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Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Any "All-Time" Nets Team Must Include Julius Erving

Skimming through old basketball articles can be informative and entertaining, but sometimes it can be frustrating. The 2010-11 issue of Athlon Sports Pro Basketball included a five member All-Time Team for each NBA franchise. Each All-Time Team designated two guards, two forwards and one center. No criteria or commentary accompanied the selections, other than a brief Editor's Note highlighting that Shaquille O'Neal was not selected as the center for Orlando (Dwight Howard), the L.A. Lakers (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) or the Miami Heat (Alonzo Mourning).

Athlon Sports previously published a solid if unspectacular reexamination of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List, but many of their All-Time Teams are ridiculous. In 2015, Mitch Lawrence selected a "Franchise Four" for 12 NBA franchises that made much more sense than Athlon Sports' All-Time Teams.

Athlon Sports' most egregious error was not choosing Julius Erving for the Nets' All-Time Team. Athlon Sports selected guards Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, forwards Buck Williams and Derrick Coleman, and center Billy Paultz. The inclusion of Paultz, whose Nets' career took place entirely during the franchise's ABA era, makes it clear that Athlon Sports' All-Time Teams are not limited to a franchise's NBA history. Coleman played five seasons for the Nets while Erving played three seasons for the Nets, but Erving had much more impact than Coleman not only on the franchise but also on the entire sport--the NBA's interest in acquiring Erving's talents was a major impetus for the ABA-NBA merger. Erving led the Nets to the franchise's only two league titles (1974, 1976) while winning three regular season MVPs (1974-76, sharing 1975 honors with George McGinnis), two Finals MVPs (1974, 1976), and two scoring titles (1974, 1976). Bill Russell (1961-63), Wilt Chamberlain (1966-68), and Larry Bird (1984-86) are the only pro basketball players other than Erving who won three consecutive regular season MVPs. In the 1976 ABA Finals--when Erving's Nets upset the league-leading Denver Nuggets--Erving had perhaps the best championship series ever, leading both teams in scoring (37.7 ppg), rebounding (14.2 rpg), assists (6.0 apg), steals (3.0 spg) and blocked shots (2.2 bpg).

Erving's omission alone is egregious enough to invalidate the entire project, but Athlon Sports made other mistakes as well. Athlon Sports' Indiana Pacers All-Time Team included Jermaine O'Neal instead of Hall of Famer Roger Brown. Brown won the 1970 ABA Finals MVP and he played for three Indiana championship teams. Brown's impact and legacy far exceed O'Neal's.

Athlon Sports' Portland Trail Blazers All-Time Team listed Sidney Wicks and Rasheed Wallace at forward, leaving out Maurice Lucas. Wicks put up gaudier statistics, but Lucas was a better all-around player, and he was a key contributor for Portland's 1977 championship team. Wallace played well for Detroit's 2004 championship team, but there is no question that Lucas had more impact than Wallace during their respective Portland careers.

Athlon Sports paired Allan Houston with Walt Frazier in the backcourt for the Knicks' All-Time Team. Houston had an excellent career with the Knicks, but I would choose Earl Monroe over him; Monroe played alongside Frazier on the Knicks' 1973 championship team and was selected as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players.

Although Spencer Haywood only played one season for Denver, he won the MVP, the Rookie of the Year, the scoring title, and the rebounding title! During Carmelo Anthony's seven-plus seasons with the franchise he did not accomplish any of those feats (he later won a scoring title with the Knicks), so I would choose Haywood's brilliant year over Anthony's solid seven years. 

Although Athlon Sports listed positional designations, some of their All-Time Teams stretched credulity: Athlon Sports' All-Time Team for Detroit put Ben Wallace at forward to make room for Bob Lanier at center. Similarly, Athlon Sports' Houston team shifted Moses Malone to forward to keep Hakeem Olajuwon at center, and Athlon Sports' San Antonio team placed George Gervin at forward even though he was consistently listed as a guard on All-Star and All-NBA teams throughout his career. If the positional designations were not meant to be strictly followed, then Shaquille O'Neal should have been the Heat's center with Alonzo Mourning listed as one of the Heat's forwards. Instead, Athlon Sports inexplicably moved Rony Seikaly from center to forward and left O'Neal off of the team.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:59 PM



At Thursday, August 06, 2020 10:25:00 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

Julius Erving and Kareem are easily the most disrespected all-time greats in basketball history. Erving's situation is more complicated because a lot of his prime was in a league that hasn't existed for over 40 years and there is very little footage available from his time in the ABA but that is no excuse to leave him off of an All-Time Nets team or to not include him in the "Franchise Four". It only takes a small amount of research to see how great he was in the ABA and how he paved the way for other all-round dominant mid-size players. Maybe his humble, soft-spoken nature unfortunately caused him to be overlooked similar to how Kareem's reserved contentiousness erroneously impacted the evaluation of career and legacy.

At Friday, August 07, 2020 12:26:00 AM, Anonymous Cyber said...

Dr.J is very underrated, possibly the most underrated player ever. Him and Moses both but in general I think all the 70s stars (even Kareem who I generally see as a top 3 all-time pick) are underrated

Erving was before my time so most of my knowledge of Erving actually comes from this website but I do have two beliefs:

If the fight in 1977 didn't happen he would have won the title and finals MVP, and that would have been a massive boost to his legacy

If his career began later (say, after the 1978 rule changes) he would be much more highly regarded. He put up a really good fight vs the Lakers/Celtics despite being past his absolute prime and having the worst supporting cast (outside of 83) of the 3

Would you agree with those assessments?

Him peaking in a decade (and also in a league) that the NBA likes to avoid showcasing for whatever reason will continue to underrate him

At Friday, August 07, 2020 12:44:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with you that both Doc and Kareem are severely underrated.

Mitch Lawrence only created a "Franchise Four" for 12 teams and the Nets were not one of those teams, so he did not exclude Doc.

I think that anti-ABA bias weighs against Doc. It is only recently that many of his peers who spent all or most of their careers in the ABA were finally inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Kareem's contentious relationship with the media during most of his playing career has no doubt had a negative impact on Kareem's reputation. Doc has long said that Kareem was the best player he ever played against.

At Friday, August 07, 2020 10:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael, obviously who left Dr. J off probably forgot about him. I don't believe that was intentional.

But, there's no way Dr. J/Kareem are the most disrespected in history. Have you heard of Kobe? It's not even close. And I rarely if ever see Kareem listed outside of anyone's top 5 list. I think Dr. J is forgotten a little, but it's understandable a bit. He never led a team to a title in the NBA and only won 1x in the NBA. If someone only has him around the 15th best of all time, that seems very reasonable to me and not disrespectful. I never see him outside of the top 20 at the very least.

At Friday, August 07, 2020 12:32:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Leaving Dr. J off of the Nets' All-Time Team is incompetence, not a mere oversight. If the author knew enough ABA history to include Billy Paultz then there is no excuse for not including Dr. J.

Most disrespected/most underrated is of course a subjective determination. I said that Dr. J and Kareem are both "severely underrated" but I did not say that they are the most underrated.

Any reader of this website knows that I advocated for Kobe Bryant long before it was at all popular to do so. Kobe is a much more polarizing figure than Dr. J or Kareem. Kareem is perhaps generally listed as a top 5-10 player, and Dr. J is perhaps generally listed as a top 15-20 player--but Kobe can be listed anywhere from top 5 to outside of the top 20. So, I am not sure if Kobe is more underrated than Dr. and Kareem, or if the viewpoints about Kobe are just much more divergent, whereas there is a more general consensus about Dr. J and Kareem.

Regarding Dr. J specifically, he won four regular season MVPs, three championships, and two Finals MVPs. It is not historically accurate or fair to limit the focus to the last 11 years of his career. No one does that regarding Joe Namath and other AFL players, and no one should do it regarding Julius Erving and other ABA players.

At Friday, August 07, 2020 4:49:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


David and micheal

Doc and kareem isnt disrespected

Most have dr j in there top 15

And most have kareem in top 5

There been other great players since they retired like LeBron kobe jordan shaq duncan who have passed them up

Its not disrespect tho

At Friday, August 07, 2020 6:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I can't speak for Michael. From my perspective, Kareem and Dr. J belong in the greatest player of all-time conversation, not just top 5 or top 15. I have previously written that it is difficult to definitively state who is the greatest player of all-time, but that there is a Pantheon of players who deserve to be mentioned in that discussion. Kareem and Dr. J are in my Pantheon--along with LeBron, Kobe, Shaq, Duncan, and others.

When TV talking heads and members of the print/online media discuss who is the greatest player of all-time the conversation seems to be limited now to just Jordan and LeBron. From my perspective, that is disrespectful to the other Pantheon members, including Kareem and Dr. J.

At Friday, August 07, 2020 7:46:00 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

I clearly misinterpreted what you wrote about Mitch Lawrence's "Franchise Four" and shouldn't have said that Julius Erving was excluded.

To Marcel and Anonymous, many people flat-out do not acknowledge Erving's ABA career or just don't take it seriously. The NBA itself certainly doesn't and many people consider him to be a one-time champion, one-time regular season MVP who only scored 18,364 career points. This is blatantly disrespectful even if it's not intentional. As I mentioned in my original comment, Erving paved the way for mid-size players to dominate in a game where big men traditionally thrived and I would argue that he doesn't get nearly enough credit for this. When a player who was as transcendent as Julius Erving was doesn't get full recognition for his impact on the game and when a large portion of his prime is simply ignored I would absolutely consider this to be disrespectful.

As for Kareem, the Lakers eagerly made a big flashy statue of Magic Johnson outside of Staples Center back in 2004 and it was not until 2012 that they made one of Kareem. They also made statues of Jerry West, Chick Hearn, Oscar De La Loya and Wayne Gretzky before making one of Kareem. If you don't think he felt disrespected take a look at these quotes: "I don't understand it.....It's either an oversight or they're taking me for granted. I'm not going to try to read people's minds, but it doesn't make me happy. It definitely a slight.....I am highly offended by the total lack of acknowledgement of my contribution to Laker success. I guess being the linchpin for five world-championship teams is not considered significant enough in terms of being part of Laker history.....They just treated me like I was some stranger." A legitimate candidate for the greatest player of all-time should never have to say these things.

At Saturday, August 08, 2020 11:35:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with your assessments of how both Julius Erving and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have been disrespected and underrated by many people in the media and, as you note, within the NBA community itself; the NBA's stubborn refusal to make ABA statistics "official" perpetuates a historical lie, and harms not only Erving but every ABA player and team.

At Saturday, August 08, 2020 6:09:00 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

I would like to make another correction. Of course, I meant to type Oscar De La HOYA.

At Saturday, August 08, 2020 6:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I knew who you meant, but thank you for clarifying.

At Saturday, August 08, 2020 9:09:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


I like your distinction between being disrespected and underrated in Kobe's case vs Kareem and Doc's. However, I think it's semantics. For example, Russell Westbrook is both underrated and disrespected. While he is clearly still a top 5 player (at least not including non-healthy players like Durant and Curry), you'd be hard pressed to find many people whom consider him that today. Guys like Harden and Donocic are praised for their triple-double feats, but Westbrook is considered a stat-padder. He and Kobe are both extremely polarizing, but I think both terms can be applied to them.

As for Pantheon players, I think some are held in more favorable lights than others. It depends on the context.

At Saturday, August 08, 2020 10:40:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am not sure that I made a "distinction" between disrespected and underrated. I stated that Kobe is a more polarizing figure than Dr. J and Kareem. Dr. J and Kareem tend to be underrated within predictable boundaries--Kareem is generally listed as a top 5-10 player and Dr. J is generally listed as a top 15 player--while Kobe can be listed anywhere from top 5 to not even in the top 20. Kareem should be in every greatest player of all-time conversation, but that conversation now seems to be generally limited to MJ and LeBron, which is odd for many reasons, not the least of which being that LeBron has yet to surpass Kobe and it could be argued that LeBron has not surpassed Duncan. LeBron may not be the best player of his own era; that conversation at least needs to be had before one even begins to compare LeBron to MJ or other greats of the past. Dr. J should be in any top 10, and an argument for greatest player of all-time can be made on his behalf, but I understand that this is hard to grasp for people who are not educated about the first third of his career.

Westbrook is without question underrated, disrespected, and polarizing. Many years ago, I predicted that Westbrook would take over Kobe's dual position as (1) best guard in the NBA and (2) most underrated/polarizing player. That prediction came true on both counts.

At Sunday, August 09, 2020 5:10:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


"Distinction" was the wrong word. After rereading your comment I see that I misread what you stated. I generally agree with your overall point though.

I hesitate calling Kareem underrated and prefer the term "unappreciated" more. However, this could also be semantics. I don't think I've ever seriously considered Kareem a sub-top 5 player ever.. at least not for an extended period of time and this dates back to the 70s. I've seen people have him lower, but these days Kareem is almost always in the top 5. Ironically, I've always struggled ranking him over Russell and Chamberlain considering what Magic did for his career. I've long held the belief that had the Lakers never drafted Magic, Kareem would have retired by '84 with one championship. It annoys me that Kareem often gets the benefit of the doubt of being a modern center compared to the centers before him, but that's another story.

The LeBron thing is hard for me, but I'm more interested in the Doc being in any top 10 statement (I meant to ask you about the Pippen being top 25, but we can address that later). Doc is definitely underrated/disrespected and I chalk it up more to ignorance than anything. Not that disagree - but, I'm curious. So going into the new millennium, my top 10 was the same as the Pantheon (with Olajuwon being at #11).

Back then, and even now, there is no way I could seriously consider Doc over the 3 bigs and Jordan. That's 4. That leaves Baylor, Oscar, West, Larry, and Magic. Doc wasn't better than the Big O. Unfortunately for Doc, he lived in Magic and Bird's shadow in the 80s. I've been a long time reader of yours, and though I don't believe you've ever directly said it, I've always suspected you considered Doc to be superior to Bird. Bird was my favorite player in the 80s so naturally I considered him superior. Baylor, West, and Doc always hung around the bottom in the same tier for me.

So going into the the 2000s, Doc was at best, 8th all-time for me. 6th at very highest if you ranked him over Magic and Bird (which gets tricky because though Oscar was a superior player to Magic, I go back and forth considering Magic's resume). Enter Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, and LeBron. I'm pretty sure no one can convince you that Shaq has a case over Doc. Shaq's ranking varies wildly for me because I will not strongly disagree with anyone that ranks Olajuwon or Moses over him as a center and they aren't in the Pantheon. In my eyes, Kobe is on the same tier as Oscar/Magic/Bird. Which means Doc is at best 9th. How do you rank Duncan? I'm sure you don't rank LeBron over Doc. Correct me if this analysis is wrong...

*By likely I mean with a gun to your head.

You likely rank higher than Doc:

1. Russell (defense, killer instinct, winning)
2. Wilt (dominance)
3. Kareem (total career and Doc himself confirms it)
4. Jordan (default)

You consider equal but lean ranking higher than Doc:

1. Oscar (I've seen you call him the greatest all-around player)
2. Magic (making teammates better)
3. Kobe (more complete skill-set, killer instinct, etc...)

You consider equal but lean ranking lower than Doc:

1. Bird (great white hope)

You likely rank lower than Doc:

1. Baylor (durability, no championships)
2. West (his size)
3. Shaq (left too much on the table)
4. Duncan (peak value not as high)
5. LeBron (you don't know which version you're getting)

I know you try to stay away from 1-10 lists - as do I. However, based on my memories of your past articles and comments, you've stated he's securely in your top 10 meaning he's not at the bottom. I'm going to guess that you had him between 5-7 in the old Pantheon. And if you had a gun to your head, you'd have him no lower than #8 today. I'm really curious how you compare him to Oscar, Magic, and Kobe.

At Sunday, August 09, 2020 1:09:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...



I get what u and micheal saying

But aba is like negro leagues for baseball they dont count another league in they record books

Kareem had the best basketball career ever he prob the best high school and college player ever i got him ranked number 2 behind jordan in nba

Most of the people voting never seen him play he 73.

Knock on him was he only got 2 finals mvp.

And he couldn't win without a great point guard

Post robertson and before magic

That the biggest critcism and why folks think Jordan better

Dr j i got him ranked 12 or 13

My issue is he lost 76 80 and 82 and in 83 he wasnt the best player on his team

And larry bird routinely gave him work in early 80's

I think he one when kobe bron shaq and them emerged he got pushed out the top 10 and goat convo.

Its always personal opinion if yall think they belong in goat convo i got no prob wit that

At Sunday, August 09, 2020 1:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As you correctly noted, my preference is to avoid 1-10 lists. I maintain that a "Greatest Player of All-Time" argument could me made on behalf of each player who I selected for my original Pantheon In 2015, I wrote an article which makes that case for each player: Why Julius Erving Belongs in the Greatest Player of All-Time Conversation--and Other Pantheon-Related Issues

At Sunday, August 09, 2020 1:41:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


A better analogy for the ABA to the NBA is the AFL to the NFL--and the NFL counts AFL records. The NFL and AFL merged just like the ABA and NBA merged, so the records should have merged as well. I am not an expert on the Negro Leagues or why MLB does not count those records, so I have nothing to add on that topic.

Magic and Oscar never won without Kareem, so holding it against Kareem that he never won without a great point guard does not make sense. Kareem proved that he could win with two different point guards, while Magic and Oscar only won with Kareem (admittedly, Magic did not play for very long--or in his prime--without Kareem).

Other than MJ, every Pantheon player lost at least once in the Finals, so I don't understand why you single out Dr. J's losses. Also, Dr. J's team lost in '77, not '76. Almost every time Dr. J lost in the NBA playoffs during his prime, he lost to a team with an HoF center while he was going to war with Darryl Dawkins at center, and this was during an era featuring a style of play that made it essential to have a great center to win a title. Dr. J's teams lost in the NBA playoffs to Walton, Unseld/Hayes, Kareem, and Parish from 1977-82. When Dr. J finally played alongside a HoF center, the 76ers became arguably the greatest single-season team in pro basketball history--and Dr. J was already a 33 year old, 12 season veteran by that time.

I disagree with your depiction of the Dr. J-Bird rivalry, and I have written about that topic before: The Best of Rivals: Julius Erving Versus Larry Bird.

At Wednesday, January 20, 2021 12:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Somehow, your comment from August 7, 2020 was mistakenly classified by Blogger as Spam, so I just saw it and permitted it to be posted today.

I agree with your points about the 1977 Finals, the impact that rules changes could have had on Erving's career had his career started a bit later, and his valiant efforts against Lakers and Celtics teams that had more talent.

I would add that if Erving's 76ers had won the 1981 Eastern Conference Final versus Boston (the 76ers squandered a 3-1 lead) then Erving likely would have won the title and the Finals MVP that year to go along with his regular season MVP. That would have changed a lot of mainstream narratives about Erving, and about the Erving-Bird rivalry. Erving more than held his own versus Bird despite Bird being much younger, but a title in 1981 with Erving leading the way would have been viewed differently than the 1983 title is viewed.


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