PLAINS TWP. – Julius Erving retired from the Philadelphia 76ers in 1987 as the third-highest scorer in professional basketball history.
“The key would be combining the ABA stats and the NBA stats and that tells a complete picture,” Erving said in an interview at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono on Saturday after meeting hundreds of fans at the local harness racing track and casino.
The upstart American Basketball Association was absorbed into the National Basketball Association in 1977, bringing its biggest star, Erving, along.
The ABA made an impact on the NBA, expanding it by four teams and adding star players from other disbanded franchises, as well as introducing the 3-point shot that is now such a big part of basketball on every level.
Erving is in agreement with basketball historians who consider ABA statistics as part of the game’s official career rankings.
“I’d rather be viewed in terms of the scoring titles counting and the championships in the ABA counting,” said Erving, who remains active in basketball as a coach in the Big3 League, a two-year-old, 3-on-3 professional league that has his name on its championship trophy.
Erving said he is “not the one that needs to fight the fight,” but when asked directly how he’d like to be remembered, he points out that his social media pages list four Most Valuable Player awards and three scoring championships. He won one of each in Philadelphia with the 76ers, who acquired his rights as part of the wheeling and dealing that went into the New York Nets being one of the teams that joined the NBA from the ABA.
“To just look at my career in Philadelphia is a disservice,” Erving said.
Erving said he would leave it up to those knowledgeable on the history of professional basketball to fight the fight for statistical integrity.
The numbers produced in Philadelphia were impressive. When all the statistics are put together, they point out that “Dr. J,” as he is widely known, was more than the high-flying, acrobatic, 6-foot-7 small forward who filled up the highlight reels with his jaw-dropping slam dunks.
Erving could score, both on his strong moves to the basket and with a mid-range game that is seldom seen any more, and his ability to rebound, defend and pass. He finished in the top 10 in a league in scoring 11 times, rebounds five times, assists three, blocked shots three and steals twice.
“I think the combination of statistics tells the story,” said Erving, who was particularly proud of the rebound ranking while playing small forward.
Erving’s appearance coincided with a big night of racing at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.
Sun Stakes Saturday brought out a quality field of trotters and pacers with four feature races at the end of the 12-race card accounting for most of the more than $2 million in purses.
Before the races started, Erving was there for special Meet-and-Greets with VIPs and racing fans who participate in the track’s rewards program.
The soft-spoken Hall of Famer met hundreds of fans with a handshake, an autograph on a picture and a quick pose for a photo.
Erving also met with local media to discuss memories from his own career and views on the current state of basketball both in Philadelphia and around the entire league.
He remembered the introduction of the 3-point shot as a new twist to draw attention to the ABA.
“It was an added feature and it was utilized with care,” Erving said.
The way the 3-point shot has increased in significance in recent years has created a different impact on the evolution of the game.
“It is used totally differently now,” Erving, 68, said. “The analytics have encouraged teams to make the 3-point shot your primary offense. In the ABA, it was never part of the primary attack. It was a shot that was used to try to come back after you were down.
“There were probably only three guys out of 12 who could shoot it and would have the green light. Now, it’s nine out of 12 who will take and make 3-pointers and some guys who take and miss them, but keep on taking them because when they’re open out there, they’re encouraged to take the shot.”
Erving conceded he would play differently if he was in the current era of basketball, but his game was built on getting through traffic to the basket. The style that made him the ABA’s biggest star, he thinks, would still be an asset in a game dominated by the defunct league’s most significant innovation.
“I certainly wouldn’t take the ball in the lane and pass up a layup or dunk opportunity to throw it out in the corner for somebody to take a 3-point shot,” he said. “I see guys in position with nobody contesting them and they’re still looking to pass the ball out to the 3-point line because they’ve been conditioned to do so. Some guys just don’t have confidence in their own skills.
“I would pass up the 3 and take the two. If you play enough minutes and get enough opportunities, two-point shooting can take you a long way.”
It took Erving all the way to his four MVP awards, three professional titles and a spot in the Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.