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Thursday, February 26, 2009

ABA Numbers Should Also Count

A slightly different version of this article was originally published in the May 2001 issue of Basketball Digest.

Julius "Dr. J" Erving. Rick Barry. George "the Iceman" Gervin. David Thompson. Artis Gilmore. That looks like a formidable starting five, but there is one way to contain them. Each of these players spent time in the ABA--and the NBA has put the ultimate defensive clamps on them by acting like those seasons do not exist.

The Official NBA Guide has hundreds of pages of history and statistics. Each of the five players from the above "Dream Team" is listed among the Guide's career scoring leaders. But take a look at what appears next to Julius Erving's name: 11 years (1977-87), 18,364 points in 836 games (22.0 ppg). Question: How do you stop a guy who averages 28.7 ppg? Answer: Act as though he never did. Erving's career began in 1972, not 1977. In his first five years he scored 11,662 points in 407 games (28.7 ppg), but the NBA pretends that those numbers do not matter. The same holds true for Barry, Gervin, and the rest.

To find Dr. J's first five seasons and the statistics of other ABA greats in the Guide, you have to search for a list that is awkwardly titled "Combined NBA/ABA, Career Scoring."

Unfortunately, the "combined" numbers are not considered "official" by the NBA and are almost always ignored in discussions of basketball history. Karl Malone's climb up the career scoring list a few years ago was well documented. When he passed Michael Jordan and topped the late Wilt Chamberlain, those accomplishments were justifiably celebrated in the media. What wasn't mentioned is that Erving and Moses Malone should appear just below Chamberlain on the career scoring list (Moses' first two pro seasons disappear down the same memory hole as Erving's first five years, so Karl "officially" passed Moses during the 1997-98 season).

It's even worse when you examine the media guides of the four former ABA teams, the New Jersey (then New York) Nets, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, and San Antonio Spurs. These teams have every right to be proud of their ABA heritage and to even overstate the importance of their ABA years but instead they act as if franchise records set during the ABA years hardly exist.

This shortchanges players such as Erving and Gilmore by wiping out the first five seasons of their careers. Erving won two championships, three MVPs (sharing one with George McGinnis), two Playoff MVPs and three scoring titles in the ABA, while Gilmore notched one championship, one Playoff MVP and four rebounding titles.

No player's resume would emerge unscathed from such drastic revisions. Take away Michael Jordan's first five years and you erase one MVP, his two highest scoring seasons, his only Defensive Player of the Year award, two scoring titles, one steals title and his playoff single game scoring record of 63 points. Larry Bird would lose two of his three championships, one MVP, one NBA Finals MVP and his best single season totals in rebounds and steals. Magic Johnson would forfeit two of his five championships, two NBA Finals MVPs, two steals titles, one assists title and his single season bests in rebounding and steals.

Pacers Roger Brown and Mel Daniels are two Hall of Fame-caliber players whose great careers are largely ignored in no small part because their statistics are unrecognized. Brown was a four-time ABA All-Star who won three ABA championships with Indiana. More than one observer has said that Brown was Jordan's true precursor. In the 1970 ABA Finals, Brown averaged 32.7 ppg, scoring 53, 39 and 45 in the final three games. In the 1972 ABA Finals, Brown led the Pacers to a series-clinching victory in game six by outscoring future Hall of Famer Rick Barry 32-23. Daniels played center on those three championship teams, winning two regular season MVP awards. His 1608 career playoff rebounds place him 14th in pro basketball history.

It doesn't have to be this way. In the NFL Record and Fact Book (2008 edition), Len Dawson, George Blanda and others are listed as statistical leaders even though they spent parts of their careers in the AFL. The section on team histories includes the statistics of players such as Joe Namath, Don Maynard, and Paul Lowe among many others who set franchise records that date back to the AFL. NFL records show that Joe Namath is the first player to pass for 4,000 yards in a single season (4,007 in 1967); no one suggests that Dan Fouts' 4,082 yard performance in 1979 is more valid because it is the first such effort that occurred after the NFL and AFL merged.

The 76ers feted Larry Brown several years ago when he reached the 1000 victory milestone as a pro coach, which served as a de facto recognition of his combined ABA-NBA win totals. Was that a sign that things are changing for the better? Perhaps, but it also underscored the nature of the problem. During a TNT broadcast shortly after the ceremony honoring Coach Brown, commentator (and ABA old-schooler) Pete Vecsey quipped that if Brown's ABA wins were being recognized, Dr. J's ABA points should be acknowledged. Vecsey did not pursue the issue further, but as long as ABA statistics are not "official," media guides and other publications will continue to ignore them or mention them only as afterthoughts.

ABA numbers should be made "official" by the NBA. Then Larry Brown's wins, Dr. J's points and the rest of the ABA's glorious history would assume its proper place in the basketball record book.

The real pro basketball career statistical leaders appear in the accompanying charts. Playoff career leaders are also listed; inexplicably, even sources that publish "combined" NBA/ABA regular season statistics make no mention of ABA playoff statistics.

(2/27/09 Edit: I have replaced the original charts with versions that are up to date as of the start of the 2008-09 NBA season):

ABA-NBA Regular Season Career Scoring Leaders:




Points Games PPG
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 38,387 1560 24.6
Karl Malone
36,928 1476 25.0
Michael Jordan
32,292 1072 30.1
Wilt Chamberlain
31,419 1045 30.1
Julius Erving
30,026 1243 24.2
Moses Malone
29,580 1455 20.3
Dan Issel


27,482 1218 22.6
Elvin Hayes
27,313 1303 21.0
Hakeem Olajuwon
26,946 1238 21.8
Oscar Robertson
26,710 1040 25.7


ABA-NBA Playoff Career Scoring Leaders



Points Games PPG






Michael Jordan
5987 179 33.4
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

5762 237 24.3
Shaquille O'Neal
5121 203 25.2
Karl Malone
4761 193 24.7
Julius Erving
4580 189 24.2
Jerry West
4457 153 29.1
Larry Bird
3897 164 23.8
John Havlicek
3776 172 22.0
Hakeem Olajuwon
3755 145 25.9
Magic Johnson
3701 190 19.5
Kobe Bryant
3686 152 24.3
Scottie Pippen
3642 208 17.5
Tim Duncan
3625 155 23.4
Elgin Baylor
3623 134 27.0
Wilt Chamberlain
3607 160 22.5


ABA-NBA Regular Season Career Rebounding Leaders




Reb. Games RPG







Wilt Chamberlain

23,924 1045 22.9
Bill Russell

21,620 983 22.5
Moses Malone

17,834 1455 12.3
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar


17,440 1560 11.2
Artis Gilmore

16,330 1329 12.3
Elvin Hayes

16,279 1303 12.5
Karl Malone

14,968 1476 10.1
Robert Parish

14,715 1611 9.1
Nate Thurmond

14,464 964 15.0
Walt Bellamy

14,241 1043 13.7


ABA-NBA Playoff Career Rebounding Leaders



Reb. Games RPG






Bill Russell
4104 165 24.9
Wilt Chamberlain
3913 160 24.5
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

2481 237 10.5
Shaquille O'Neal
2447 203 12.1
Karl Malone
2062 193 10.7
Tim Duncan
1975 155 12.7
Wes Unseld
1777 119 14.9
Robert Parish
1765 184 9.6
Elgin Baylor
1724 134 12.9
Larry Bird
1683 164 10.3
Dennis Rodman
1676 169 9.9
Hakeem Olajuwon
1621 145 11.2
Julius Erving
1611 189 8.5
Mel Daniels
1608 109 14.8
Scottie Pippen
1583 208 7.6


ABA-NBA Regular Season Career Assists Leaders



Assists Games APG






John Stockton
15,806 1504 10.5
Mark Jackson
10,334 1296 8.0
Magic Johnson
10,141 906 11.2
Oscar Robertson
9,887 1040 9.5
Jason Kidd
9,497 1026 9.3
Isiah Thomas
9,061 979 9.3
Gary Payton
8,966 1335 6.7
Rod Strickland
7,987 1094 7.3
Maurice Cheeks
7,392 1101 6.7
Lenny Wilkens
7,211 1077 6.7


ABA-NBA Playoff Career Assists Leaders



Assists Games APG






Magic Johnson
2346 190 12.3
John Stockton
1839 182 10.1
Larry Bird
1062 164 6.5
Scottie Pippen
1048 208 5.0
Michael Jordan
1022 179 5.7
Dennis Johnson
1006 180 5.6
Isiah Thomas
987 111 8.9
Jerry West
970 153 6.3
Jason Kidd
961 105 9.2
Bob Cousy
937 109 8.6
Kevin Johnson
935 105 8.9
Maurice Cheeks
922 133 6.9
Mark Jackson
904 131 6.9
Clyde Drexler
891 145 6.1
Steve Nash
891 102 8.7
Julius Erving
841 189 4.4

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:35 PM

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3 Comments:

At Sunday, January 24, 2010 3:51:00 AM, Blogger Camden said...

I HOPE THAT NBA finally recognize the ABA stats, So that the former ABA players can get there proper recognition

 
At Tuesday, December 31, 2013 10:04:00 PM, Blogger teddy1234599 said...

I agree that the NBA should recognize ABA stats. I've felt this way since the days of the ABA.

Along the same lines, the NBA should recognize NBL stats. Back in those days, while the BAA played in bigger/better markets, the NBL had the better players/teams.

One key example: Mikan has gotten robbed of two additional Championships this way (with the Chicago American Gears 1948, & Minneapolis Lakers 1949) plus his Rookie Of The Year Award in 1946.

Several future BAA/NBA stars played in the NBL first.

Yours attentively,
Pablo

 
At Thursday, January 02, 2014 12:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Pablo:

I agree with you about the NBL and I discussed this issue with Bill Tosheff, who was a big advocate for his fellow retired players. There is a special Bill Tosheff section in the right hand sidebar of 20 Second Timeout's main page.

 

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