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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Dr. J and Pistol Pete on the Same Team

When I interviewed Julius Erving, he told me that Pistol Pete Maravich had taught him the importance of playing one-on-one or two-on-two with your teammates after practice. Erving and Maravich were teammates on the Atlanta Hawks during the 1972 preseason before it was ruled that Erving must return to the ABA's Virginia Squires. I had read descriptions of how Erving mentored rookie George Gervin later in that season by working with him after practice but had never seen an account explaining that Maravich and Erving had done the same thing just months earlier. I wrote an article about this titled "A Little-Known Pairing of Top 50s" that appeared in the October 2004 issue of Basketball Digest. I recently saw a book that lifted some Erving quotes verbatim from that article without attribution*, so I thought that this would be a perfect time to share the complete story of Erving's brief time with the Hawks, exactly as I wrote it two years ago:

The ABA enjoyed a 79-76 edge in exhibition games versus the NBA, but two NBA wins should be marked with an asterisk: Julius Erving, the greatest player in ABA history, led the Atlanta Hawks to a pair of exhibition triumphs over ABA teams.

Wait a minute...Julius Erving was an Atlanta Hawk?

Yes, briefly. Erving signed with the Hawks after his fantastic 1971-72 rookie season (27.3 ppg, 15.7 rpg in the regular season; 33.3 ppg, 20.4 rpg in 11 playoff games) with the ABA's Virginia Squires. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks selected Erving in the 1972 draft (the NBA prohibited its teams from drafting underclassmen at the time) and the Squires insisted that Erving was still under contract with them. While an armada of attorneys attempted to reach an agreement among three teams in two leagues, Erving joined Pete Maravich and the Hawks as they prepared for the upcoming season.

Erving enjoyed his brief time with Atlanta: "It really was one of the joys of my life to play with Pete, to be in training camp with him. We used to stay after practice and play one-on-one. We would play for dinner after practice. I did the same thing with George Gervin once he became my teammate [in Virginia]--I pretty much learned that from Pete. If this guy is going to be your teammate, you really need to stay after practice and get to understand his game and know his likes and his dislikes--where he likes the ball and that kind of stuff. The best way to do that is to just play--go play each other one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three. Play away from the coaches, away from the whole team practicing in unison."

On September 23, 1972, Erving had 28 points and 18 rebounds in 42 minutes for Atlanta in a 112-99 win over the Kentucky Colonels in Frankfort, Ky. A week later in Raleigh, N.C., he scored 32 points--shooting 14 of 15 from the field--in a 120-106 win over the Carolina Cougars, who were paced by Joe Caldwell's 24 points. Erving says, "I remember those exhibition games. I would just grab a rebound, throw it out to Pete and get on the wing. Pete would always find you. He got his points, but he loved to pass the ball. He could hit you in full stride in a place where you could do something with the ball. That was a measure of his greatness."

The NBA fined Atlanta $25,000 per game for Erving's two Hawks appearances because Milwaukee owned his NBA rights--in a sense, the Hawks had "stolen" Erving from teams in both the ABA and NBA. A three-judge panel ruled that until the case was settled, Erving was contractually bound to the Squires. Erving returned to Virginia and led the ABA in scoring in 1972-73 (31.9 ppg). The following year, the cash-strapped Squires sold him to the New York Nets, leaving Hawks (and Squires) fans to wonder what might have been.

*--I have since received an apology from one of the authors of Maravich, Wayne Federman, who also assured me that the proper attribution will be added in subsequent editions of the book.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:57 PM



At Thursday, November 09, 2006 7:18:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Do you know why Erving chose not to join the Bucks?

Perhaps because they already had Bobby Dandridge. But still: Jabbar, Robertson, Dandridge, Erving...that would have been scary.

At Friday, November 10, 2006 5:19:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The whole back story of this is quite interesting. Wayne Embry was the Milwaukee GM at that time. He first met Erving at a basketball camp when Embry was an NBA player and Erving was a skinny high schooler; Embry was maybe 6-7 260+ at the time and Erving was around 6-3 170. They played one-on-one, with Embry saying that he wouldn't take any shots in the paint. Erving ran circles around him. The next game, Embry played with no restrictions; Erving ran circles around him again. That tends to leave an impression. Fast forward, Erving goes to UMass and then leaves after his junior year to play in the ABA. At that time, NBA teams would not draft or sign players before their college class had graduated. Erving had a tremendous rookie season, as I indicated in my article. When the 1972 NBA draft rolled around, Erving was eligible for the first time because his college class had now graduated. He was under contract with the Squires, but Milwaukee had a powerful team and thought that owning Erving's NBA rights could come in handy at some point. So Embry drafted him. Meanwhile, Erving was not satisfied with his Squires contract and his agent worked out a deal for him to sign with the Hawks. Erving went to Atlanta and played in some preseason games while the courts sorted out the whole mess. In the end, Atlanta had to pay fines for signing Erving and playing him in preseason games when Milwaukee owned his NBA rights. Erving had to return to Virginia and finish out his Squires contract.

I agree that Erving, Dandridge, Robertson and Jabbar would have been scary. A young Doc could possibly have even played power forward alongside Dandridge--just look at Erving's rebounding totals in those years; his quickness, jumping ability and savvy made him a tremendous inside player. Doc, Pistol Pete and Lou Hudson would not have been a bad trio, either.

At Friday, November 10, 2006 5:38:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

That's an interesting story about Erving and Embry.

I see why Erving had to end up going back to the ABA. But why, among NBA teams, did Erving choose the Hawks over the Bucks? Do you know why, or is it a mystery to this day?

At Saturday, November 11, 2006 11:16:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

My understanding is that Milwaukee drafted him because Embry thought that owning his NBA rights would be valuable but that they did not plan to immediately sign him-- perhaps because they did not realize that he wanted out of Virginia. I'm not sure whether or not Atlanta signed Erving before or after Milwaukee drafted him. In any case, that ultimately didn't matter, because the Squires in fact owned his rights, so neither NBA team could sign him--and Embry was right that owning Erving's NBA rights would be valuable, because Atlanta had to ultimately compensate the Bucks for attempting to sign a player whose NBA rights were owned by another team.

At Friday, August 29, 2008 5:35:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

David, thank you for also being a fan.

At Saturday, June 12, 2010 10:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Atlanta Hawks played the Kentucky Colonels in Frankfort, KY on Sept 23, 1972 and played them again the next day in Atlanta at Georgia Tech.

I was the trainer for the Kentucky Colonels.

Lloyd "Pink" Gardner

At Monday, January 31, 2011 11:25:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw Dr J and many other aba greats in Springfield Mass in 73 or 74 benifit game "Harambee" including Charlie Scott, David Thompson, Gervin, Gilmore, and many others. In warm ups Charlie Scott and Erving got into a dunk contest. Is there any print or video of this game?

At Monday, January 31, 2011 6:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I would love to read about that game and see some video of it but until you mentioned it I had never even heard about it so I don't know if any accounts of that game still exist. What are your memories of that day? What dunks did each player do and who won the dunk contest? Scott was a great scorer (and former teammate of Erving's) but I would assume that Erving fairly easily beat him in the dunk contest.

At Sunday, June 03, 2012 12:18:00 AM, Anonymous Mark said...

Here's a trivia note that I learned about from Jiggs McDonald, at the time the announcer for the Atlanta Flames. The deal that was worked out amongst the Bucks, Hawks, Squires and Nets included the first and perhaps only inter-sport trade in history. As part of the deal which sent Erving to the Nets, the Islanders, also owned by Roy Boe, sent a draft pick to the Flames. This pick was used to draft defenseman Pat Ribble, who played several seasons in Atlants.

At Monday, September 01, 2014 3:14:00 PM, Anonymous Lloyd "Pink" Gardner said...

From my book on the ABA Kentucky Colonels. On September 23, 1972 the Kentucky Colonels played the Atlanta Hawks in an exhibition game in Frankfort, KY. Very few people knew or realized that Dr. J had jumped from the ABA to the NBA Atlanta Hawks. He had left the Virginia Squires and had attended training camp with the Hawks in Savannah, Georgia. “Pistol” Pete Maravich was also on that team.

After the game in Frankfort I had a plane waiting in Lexington to fly us to Atlanta for a rematch on Sunday afternoon. It was very late at night and Artis and I were in the last cab together headed to the hotel in downtown Atlanta. Artis had asked me if I would go out with him to get something to eat when we arrived at the hotel. I told him I would. The cabby was listening to the local news on his radio. At one point the broadcaster said, “Atlanta police are looking for 7’2’’ Thomas Payne on a rape charge”. Artis looked at me and said, “Pink…I ain’t goin nowhere…how many 7’2” guys are gunna be walkin the streets of Atlanta at 2:00 o’clock in the morning? Not me!”

The ABA/NBA games would be played under ABA rules using a red, white and blue basketball one half and under NBA rules with an NBA ball the second half. The first game in Frankfort the Hawks defeated the Colonels 112 – 109. Dr. J was wearing #54 with white high top Converse All Stars.

The second game in Atlanta was played at the Alexander Memorial Coliseum on the Georgia Tech campus. The three-point line was painted with white shoe polish. The Colonels fell behind by 24 points at one time but ended up winning the game 104-103.

The real issue was not money- $1.4 million over a five year period, a $250,000 signing bonus, a new Jaguar, and an apartment. The issue was that the Hawks did not have the right to sign Dr. J two days before the NBA draft in 1972 in which the Milwaukee Bucks owned the draft rights to the Doc. NBA Commissioner Walter Kennedy slapped a record fine of $25,000 on the Hawks for playing him in the two games against Kentucky. The Hawks ignored the Commissioner and played Dr. J in a third against the ABA Carolina Cougars. After three games a three judge panel ruled that the Doc had to honor his prior contract with the ABA Virginia Squires and Dr J returned to the ABA.

At Tuesday, September 02, 2014 12:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you for providing background from your personal experiences. At some point, I would be interested in interviewing you about your ABA experiences but I do not have time to do so right now because I am currently enrolled in Law School.

At Tuesday, November 10, 2015 11:40:00 AM, Blogger DAN LYNN said...

Did doc sign with Atlanta before or after Milwaukee drafted him? I thought J was a pro after Va and the Hawks had the right to sign him as we was a free agent . Thoughts?

At Tuesday, November 10, 2015 11:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Erving was not a free agent. He was under contract with the Squires. Milwaukee owned his NBA rights but the Hawks signed him illegally and ultimately had to pay for that.

At Friday, June 10, 2016 11:24:00 PM, Blogger Michael Poplawski said...

What did the Milwaukee Bucks gain from drafting Erving? Were they beneficiaries of any settlement at any point, or did they get the rights to any players in return?

At Saturday, June 11, 2016 12:20:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As I noted in a comment above, Atlanta had to compensate Milwaukee for signing Erving.

At Tuesday, June 06, 2017 10:03:00 PM, Blogger Michael Alden said...

What the Bucks had to gain was that if the ABA folded and went out of business, they would have his NBA rights.

At Wednesday, April 29, 2020 8:51:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

The Bucks drafted Dr J because he was a star & they thought they would get his rights when and if the ABA folded. However they did this without knowing that Dr J had already signed with the Hawks. Dr J signed with the Hawks with the understanding because of the Spencer Haywood ruling. He would be able to jump leagues even with a contract and be considered a "professional" veteran and no longer eligible for the NBA's rookie draft. What is still a "mystery" is why the judge went against the precedent set in the Spencer Haywood ruling & did not rule in Dr J & the Hawks favor

At Wednesday, April 29, 2020 9:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


That is not quite correct.

To clarify what I explained above, the ABA's Virginia Squires signed Erving in 1971 after he finished his junior year of college. At that time, the NBA did not draft or sign players whose college class had not already graduated. So, Erving was first eligible for the NBA Draft in 1972, after his rookie season with the Squires. The Milwaukee Bucks selected Erving in the 1972 NBA Draft. Thus, the Bucks owned Erving's NBA rights, and were the only NBA team that could legally sign him if he jumped from the ABA to the NBA. Despite this, the Hawks signed Erving to an NBA contract in the fall of 1972, and Erving played in some exhibition games for them. The Squires sued because they claimed Erving had not fulfilled his contract with them, and the Bucks sued because they owned Erving's NBA rights. In the end, the court ruled that Erving had to go back to the Squires, and that the Hawks owed compensation to the Bucks for signing Erving. The Squires later traded Erving to the New York Nets, and Erving entered the NBA with the Nets after the ABA/NBA merger, but the Nets traded Erving to Philadelphia before the 1976-77 season began.

At Thursday, February 25, 2021 3:00:00 PM, Blogger Ira said...

Thanks Mr. Gardner for your info on Docs exhibition games for the Hawks i have used your info on ABA website trivia questions. I am know there by my fb alias Steven Gold

At Monday, March 28, 2022 10:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I have done some additional archival research since I wrote my Basketball Digest article and since I posted that article here. Lloyd Gardner is correct that Erving played in two preseason games for the Hawks versus Kentucky, and he is also correct that Kentucky won the second game, played at Georgia Tech's arena, 104-103. My article is correct that the Hawks were fined for twice playing Erving, but the fines were for those two games versus Kentucky. The Hawks then sat Erving for a preseason game versus the Houston Rockets before playing him in a preseason game versus Carolina (the game mentioned in my article). Thus, Erving played three preseason games for the Hawks before the court order forced him to return to the Squires.


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