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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Julius Erving: The Greatest--and Classiest--Net of All-Time

Recently, Richard Jefferson said that Jason Kidd is the best Net of all time "including the ABA." Kidd is obviously a fabulous player--but Julius Erving was, is and always will be the greatest Net of all time. David Waldstein of The Star-Ledger offered a nice rebuttal to Jefferson's comment, writing that he can "forgive Jefferson for his loyalty to his teammate" and noting that Jefferson was not even born when Erving led the Nets to a pair of ABA titles. Those disclaimers out of the way, Waldstein declares, "for those who saw Erving in all his soaring, majestic, big-haired glory with the Nets, the debate ends with the resolution of one of his signature stratospheric dunks." Erving won three regular season MVPs (sharing one with George McGinnis) and two playoff MVPs in his three seasons with the Nets. As Waldstein puts it, Erving was "the Michael Jordan of a league that was stacked with excellent players, especially at forward." In 1975-76, Erving authored one of the greatest seasons of all-time, ranking among the regular season leaders in virtually every statistical category and then taking his game to an even higher level in the playoffs as the Nets toppled the San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets to win the final ABA championship before the NBA and ABA merged in the summer of 1976. I have mentioned Erving's exploits that season in previous articles and I discuss them again in Part III of my Pantheon series.

I wrote Part III prior to seeing Waldstein's article, so it was interesting to read some quotes that he obtained from Kevin Loughery, who was Erving's coach with the Nets: "The NBA never saw the real Dr. J. We asked him to do so much. When he went to Philadelphia, they had all these great players and Doc didn't have to do as much there, not that he couldn't. He did whatever the team needed him to do. And when he was with the Nets, he did everything." Regarding Erving's performance in 1975-76, Loughery said, "Doc had to be unbelievable that whole year and he was. In my opinion, no one has ever had a better year in basketball." Loughery's conclusion may seem radical--or biased--to some, but I have long thought the same thing: when you consider Erving's all-around brilliance in the regular season and then the way that he completely dominated two excellent teams in the playoffs it is hard to argue that any player has accomplished more in one season in terms of combining individual excellence with championship success.

Jefferson's comment provides an opportunity to relive and retell Erving's greatness and that is always a good thing. The other interesting aspect of this story is Erving's response to it. Waldstein contacted Erving, who offered a classy, diplomatic reply in his own unique style: "I'm very high on Jason. I think Jefferson's point is valid. In terms of consistency and longevity, he might be the most important player the franchise has ever had. Jason is the most valuable Net of all time. I'm probably the most outstanding." Erving could have been offended by what Jefferson said and lashed out at Jefferson's lack of historical perspective; Erving could have listed his litany of accomplishments as a Net. He chose a different path: In an era in which so many people who have not and never will accomplish anything run their mouths at the slightest provocation, Erving eloquently found a way to let Jefferson off the hook, praise Kidd and at the same time not sell short his own accomplishments.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:13 AM

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