It always bothers me when people talk about Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan as the three players who revitalized the NBA in the 1980s, and Dr. J doesn’t get as much respect. Of course, Julius Erving played some of his best years in the ABA in the mid 70s and then in the NBA in the late 70s. Erving had already peaked by the early 80s but was still a great player. I believe that Dr. J was just as great a player as Bird overall.
Both were great scorers – Dr. J created his own shot while Bird was more of a jump shooter. Both were good rebounders. Bird was a better passer, but Dr. J was a better defender. But this idea that Magic, Bird and Jordan should be mentioned as a triumvirate without including Dr. J is not right. Dr. J changed the way the game was played. Bird did too, as a great passing forward, but Dr. J was Michael Jordan before MJ.
Jordan was clearly the best of the four, Magic was second, also changing the way the game was played as a tall point guard who could make great no-look passes and run the floor. While Bird won three NBA championships to Erving’s one, Erving’s teams made three other appearances in the NBA finals and won two ABA championships. I maintain that Dr. J should be considered on the same level as Bird, and was even more influential than Bird in the acrobatic way he played the game above the rim.