By Ray Boyd
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Shaquille O’Neal, one of the most dominant players to ever play in the NBA, was asked the question of choice for the last decade or so; Kobe or LeBron? I remember the mid 2000’s when both of those players were playing incredible basketball as the unquestioned leaders of their teams. You had to fall on one side of the line or the other in that debate (just to put it out there, I was Team Kobe until about 2010).
O’Neal was asked the question by Antenna Magazine and he went the politically correct route and gave both players their praise while emphasizing that at the end of the day it is a matter of opinion. He did play with both players after all.
O’Neal then went on to give his opinion on the greatest player of all time. Not that he was asked that question or anything, but when it comes up you can not help but be intrigued.
O’Neal picked a player that brought the Sixers their last championship all the way back in 1983. That man was Julius Erving.
“To me, ‘Dr. J’ was the greatest player ever. But I ask other people, they say Jordan, some say Kobe, some people say LeBron. It’s always going to be a matter of opinion,” O’Neal said.
It will indeed always be a matter of opinion. I for one go with the consensus pick of Michael Jordan whenever I’m pressed with the question. However, you rarely ever hear someone pick Dr. J and that is somewhat of a shame.
O’Neal may have chosen a name that is rarely picked, but it was not a ridiculous choice at all.
In terms of the numbers, there is no real definitive way to say that Erving is the best player of all-time, but you can surely look at them to prove he is in the discussion.
In my experience there are six names that come up when you talk about the greatest player of all-time.
Those names are Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. I am not necessarily saying there are no deserving names missing. These are just the ones most often uttered in my experience.
If you are the analytic type, let’s look at ‘Dr. J’ compared to these names.
Out of these players, Erving played the second most professional games (1,243) behind only Kobe Bryant (1,245). 836 of those games were in the NBA while the rest were played during his ABA days.
In that time, Erving won 3 titles (2 ABA, 1NBA). Greats need rings and that overall total puts Erving ahead of Chamberlain and James and ties him with Bird. Some people will look down on the ABA titles and it is true that the NBA boasted more talent, but the talent gap was not as drastic as one might imagine it to be.
Erving also had a career average of 24.2 points per game which would place him in 6th out of the seven names being discussed. However, he did not play his first NBA game until he was 26 years old. That was quite a few years later than any of the guys previously mentioned. In his ABA days, Erving averaged 28.7 points per game compared to 22 as an NBA player.
‘The Doctor,’ also made his presence felt in terms of all-around skills. He had a career average of 1.7 blocks per game which was the highest total out of these players considering that Chamberlain did not have the benefit of blocks being recorded in his day. Regardless none of the other players averaged above 1 block.
Erving also snatched 8.5 rebounds per game which only trailed Chamberlain who averaged a ridiculous 22.9 and Bird who averaged 10.
The comparison there is to show that Erving is definitely in the discussion when it comes to tangible impact. It is his cultural impact that could very well give him the edge. If you ask anyone who saved the NBA, they will tell you Erving did.
He brought a style of basketball to the NBA that paved the way for players like Jordan and Bryant. He gave the NBA a new brand of effective flashiness that we see often imitated, but never quite duplicated and in a time of tape delayed NBA Finals game, the league needed a superstar and Erving delivered.
When you talk about the greatest players of all-time, there will never be a definitive right or wrong answer. That might very well be the best thing because it allows for varied view points and discussion. It also allows players like Erving to sneak into the discussion.
So next time you find yourself having the good old G.O.A.T conversation with your friends, do not forget about ‘Dr. J.’ It makes for a trendy pick.
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