You can't tell the story of the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers franchises without the name Julius Erving.
In fact, Dr. J deserves a few chapters.
Arguably the most iconic figure in the history of each franchise, Erving is one of the most influential figures in the history of the sport and the thread that connects Erving with the Nets and Sixers probably altered the course of the history of the NBA.
The New York years
It all starts in the American Basketball Association (ABA), where in the offseason of 1973, Erving, then a member of the Virginia Squires, was moved to the New York Nets as a result of a contract dispute with Virginia.
In New York, he made his presence felt immediately.
In his first year with the Nets, Dr. J appeared in each game of an 84-game season, earning league MVP honours with averages of 27.4 points, 10.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.4 blocks and 2.3 steals as his team finished 55-29. In the playoffs? Erving continued his stellar play, averaging 27.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists to lead the Nets to the 1974 ABA title, deservedly earning ABA Playoffs MVP in the process.
New York didn't repeat as champions in 1975 but Dr. J repeated as league MVP, again appearing in all 84 games, leading the Nets to a 58-26 record with averages of 27.9 points, 10.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game
Prior to the 1975-76 season, it was announced that the ABA's time would be coming to an end as the league would merge with the NBA in 1976, with the New York Nets being one of four teams that would make the move, alongside the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs. It was only right that in the last year of the ABA's existence, Erving would be named regular-season MVP for a third consecutive season as the Nets earned a 55-29 record.
Dr. J effectively put a punctuation mark on the ABA as a whole, leading the Nets to the last-awarded ABA title as they defeated David Thompson and the Denver Nuggets in six games in the Finals. Then 25-year-old Erving was again named Playoffs MVP after averaging 34.7 points, 12.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists over 13 games.
With the back-to-back-to-back MVP on its roster, the defending ABA champs would make a seamless transition to the NBA, right? Well … not quite, as the story gets a bit tricky.
The move to Philadelphia
As if the Nets' $3.2 million fee to join the NBA wasn't pricy enough, the New York Knicks had reservations about the market being crowded with two NBA teams. At the time, the Nets played their home games at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island. Because of this, the Nets were called to pay the Knicks an additional $4.8 million to the Knicks in order to join the NBA.
After paying a hefty price to join the NBA, the Nets now had trouble making good on a promise to pay their MVP, who was expecting a more lucrative deal. Thus began a holdout, meaning a trade was imminent.
Naturally, there was plenty of interest in the Nets' star around the league, which makes way for plenty of "what if?" alternative timelines but it was ultimately the Philadelphia 76ers that made the best bid, paying $3 million to acquire Erving, a move that would change the league as we know it.
Upon acquiring Erving, Sixers general manager Pat Williams told the New York Times "we're looking to Erving as a long‐range thing, playing out his career here. All we have to do is win and we'll do all right."
That they did.
In Dr. J's first season as a Sixer, he averaged 21.6 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.9 steals to lead the 76ers to a 50-32 record and the first NBA Finals appearance in 10 years. While they would lose to Bill Walton and the Portland Trail Blazers in six games, the acquisition had already paid off tenfold.
With Erving and a serious supporting cast, Philadelphia had become a perennial contender, advancing to the NBA Finals in 1980, where it would lose to a Los Angeles Lakers team led by a rookie Finals MVP named Earvin "Magic" Johnson.
The next season was quite possibly Erving's best in the NBA. Dr. J, who turned 31 in February of the 1980-81 season, led the Sixers to a 62-20 record with averages of 24.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.
For his efforts, the three-time ABA MVP was named NBA MVP, beating out Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the honour. Bird, however, would get the last laugh, as his Boston Celtics defeated the 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals en route to the 1981 NBA Title.
The 1981-82 season spelled more heartbreak as Erving and the Sixers would reach the finals again, only to fall to the Lakers again. It was almost as if they were just one piece away.
Enter Moses Malone.
Malone, the 1982 league MVP, made a shocking move by deciding to leave the Houston Rockets to sign with the Sixers as a free agent in the offseason of 1982. With the league's last two MVPs, Philadelphia dominated the league en route to a 65-17 record.
The postseason meant more dominance, as the Sixers swept the Eastern Conference Semifinals and won the Eastern Conference Finals in five games to set up a Finals rematch with the Lakers.
More dominance ensued.
Erving averaged 19.0 points, 5.5. rebounds and 5.0 assists as Philadelphia swept the defending champs to win the third - and most recent - title in franchise history.
Dr. J would go on to spend four more seasons in the NBA, as he remained one of the game's most iconic and influential figures. And he did it all as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Nets.
The common thread
Nearly 50 years since the beginning of his professional career, Erving's No. 32 hangs in the Barclays Center, while his No. 6 hangs in the Wells Fargo Center rafters.
The Sixers head coach, Glenn "Doc" Rivers, earned his nickname because of his affinity for Erving while he was an up-and-comer.
Now, Rivers leads a Sixers team with title aspirations against a Nets team that also hopes to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy at the season's end. Two franchises that haven't won in some time likely have their best shot a winning a title in decades.
If and when either of these teams makes their title aspirations a reality, it will be the first time since Dr. J donned their uniform.
They'll be tied together forever.
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