USA TODAY Gives Proper Recognition to the ABAI have argued for many years that ABA Numbers Should Also Count, so I am very pleased that USA TODAY's October 27 "Snapshots" graphic included ABA statistics; the chart listed the players who scored the most points in their first six seasons:
1) Wilt Chamberlain (1960-65) 18,837 points (40.6 ppg)
2) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1970-75) 14,211 points (30.4 ppg)
3) Michael Jordan (1985-90) 14,016 points (32.8 ppg)
4) Oscar Robertson (1961-66) 13,998 points (30.4 ppg)
5) Julius Erving (1972-77) 13,432 points (27.5 ppg)
6) LeBron James (2004-09) 12,993 points (27.5 ppg)
Sadly, if the NBA compiled such a list Erving would not be included because he played his first five seasons in the ABA and the NBA does not "officially" recognize ABA statistics. It took the NBA three years to look past the bitterness of the NBA-ABA rivalry and begin using the three point shot (which was used in the old ABL prior to the ABA popularizing it during its nine season run, 1968-76). The NBA finally added the Slam Dunk Contest--created by the ABA for its 1976 All-Star festivities--to All-Star Weekend in 1984. It is more than past time for the NBA to bury any lingering resentment about the ABA, include ABA statistics in the "official" NBA records and take an active role to pressure the Hall of Fame to induct neglected ABA standouts like Artis Gilmore, Mel Daniels, Roger Brown and Slick Leonard.
As for the list itself, a few things stand out:
1) Wilt Chamberlain lapped the field. "Stat gurus" and/or biased fans can try to find excuses to "normalize" or diminish Chamberlain's accomplishments but he set records that will never be broken or even seriously threatened. Can you imagine how much hype a player would receive today if he averaged 40 ppg for a season, let alone for the first six seasons of his career?
2) As I indicated in The Greatest Scoring Machines in Pro Basketball History, it can be misleading to compare scorers based purely on career ppg average, particularly if one of the players is active and the other player is retired. No one has come close to matching the scoring prowess that Chamberlain displayed during the first half of his career (40.6 ppg in his first six years as shown above--and 39.6 ppg in his first seven seasons as he won seven straight scoring titles, a record later matched by Jordan, who came out of retirement to notch three more scoring titles to set the record for most overall scoring titles). Despite Chamberlain's dominance, both Abdul-Jabbar and Jordan "broke" Chamberlain's career ppg record once they met the minimum qualifying standard of 10,000 points scored or 400 games played. Chamberlain finished with a 30.1 ppg average, spending the second half of his career focusing on rebounding, defense and passing--but neither Abdul-Jabbar nor Jordan came close to matching Chamberlain's early production, so calling them the career scoring average leaders after their first few seasons ignores the fact that Chamberlain was a much more dominant scorer during his first few seasons. Chamberlain eventually "passed" Abdul-Jabbar on the career scoring average list after Abdul-Jabbar's productivity declined, while after Jordan finished his second comeback he only led Chamberlain by .05 ppg.
3) James and Robertson are both renowned as great passers--all six players on the above list are excellent passers--but they both are also exceptional scorers. As I noted after Cleveland's 2009 playoff run, "LeBron James’ floor game is admirable and his ability and willingness to pass the ball are rightly held in high regard but he has already established himself in the record book as a tremendous scorer."
posted by David Friedman @ 6:25 PM