Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Rant #679: Superman

With all this talk about the New York Knicks' Jeremy Lin, the greatest basketball player I ever saw once played right here on Long Island.

Julius Erving turns 62 today, and it seems like eons ago that he did his thing as a member of the American Basketball Association's (ABA) New York Nets right here in my own backyard.

The ABA was a fledgling league, trying to compete against the behemoth National Basketball Association (NBA).

The only way I can put it into contemporary terms is the Total Non-Stop Action (TNA, now Impact) wrestling group competing against World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

They exist, but certainly aren't equal.

The same could be said about the ABA vs. the NBA.

The ABA sought to bring high-quality, professional basketball to areas the were under-served by the NBA, basketball hotbeds like Indiana, Kentucky and Florida. They had a red, white and blue basketball, and featured a three-point line.

But they need a New York-area team to solidify the league, and the New York Nets--nee the Americans, out of New Jersey--was that team.

They played in the brand-spanking new Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum--at that time considered a state of the art arena--and they had the league's marquee player, Long Island's own Julius Erving, from Roosevelt, who the league forced the Virginia Squires to basically give to the Nets to make the league stronger.

Julius Erving was a forward who did things that no other player at the time could do. With his major afro sprouting out of his head and giving punctuation to everything he did, Erving flew threw the air like a black Superman.

His dunks started at the foul line and his other moves were a combination of Oscar Robertson, Bob Cousy and certainly Houdini.

Frankly, even in this second-class league, he was the most exciting basketball player on the planet in the early 1970s. There wasn't even anyone near him, and the NBA knew it.

The Nets won the final ABA championship, and I was there for every home game in their run. It was a great run, and the Nets were a great team.

After that 1975-1976 season, the two leagues merged, with a couple of teams from the ABA absorbed by the NBA. It looked real good for the ABA champion Nets to compete equally against the rival New York Knicks.

But the ownership of the Nets found they could not afford Erving and pay the NBA the millions that it owed them to get into the league, and Erving was basically handed over to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Erving had a stellar career with the 76ers, and is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

The Nets moved to New Jersey, had a few good seasons, but have been second class to the Knicks in the New York metropolitan area. Even in their good years, the Nets found that the Knicks owned this territory, and they will probably find out the same thing when the Nets move to Brooklyn next season.

During his ABA years, Julius Erving was to the ABA what Michael Jordan years later was to the NBA: their marquee player, the player that even non-fans knew.

But to me, Julius Erving was the greatest single basketball player I ever saw.

Sorry Michael Jordan, during those ABA years, you couldn't even carry Erving's jock strap.

Happy birthday, Dr. J. You really were something else during those ABA years!

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