who grew up watching Erving play.

Erving is a unique figure in basketball history in that he not only inspired his teammates but also players on opposing teams and players from multiple generations. Wilkins seemed almost overwhelmed with emotion when he mentioned that he admired Erving as a young player, felt thrilled to compete against him for several years and could scarcely believe that he was standing at the Hall of Fame podium with Erving presenting him. I certainly mean no disrespect to Michael Jordan, but I wonder if 10 or 15 years from now the players from the 1990s and 2000s will ask him to be their presenter the way that Wilkins, Clyde Drexler and Moses Malone (and Barkley) have asked Erving. I could be wrong, but Erving's bond to these players seems closer than ones that Jordan has forged.

Barkley was only joking about Wilkins "stealing" Erving but Wilkins (and Drexler as well) stole--or at least borrowed--the childhood dream of many people who grew up watching Dr. J's aerial acrobatics: they played in the NBA while Erving was still active, received mentoring/guidance from him, ultimately became his friend and were able to choose him as their Hall of Fame presenter.

Yet, if you would ask Erving about his impact on the game, I'm sure that he would defer credit to players who inspired and/or mentored him, such as Bill Russell and ABA teammates Adrian Smith and Fatty Taylor, plus his high school and collegiate coaches.

Watching some of Wilkins' highlights and hearing him talk about how he tried to emulate Erving, I reflected back on how much Erving has shaped my dreams and memories as well. His grace and skill inspired my life long love for playing basketball and served as the muse for some fine basketball writing by Pete Axthelm, Marty Bell, Tom Callahan, Frank DeFord, Tony Kornheiser, Dick Schaap, Diane K. Shah and many others. In turn, their colorful word pictures of his play fueled my desire to similarly capture the essence and spirit of basketball's greatest players. When Callahan wrote in Time Magazine of Erving's farewell "victory tour," he said that Erving was both "savoring" the last moments of his career and "being savored" by the fans around the country. He traced the arc of Erving's career from ABA obscurity to NBA fame to status as an all-time legend. I first saw the article in a dentist's office, of all places, but I made sure that I went to the library so that I could photocopy that story--I still have it to this day, along with an earlier Callahan piece for Time which described Julius Erving and Larry Bird as the two "sublime" forwards in the game and a host of works by the authors listed above. You can find these two great Callahan articles in Time's online archive:

Dr. J is Flying Away


The Best the Game Offers

I don't know if it is really true that some Indian tribes don't like to be photographed because they believe that the camera can capture their souls but I do know that a well crafted piece about a basketball player can make those who saw him play respond, "Yes, that is just how I remember him" and can create an indelible image in the minds of those who never saw him play.

My own version of the Drexler/Wilkins enshrinement moments came when I had the opportunity to interview Erving for an article about the 1971 and 1972 ABA-NBA All-Star Games. Later, I met Erving in person at the 2005 All-Star Weekend in Denver and also had a chance to see him interact with the public. If Hall of Famers like Drexler and Wilkins are enthralled with Erving, you can bet that Erving has long since lost count of the people he has met who tell him how much he has entertained and inspired them, but he responds warmly to such praise, without evincing either a trace of boredom at having heard it all before or the arrogance that is displayed by individuals who have accomplished a lot less and are much less worthy of adulation.

A life's journey begins with a dream. Whether it leads to the heights of the Hall of Fame or concludes at a more modest level, when it is over, only the memories remain--but those memories can inspire future dreams, so the circle continues unbroken.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:19 AM

16 comments

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16 Comments:

At Tuesday, September 12, 2006 9:20:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Dr. J influenced some many people its ridiculous. He was my fathers favorite player and had me watching the 76 ABA AllStar game, just a few days from my birth. I can also remember crying with my father when Doc walked off the court in 87 vs. the Bucks in the playoffs in his last game. I knew then how important Doc was. I think I wrote this before but since you mentioned Erving these memories came back.

The NBA was different then, thats why you probably wont see Jordan as a presenter; except for Bryant. The players now love and emulated Jordan but its a different social situation now. These young players dont understand the game the same as they do then, or what got them there. The veterans, like Barkley said, were players who taught you how to be a man.

You could probably interview baseball and football players who played in the 70s and 80s and they will say they wanted to be Dr. J.

They called Earl Monroe "Black Jesus", but no disrespect to Earl.....that was Doc. The afro, the gracefulness, the soul, jazz he embodied what a basketball player was.

 
At Tuesday, September 12, 2006 9:23:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

It was also good to see guys like Dave Gavitt, who is unknown to most people who follow basketball, how influential of a basketball figure he was.

 
At Tuesday, September 12, 2006 10:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I also vividly remember Doc's last game versus Milwaukee; I was mad at Craig Hodges for years because he nailed all those three pointers! Did you see the great piece on George Michael's Sports Machine back then, when Dr. J said that he hoped fans would cheer the exit instead of shedding tears over it? GMSM was a great show, particularly if you didn't have cable back then.

I wonder if even Kobe will select MJ as a presenter. Everyone says that Kobe slavishly copies MJ--which may or may not be true and if it is true I'm not sure that it is bad to copy the best player--but I don't get the sense that they are particularly close. It wouldn't surprise me if Kobe would tap someone like Jerry West or Phil Jackson to be his presenter.

You are right that other athletes from the 70s and 80s were in awe of Dr. J. I have read that Mike Schmidt, who became a Hall of Famer in his own right, gushed like a kid when he first met Erving; at the time, both were big stars in Philly.

I agree that the enshrinements of Gavitt, Gamba and Auriemma were also nice to watch. I didn't mention them in my original post because their careers do not resonate with my early memories of basketball the way that Dr. J's career does.

 
At Wednesday, September 13, 2006 10:10:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Bryant has always tried to be Jordan, which is one of the reasons people dont like him. From the walk, to the manuerisms, Bryant has tried to mimic Jordan. But if anyone has been close of a comparison to MJ its Bryant.

I remember the GMSM, which is still on, and that piece. I also recently saw Doc's last game in the Garden in 87 when at halftime there was a ceremony with Dr. Ruth, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Dr. Spock and Doc from the Seven Dwarfs. The Knicks gave Erving 4 aspirin as a gift.

 
At Thursday, September 14, 2006 5:19:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I agree that Kobe has tried to be like MJ in certain ways. What I don't understand is why people seem to resent that so much. What is wrong with emulating a great player? LeBron wears MJ's number but does not get the kind of flak that Kobe does.

In any case, it seems to me that MJ has more direct contact with Melo--and to a lesser extent, Wade and LeBron--than he does with Kobe. I would be surprised if MJ is Kobe's presenter. Of course, we're talking about something that is probably 15 years or so in the future and a lot can happen between now and then. Wouldn't it be something if Shaq is a HoFer by the time that Kobe is selected and Kobe picks him to be his presenter?

You said that you saw Doc's last game at MSG recently. When was it shown and on which channel? I missed it and didn't see it at the time, either, although I do remember seeing clips of all the "doctors" that honored Dr. J. I think the aspirin represented all the house calls he made against the Knicks or all the headaches that he caused them--something like that. Another nice presentation was when Red Auerbach gave Doc a piece of the parquet floor. One of the fans also draped a red number six over a balcony. I think the ceremony that moved Dr. J the most is when the Nets retired his number. If I am not mistaken, his mom and sister were there and he shed some tears.

 
At Thursday, September 14, 2006 8:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi David,

I've always heard Dr. J mentioned with the utmost regard as a basketball player, but the things that always come up are his "grace and dignity" as a person and his "high flying and acrobatic" moves. Few people expand on how Erving was an all-around Top 10 kind of guy, or rave about his great performances.

This brings me to something else: Is Julius Erving overrated?

I can only remember him from his 76er days, and only from the early 80s on, so my knowledge is limited. If my memory serves me correct though, Doc was usually outplayed by Larry Bird, and didn't really have many great, game-changing moments and performances in the playoffs. In fact, it seems like Andrew Toney was the guy who usually took over games for the Sixers, while Doc quitely kept up his consistent production.

Where am I going wrong here? Was Doc past his prime by 1980? Were all of his truly great performances in the obscurity of the ABA? How good was Doc from 1976-1979, and why does it seem like he went down a notch from his days on the Nets? Was Doc merely a very good player, whose unique style and likeable personality elevated him to a Top 10 kind of guy in the eyes and minds of fans?

I'd be really interested to hear anything you have to say about this, and learn more about Doc.

thanks,

Bob

 
At Friday, September 15, 2006 12:26:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

That game was on the MSG network. MSG showed the ceremony in Phoenix with the doctors mask and the ceremony in New Jersey. Very touching; you can tell how everyone loves Doc so much. True Jordan has more direct contact with Melo because he is part of Jordan Brand. People get on Bryant because of his cockiness plus hes good and he will not hestiate to tell you.

The mystery of Dr. J. Its interesting because there are three levels of Doc. You have the Rucker league Doc, you have ABA Doc, and 76er Doc. Obviously his knees were gone when he played in Philly, especially in the 80s. But there are so many stories of Julius at Rucker Park in Harlem and of the ABA. Anonymous, there is this DVD called The Real Rucker Park legends that you may want to check out. There is a section on Dr. J. Also buy the book Loose Balls, A book about the ABA. I know you own this book David.

And he definitely wasnt overrated.

We might see Doc present for Jordan when Jordan goes into the Hall in a few years. I remember seeing Jordan sitting next to Doc at the 85 dunk contest in Indy after Jordan lost. Doc was talking to him; it was one of those videos that shows the dunk contests from 84-88.

 
At Friday, September 15, 2006 2:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Illest, I think that the MSG broadcast of Dr. J's farewell game in Madison Square Garden is a program called "MSG Vault" and that it is reairing a few times in the next week or so. I look forward to watching it.

I suspect that when MJ is inducted that he will be presented by Dean Smith or Phil Jackson (if Jackson is in the Hall by then). Of course, I think that Dr. J would be a good choice but I'm not sure if MJ will go in that direction. Another candidate would be David Thompson--MJ has said that DT was his favorite player as a kid. Unless MJ unretires again to play for the Bobcats, we only have to wait a few years to find out.

 
At Friday, September 15, 2006 3:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bob:

Dr. J is most certainly not overrated. If anything, he is underrated, because he played his best basketball before the explosion of cable television and the internet.

Dr. J was not "usually outplayed by Larry Bird." In June 2004 I wrote an article for Basketball Digest about their rivalry. I opened that piece with this statement: "In the early 1980s the biggest NBA rivalry was Julius Erving versus Larry Bird." What people forget is that, even though Magic and Bird faced each other in the NCAA Championship in 1979, the Lakers and Celtics only played each other twice a year in the regular season and the teams did not meet in the NBA Finals until 1984. Meanwhile, Erving and Bird played each other six times a year in the regualar season and then usually faced off in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Interesting sidebar: the forerunner of NBA Live and all the current NBA video games was a 1983 Electronic Arts (now known as EA Sports) game called "Julius Erving-Larry Bird One-on-One," reflecting the fact that this was the premier rivalry in the sport at the time.

When the NBA selected its 35th Anniversary Team in 1981, Dr. J and Kareem were the only active players to make the cut--so Dr. J's status in history was already secure even before most of his games versus Bird and before he won an NBA title in 1983.

The final tally on Erving-Bird is 2-2 in playoff series, 12-12 in playoff games and 25-23 in Bird's favor in regular season games.

If you remember Bird outplaying Doc, you are probably thinking of two things. One, the Celtics came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Sixers in 1981; that enabled them to beat the upstart Rockets in the NBA Finals. Also, in 1984, Bird outscored Dr. J 42-6 in a game that is best remembered for the fight that erupted between the two of them. Both the fight and the scoring discrepancy were an aberration. Dr. J was just short of his 35th birthday at the time, while Bird was at his absolute peak. Just three years earlier, Dr. J had his NBA career-high of 45 points versus Bird and the Celtics in a 117-113 overtime Philly win.

Dr. J does not have one defining clutch shot--other than his famous reverse layup in the 1980 Finals--but he was known as a great clutch player. As I mentioned in my article, when Newsweek's Pete Axthelm praised Bird's ability in the clutch he wrote (1986), "Bird...probably makes as many crucial shots as any recent star except Julius Erving." So, Dr. J was the standard by which clutch scoring was measured in the NBA at the time.

In the ABA, Dr. J was younger (obviously), his knees were healthier and he carried a bigger scoring load. He won three straight MVPs (one shared with George McGinnis) and two Finals MVPs. His Finals performance in 1976 was simply amazing; playing against Denver, which had Hall of Famers Dan Issel and David Thompson, Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown and the best defensive forward in either league (Bobby Jones), Dr. J led both teams in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocked shots and almost singlehandedly led the Nets to the title against a clearly superior team--the Nuggets played the All-Stars from all of the league's other teams and beat them in that year's All-Star Game.

When Dr. J joined the 76ers, the team already had McGinnis and Doug Collins. Dr. J was told that the team didn't need him to score 30 ppg, so he voluntarily reduced his scoring. He wasn't shabby from 1976-79 (averaging between 20.6 ppg and 23.1 ppg) but he wasn't playing like the ABA Dr. J except in spurts (averaged 30.3 ppg in the 1977 Finals). When Billy Cunningham took over as coach he said that the team had "too many chiefs and not enough Indians." The Sixers traded McGinnis and World B. Free and made Dr. J the clear cut number one option. He averaged an NBA career high 26.9 ppg in 1980, won the MVP in 1981 and carried the team to two NBA Finals and three straight Eastern Conference Finals in 1980-82. The problem was that the Sixers had no answer for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Hence the signing of Moses Malone and the emergence of the 1983 Sixers, one of the greatest single season teams of all-time. They went 12-1 in the playoffs, which stood as the record until the Shaq-Kobe Lakers went 15-1 in 2001.

Some other facts:

--Erving beat Bird for the 1981 NBA MVP, becoming the first non-center to win the award since Oscar Robertson in 1964.

--The Sixers beat the Celtics in Boston in game seven of the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals and it would be more than a decade before another NBA team won a game seven on the road. Andrew Toney had 34 points and Dr. J scored 29.

--Erving and Bird were the All-NBA First Team forwards four straight years (1980-1983).

--Dr. J finished his career as the all-time steals leader and only the third player to score more than 30,000 points.

--He averaged 20-plus ppg in each of his first 14 seasons.

--He scored at least 1000 points in each of his 16 seasons, tying John Havlicek's record (since broken by Karl Malone, who did it in his first 18 years, but failed to reach 1000 in his 19th--and last--season).

--Dr. J's teams made the playoffs in each of his 16 seasons, a professional sports record at the time (since broken by Karl Malone, who made the playoffs in each of his 19 seasons).

If you talk with people who played with and against Erving--as I have--the sentiment is that Erving is underrated, not overrated. Check out my August 4 post about Len Elmore, who told me, "They talk about Michael, they talk about Larry—and that’s true—but always looming there in the early and mid ‘80s is Julius and what he brought to the table. I think that in many instances he does not get enough credit for helping to revitalize the NBA.”

 
At Friday, September 15, 2006 4:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi David,

Thanks for your response. I really appreciate it. I guess my memory isn't good/long enough, and the games I have copies of aren't a good sample. In particular, I have Game 7 of the 1981 ECF where it seemed like towards the end Doc couldn't buy a shot and kept turning the ball over. Also, the epic Game 7 of the 1982 ECF where Andrew Toney kept the 76ers ahead whenever Boston threatened to take the lead (meanwhile, Doc, while ending up with 29, wasn't really hitting until finally towards the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th he nailed several jumpers in a row and made some key blocks/steals to ice the game). I also have Game 6 of the 1980 Finals, and from watching it, I've always wondered why Doc didn't take more shots in that game; the Lakers seemed to have no one who could contain him. I've heard that Doc almost single-handedly won Game 5 of that series, taking over the 4th quarter, but fell just short. Unfortunately, I don't remember that game, and can't find an old copy of it.

As for the Bird/Dr. J thing, I've always heard the critics say that Doc was only averaging in the teens as far as ppg in the 1981 and 1982 ECF while Bird outscored and badly outrebounded him. Although the Celtics and Sixers played each other evenly, many people I've talked to and some articles I've read impart that Doc played below par for the most part against the Celtics. Interesting though that Doc got his NBA Career high against the Celtics. Thanks for the pointing that out.

I've heard some people suggest Doc's 1981 MVP was overrated, since it was the first time an MVP was voted on by the media rather than the players, and Erving got an edge, being a media darling.

In Doc's defense, the Celtics always seemed to double-team him. I also don't think you can always quantify a guy's contribution to his team, and looking back on it, I almost feel like the 76ers of the 80s (before they got Moses) were overachievers. The Celtics, and certainly the Lakers, seemed to have better overall talent. Perhaps that is a tribute to Doc (and Billy Cunningham).

Thanks for talking about Erving's days in the ABA and first couple of years with the 76ers. I keep hearing about Erving's amazing performances during this time, especially the 76 ABA Finals (about which I believe David Thompson said Doc almost single-handedly won for the Nets). All I've seen from this era are the standard highlight clips (Doc dunking from the free throw line, and dunking on Walton, etc.). I'd really like to see some old games from the ABA and 1977 NBA finals, and will try to get my hands on them. I'm interested to know: other than playing a different role, in what ways was the younger Erving different from the 80s Erving? Was his defense better? Was he more explosive? Why was he putting up dramatically larger rebounding numbers in the ABA (perhaps a different style of play in the ABA)? Did the basketball world's perception of Erving's status change much from 1976 to say, 1978 or 1979, and if so, how?

thanks,

Bob

 
At Friday, September 15, 2006 8:02:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I don't think game seven of the '81 ECF is the high point of Dr. J's career. As I mentioned, the Sixers had a 3-1 lead in the series but eventually lost. The next year, the Sixers again took a 3-1 lead, the Celtics tied it at 3-3 and the Sixers won game seven in Boston.

I don't think that a straight up comparison of Dr. J and Larry Bird's scoring averages in those series tells us too much. If you watch the games, you will note that Doc guarded Bird more often (and more effectively) than Bird guarded Doc. As you mention, Doc was also frequently double-teamed. Dr. J rarely forced the action against double-teams. He made the correct pass and had confidence in his teammates to make the shot (which, as you probably noticed, they did not always do). I, too, felt that at times he could have forced things more, but the Sixers philosophy was to involve everyone and Dr. J was a very coachable player. When asked to score 30-40 points, he did it, and when asked to sublimate his offensive game he did that too.

I wouldn't say that Dr. J was any more of a media darling than Bird. Certainly, a great many people looked at Bird as a "white hope" in a predominantly black game. When the Sporting News conducted an MVP ballot among the players in '84, Bernard King won over Bird, who was the media selection. I doubt that the players would have voted Bird over Erving in '81. I agree that the Celtics and Lakers overall had better, deeper teams than the Sixers. It is a tribute to Dr. J that the Sixers had the league's best regular season record from '77-'84 and made four trips to the Finals.

The young Doc was physically more explosive, as was the young Jordan, and every other young player--Bird won all three of his MVPs in his first seven years. Look up Wilt, Oscar, Baylor, MJ, etc.--most of the greats had their statistically most dominant seasons early in their careers, even though they were of course great throughout their years in the league. Dr. J is no different, it's just that the ABA received minimal coverage. Dr. J made the All-NBA First Team five times and the Second Team twice, won an MVP and made the NBA All-Star team 11 times, so he was no slouch in the NBA, either--but in the ABA, he was given the freedom to push his talents to the limit and he did just that. The Sixers decided to take a different approach and he went along with it.

Dr. J is a vastly underrated defensive player, as pointed out in several of the interviews I have posted on this site (Bobby Jones, Rod Thorn, Billy Cunningham). He blocked more shots and had more steals in the ABA but his numbers in those categories in the NBA were great as well. He regularly had more than 100 steals and 100 blocks a year, which few players can do.

His rebounding numbers are largely a factor of age, as mentioned above. Look up Bird or any other great player--their best rebounding years come when they are younger and it was no different for Doc. Of course, style of play had something to do with it, too; the ABA was a more uptempo league and had fewer dominant centers. Dr. J is one of the few players in NCAA history to average 20 ppg and 20 rpg for a career and he actually was known primarily as a rebounder when he came into the ABA. His great scoring was a bonus. He also was a very underrated passer who often led his team in assists in the ABA. In the NBA, he was good at passing out of the double team and then the player he passed to swung the ball to the weak side for a wide open shot. So Dr. J would make a good pass but it didn't necessarily result in him being credited with an assist. If you watch enough footage of Dr. J, you will see that these observations are correct (one or two games is too small of a sample). Also, as I said, I have spoken with many of his teammates, coaches and opponents, who have confirmed what I am saying here.

I really appreciate your interest in this subject and hope that you take the time to read some of the interviews that I have posted here; I think that you will enjoy them.

 
At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 3:52:00 PM, Anonymous nido33 said...

julius erving was overrun by time when good 3 point shooters emerged during the middle of 80's,he was overrated and an average player with an exeption of jumping ability.

 
At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 3:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

If you will carefully review my comments to this post and some of the articles/interviews at this site, you will understand that Dr. J is in fact underrated. If today's wall to wall media coverage had existed back in his prime, his greatness would be more widely appreciated. He won championships and MVPs in two leagues and was an excellent scorer, rebounder, passer and defender. Read what Bobby Jones, Billy Cunningham and Rod Thorn told me about Erving.

He played five years in the ABA with the three point shot, so I don't understand why you believe that the addition of the three point shot to the NBA game diminished his greatness in some way.

 
At Sunday, February 18, 2007 1:49:00 PM, Anonymous nido33 said...

Well i have watched 1980's finals lakers vs sixers recently and if you look closer rearly who took 3 point shoot and the game was more closer to the hoop what erving liked.
With emergence of 3 point shooters game had changed.
he was overrated in a way that in those times(70's)guy with 6'7'with no special fizical strengh could be foward.starting from the middle 80's in NBA emerged taller fowards(like ralph sampson) and smaller but with exeptional strengh(like rodman and barkley).
Julius with 6'7'didnt have either size nor he was fizical player and he couldnt compare to other taller of more ficical players nor even those who had it both.
Look at Charles Barkley,he was like better version of julius erving,with better scoring and rebounding.
So i meant that he was overrun by the better competition and his time was over.
If only he had 3 point shoot he could have stayed in the race but he didnt had it.

 
At Monday, February 19, 2007 11:43:00 PM, Anonymous John Chi said...

Where to start? I don't know if Dr. J is overrated or not. To compare him to Bird however is just silly. For starters to act as if the Dr.'s best years were unfairly missed by the fans and media, there is only one person to blame. He chose the ABA in much the same way he once described choosing which college(UMASS) to attend. He said of choosing UMASS that he would rather be the big fish in the small pond. He got his wish. It's hard to say how much better J was in those years. Like most ABA players his numbers declined after the merger. How good was the competition in the ABA? While they had their stars just like the NBA, top to bottom the league could not compare. To put it into perspective the offensively challenged Caldwell Jones once averaged 19 points per game in the ABA. In the NBA he was a nice role player.
Most NBA players reach their peak around 30 years of age. Bird and Magic were MVP's at 30. J was at 31. Jordan was the best in the league at 30 (even if Barkley got the MVP). And Barkley got that MVP at 30. So to compare Bird and J at the begining of Bird's career and at Erving's peak is unfair. The same is also true when comparing Bird at his peak to J during that time. But you can compare a players peak years. Assume a player's peak years are from 28-31. Magic from 28-31 averaged 22 pts. 12 ast. 6 reb. He played in three Finals winning two. For Jordan I used the three seasons before his first retirement. He averaged 31 pts. 5 ast. 6 reb. He played in three Finals winning all three. Bird from 28-31 averaged 26 pts. 7 ast. 10 reb. He played in four Finals winning two. Dr. J from 28-31 averaged 23 pts. 4 ast. 7 reb. He played in one final which he lost.
Bird, Magic, and Jordan were all the best players on their respective championship teams. Maybe a case can be made for Kareem on those early 80's Lakers teams although I would never argue it. Dr. J however was not the best player on his lone championship team. That honor goes to Moses Malone who was the league MVP that year.
One last point. You mention that a pole of league players picked Bernard King as MVP in 1984 insinuating that Bird was a media darling? Maybe that pole says more about a predominantly black league not voting for white player than Bird being a media darling. After all Bird was the best player on the team with the league's best record that season. For good measure he destroyed Bernard's knicks with a game 7 masterpiece in which he thoroughly outplayed Bernard. Bird also won the NBA Championship and Finals MVP. I'd say that on this one the media had it right!!!

 
At Wednesday, February 21, 2007 4:33:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I don't see how Dr. J going to UMASS or the ABA has anything to do with his greatness as a player. A big part of going to UMASS had to do with staying close to his family. The ABA was the only league accepting underclassmen at that time and Erving, like other players in that era, wanted to help out his family financially. The only relevant thing to consider here is what level he performed at during his professional career.

Your arguments are all over the map and not very convincing. You can't pick one season of one player--Caldwell Jones--and use that to determine how strong or weak a league was. You can find a lot of examples of players who have one scoring season that is much better than their norm, for various reasons. Four of the 10 All-NBA players in the year right after the merger became stars in the ABA. Ten of that year's 24 All-Stars came from the ABA, which was of course a much smaller league; there was a lot of talent concentrated in that league.

Your whole comparison of players at 28-31 is interesting but does not prove much. Just because some players have their best years at those ages does not mean that those years are the only relevant ones to consider. Walt Bellamy is a Hall of Famer and he had his best years early and declined after that. Nash has been steadily increasing his numbers even as he creeeps past the 28-31 range. Every player's career is different. Looking at his combined stats, Doc ranks among the career leaders in scoring and steals and he had over 10,000 career rebounds. Numerous articles and interviews that are posted at this site give further details about his greatness, both statistically and in the form of quotes from those who played with him and against him. He is certainly underrated, even though he was selected as a Top 50 player and made the cut on the AP's 10 basketball players of the (20th) century list.

As for Bird and King, look at the rosters of those teams. At center you have Parish versus Cartwright. At power forward you have McHale versus Truck Robinson. The guards were Ray Williams and Rory Sparrow versus DJ and Danny Ainge. How did the Knicks even get to a seventh game? Bernard King was a bad, bad man (and I mean that in a good way, of course). I think Bird had just a little bit more help than King did. Players have great respect for Bird but they realized what kind of season King had that year.

 

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