Black History Month spotlight: How Julius Erving transformed the Sixers

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In honor of Black History Month I decided to introduce a series that highlights some of the most historic and influential African-American Philly athletes. I will begin this series with the Doctor himself- Julius Erving.

Julius Erving, famously coined Dr.J, was acquired by the 76ers in 1976 (because of course it was that year) after dominating the American Basketball Association (ABA). The terms of his acquisition are pretty rare though. Following an ABA Finals championship victory over the Denver Nuggets in the spring of 1976, the New York Nets applied to be one of the teams included in the ABA-NBA merger.

The successful ABA franchise was accepted, but the New York Knicks demanded that they pay $4.8M for “invading” their NBA territory. Roy Boe, then New York Nets owner, couldn’t afford to pay the Knicks the money they commanded after all the fees he had to spend to join the NBA, and decided that one way to free up some money was to take back his promise to give Dr.J the raise he deserved. Dr.J refused to play under those conditions and the Nets began to shop him around the league. The Knicks were the first team to be offered the superstar, in exchange for waiving the $4.8M territory fee. The Knicks stubbornly- and foolishly- declined and the Erving remained on the trading block. In steps the 76ers.

The 76ers paid $3M, roughly the cost of the Nets’ expansion fee, for Erving’s contract. The Sixers changed his jersey number from 32 to 6 to honor the team name and to crown him the face of their franchise. The team’s faith in him was instantly rewarded.

Erving averaged 21.6 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.7 steals, and 1.3 blocks in his first season in the NBA. His athletic prowess was like something out of a movie and he dazzled the basketball world every time he took the floor. Dr.J was simply sensational, and, alongside elite scorer George McGinnis, led the team to a 50 win season and the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Erving-led Sixers stunned the defending champion Boston Celtics in an exhilarating 7 game semi-finals series. They followed that up with a strong 4-2 series win over the Houston Rockets in the Eastern Conference Finals. This series victory punched the franchise’s ticket to their first Finals appearance in 10 years. The team eventually fell short of the goal after losing the Finals in 6 games to the talented Portland Trailblazers. The loss, however, did not diminish the hope that was surging through the city and it was apparent that Dr.J would take Philly to new heights.

Dr.J would go on to be an 11x All-Star (every season he was in the NBA!), 5x All-NBA First Team, the 1981 NBA MVP, and most importantly an NBA Champion. The 76ers climbed the mountaintop in 1983 when they swept a loaded Los Angeles Lakers roster featuring Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to win the NBA Finals. The victory was especially sweet after the Lakers defeated the Sixers at that stage the previous year.

A championship ring wasn’t the only hardware Erving earned in 1983. He also was honored with the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award- an award given to a player, coach, or staff member that exemplifies outstanding service and dedication to the community.

Dr.J was more than a gravity defying scoring machine. He was more than a dunk specialist. He was more than this absolutely insane, iconic play.

He was a true champion on and off the court, and set the standard for what it takes to be a superstar in Philly.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

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