Time moves on and in the last few decades we’ve seen guys like Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Kobe Bryant, Scottie Pippen, Clyde Drexler, Dominique Wilkins and most of all Michael Jordan redefine the game for midsized players.
All of them followed a trail blazed by Julius Erving.
Erving came out of New York and played at UMass before moving to the ABA where his exploits were so stunning that even without a significant TV presence, people talked about him all over the country.
When the ABA-NBA merger came he (and NC State great David Thompson) were driving forces. And in the NBA he continued to dazzle, just on a bigger stage. He was soon traded to Philadelphia, where he eventually toned his game down somewhat in order to fit into Billy Cunningham’s system. Playing in a frontcourt with Moses Malone and Bobby Jones, he was indeed more subdue but even more sublime. He became an extraordinary player, still capable of stunning individual plays but more than willing to subordinate himself to his team.
His ABA highlights, even in grainy black and white, are still amazing but his greatest, most memorable play was this improvisation against the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. If you’ve never seen it, you’re in for a treat. It was perhaps the most poetic move in the history of the game.