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Saturday, February 22, 2020

Happy 70th Birthday, Julius Erving!

It is hard to believe that my favorite basketball player of all-time and childhood hero Julius Erving celebrated his 70th birthday today. His combination of skill, grace, competitive greatness, and class are rare, if not unique.

I have already written many articles totaling tens of thousands of words about Erving (there is a whole section in 20 Second Timeout's right hand sidebar containing links to those articles); I have probably written more about Erving than anyone other than the beat writers who covered him for 11 years in Philadelphia.

So, what is something new or different that I can say about Erving on this milestone birthday?

One thing came to mind yesterday as I watched Zion Williamson, who has started his rookie season in sensational fashion; ESPN showed several graphics noting that in a variety of categories Williamson is putting up scoring numbers (in terms of most 20 point games and most 30 point games in his first 10 games as a professional) that have not been seen since the likes of Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Jordan. I know that ESPN and most other major media outlets ignore ABA numbers, so I wondered how many 20 point games and 30 point games Erving had in the first 10 games of his rookie season, and these are Erving's 1971-72 scoring numbers as listed at BasketballRefererence.com: 21, 20, 17, 26, 31, 35, 21, 30, 19, 17.

That adds up to 23.7 ppg, with seven 20 point games (including three 30 point games). Erving's early rookie numbers are right up there with the numbers that ESPN listed for Jordan (27.3 ppg, eight 20 point games, three 30 point games), O'Neal (23.8 ppg, seven 20 point games, two 30 point games), and Williamson (22.1 ppg, eight 20 point games, two 30 point games). Individual rebound totals, individual assist totals, and field goal percentage numbers are not available at BasketballReference.com for those games, but Erving averaged 15.7 rpg, and 4.0 apg while shooting .498 from the field as a rookie, so one can reasonably assume that his numbers in those categories in his first 10 games were very good. Erving almost certainly outrebounded Williamson (probably doubling Williamson's numbers). Erving's Virginia Squires went 7-3 during those games, and Erving eventually led the Squires to the Eastern Division Finals while averaging 33.3 ppg, 20.4 rpg, and 6.5 apg during the playoffs (those are not typos).

Erving posted remarkable numbers throughout his career, and he did so in spectacular fashion, using his huge hands, tremendous leaping ability, and fantastic body control to literally and figuratively take the game of basketball to new heights.

Not only are Erving's numbers underrated--if not completely ignored--but Erving's status as a great winner is not accorded proper emphasis. Erving's teams reached at least the Conference Finals (called the Division Finals early in his career) 10 times during his 16 year career, winning six times. Erving won three championships, and he was the Playoff MVP during two of those three championship runs (he made the All-NBA First Team and finished in the top five in regular season MVP voting as a 33 year old 12 veteran during his last championship season). Three of the six times that Erving's teams did not reach at least the Conference Finals happened in his final four years, when he was between 34 and 37 years old; for the vast majority of Erving's career, he led his teams to the "Final Four" on a nearly annual basis.

Erving's teams made the playoffs and did not have a losing record in each of his 16 seasons, an accomplishment unmatched in any of the major North American team sports at the time that Erving retired in 1987. In five of his first six NBA seasons, Erving's Philadelphia 76ers were eliminated from the playoffs by that season's championship team, led by a Hall of Fame center (the 76ers featured Caldwell Jones and Darryl Dawkins at center during that era, a period in basketball history when it was almost impossible to win a title without a top flight big man).

It turns my stomach when anyone suggests that Erving was more flash than substance. Nothing could be further from the truth. Erving had both flash and substance: his teams won often, and won big, while Erving established himself as arguably the most exciting player of all-time (that is a subjective title, and he is my choice; other people may choose differently).

Happy Birthday, Dr. J! Thank you so much for the memories, and may you enjoy many, many more years!

Selected Articles About Julius Erving

Happy 60th Birthday, Dr. J! (2010)

Julius Erving's Best Scoring Streaks/Most Productive Scoring Months (2015)

Julius Erving's Legend Resonates Nearly 30 Years After He Retired (2016)

Imagining the Young Julius Erving Playing in Today's NBA (2017)

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:39 PM



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