Ranking the 50 greatest NBA players of all time

The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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3/5/1985 Action, Philadelphia 76ers’ Julius Erving making a basket during unidentified game (dunking). /

17. Julius Erving

  • Resume: 16 seasons (NBA and ABA), 1 NBA championship, 1 regular season MVP Award, 7-time All-NBA selection, 11-time NBA All-Star, 2-time NBA All-Star Game MVP, 2 ABA titles, 2 ABA Playoffs MVP Awards, 3 regular season ABA MVP Awards, 5-time All-ABA selection, 5-time ABA All-Star, 1-time ABA All-Defensive Team, 1-time ABA Slam Dunk champion, Hall-of-Famer
  • Stats: 24.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.7 BPG, .506/.298/.777 shooting splits, 23.6 career PER, 181.1 win shares

In a fast-paced and high-flying league with so many freakishly athletic players and vibrant personalities, there were bound to be some cool people on this list. But as far as making the game of basketball “cool” in its early days, nobody was cooler than Julius Erving. Between the afro, the hang time, the style on and off the court and the fact that he made dunking popular, Dr. J revolutionized professional basketball.

While Erving’s best numbers came during his ABA days, his arrival to the NBA transformed it into a league worth watching. People were still struggling with the concept of watching a league dominated by black players, but the articulate, suave Julius Erving helped change that train of thought.

It wasn’t just that he dunked the ball; it was the way he dunked the ball. He glided through the air and displayed graceful creativity attacking the basket in a way that few current NBA players show. Half of the iconic dunks you see today originated with the Doctor.

It’s a shame Erving spent a significant portion of his career in the ABA, but he did help lead four Sixers teams to the Finals and broke through with an NBA championship in 1983 alongside Moses Malone.

His iconic around-the-backboard layup in the 1980 NBA Finals and his free-throw line dunk are just two examples of what made Dr. J a nationwide marvel, but the stats also back up how his value extended well beyond a couple of impressive dunks. Without Julius Erving, the NBA might look a lot different than it does today.