The initial reports that Julius Erving’s auctioning off memorabilia was linked to his alleged financial woes. Erving responded that he’s not a “hoarder or collector” and that the auction is for charity denying any connection to his personal financial circumstances.
Many seem to think that the sale of MVP trophies or championship rings will wipe away the memories. But proving that memories are more complex than carbohydrates, the autographed photograph of the 1976-77 Philadelphia 76ers actually reminded me that this year marks the 35th anniversary of the team many consider the best team to not win a championship.
The 1976-77 Philadelphia 76ers were contenders like Brando on the waterfront in just four short seasons after the franchise finished 9-73; the nadir of NBA futility. But after that infamous season the team began to bounce back by hiring Gene Shue to coach and drafting Doug Collins, a 6-6 shooting guard from Illinois State, with the number one overall selection.
George McGinnis vastly improved the team by joining prior to the start of the 1975-76 season. He was actually drafted by the 76ers in the same year as Collins. That would have been after McGinnis’ senior year at Indiana University but by then he was already under contract and playing with the Indiana Pacers in the ABA. The burly 6-8 McGinnis, a native of Indianapolis, left Indiana after his sophomore year as the Big Ten Player of the Year (his first and only season as then NCAA rules banned freshmen from playing varsity) to join the hometown Pacers.
The NBA led by then legal counsel David Stern a few years earlier defended its rule that only players whose college class had graduated were eligible to be drafted. Although the NBA’s settlement of the law suit brought by Spencer Haywood allowed him and others to enter as underclassmen, a player had to demonstrate financial need under their “hardship” exception.
McGinnis and others didn’t feel obligated to turn over tax returns to make a living and jumped to play in the less restrictive ABA. Listening to the advice to take the money and run he also avoided the wrath of the incoming coach named Bobby Knight. So, with the 76ers retaining McGinnis’ rights while he played in the ABA, he was in Philly after four seasons with the Pacers.
But the home team for the City of Brotherly Love became the envy of the NBA with the acquisition of ABA legend Julius “Dr.J” Erving before the start of the 1976-77 season. Up to that point, his hair flying acrobatics were performed in the ABA and with no national television coverage he was as visible as underground hip hop. But now, Doc, winner of multiple ABA titles and MVP honors was ready to operate in the NBA.
The ABA had fought a good fight with the older more established NBA battling for players like high stakes pick-up basketball but its run had ended. The two leagues completed a merger with the NBA taking in four of the former ABA teams including Erving’s New York Nets.
However, the New York Knicks demanded the Nets pay a $3 million fee for interfering with their territorial rights. The cash strapped Nets had already paid league entrance fees and faced with meeting Erving’s contract demands offered him to the Knicks in lieu of the territorial rights payment. But inexplicably the Knicks rejected that deal.
The 76ers, however, paid that $3 million to the Nets to settle the Knicks’ demand and signed Erving to a $3 million dollar contract. In essence, Doc was the real six million dollar man. But the deal was not consummated until days before the season as evidenced by the Sports Illustrated cover of its pro basketball edition with Dave Cowens of the Boston Celtics with Erving still in his Nets’ uniform. And Erving is nowhere to be seen on the 76ers’ 1976-77 media guide.
Erving in just in his fifth year of pro ball was joining a youthful team. The season before his arrival was also the last for aging vets Billy “Kangaroo Kid”Cunningham and Wali Jones who to the younger players may have seemed like a dying breed of saber-tooth tigers from the Jurassic period when the team won its last title in 1967. Also, Fred “Mad Dog” Carter, the lone holdover from the nine win team would not finish ‘76-77 the season with the 76ers. (Cunningham and Jones missed that nine win season playing in the ABA and Milwaukee respectively before returning to the 76ers to finish their careers).
So, the oldest player on the team was six-year vet Steve Mix who was acquired from the Detroit Pistons prior to the 1973-74 season. Mix could do a lot despite limited mobility with his smooth left-hand jumper making his game as efficient as a small apartment.
Also drafted in 1973, the same year as Collins and McGinnis, were Harvey Catchings and Caldwell Jones. Catchings, a defensive-minded player, was a back-up center who did not play due to an injury until a year later in the 1974-75 season. And starting center Jones from Albany State did not arrive until the 1976-77 season after playing in the ABA where he averaged a double-double. He was 6-11 whose long legs and arms when stretched atop his head gave him the appearance of a big #11 matching his uniform number.
Then in the 1975 NBA Draft, the 76ers selected three players with big egos and sometimes the game to match.
Right out of a Florida everglades high school via the Planet Lovetron, Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins was a colorful giant-child who had a quip for any occasion and name for every dunk.
Here are a few of his offerings:
The get out the wayin’, back-door swayin’, game delayin’, if you ain’t groovin’ you best get movin’ dunk’.
The Chocolate Thunder flyin’, glass flyin’, Robizine cryin’, parents cryin’, babies cryin’, glass still flyin’, rump roasting, bun toasting, thank you wham ma’am I am’ jam.
The left-handed spine-chiller supreme.
The turbo sexophonic delight.
And new to the team along with Erving was four-year vet and starting guard Henry Bibby who won a title with the New York Knicks as a rookie in 1973 and rookie draftees Brooklyn boy Mike Dunleavy from the University of South Carolina and Terry Furlow out of Michigan State.