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Among the great athletes of the 20th century Julius Erving, Dr. J, deserves mention among the most famous, most relevant, best and most impactful. He played professional basketball from 1971 to 1987, 11 years in the NBA for Philadelphia, five years in the ABA for two different teams. Dr J, who has been referenced here quite a bit, albeit without a thread, introduced artistic soaring, starting from the outer edge of the court slam dunking to the NBA. He was certainly not the first, but he elevated it and turned it into a "thing", now, and for 3 decades one of the most commented and revered parts of the game. During his first five years of professional ball he played in the upstart ABA, winning two championships and dominated his team and the league, at times leading his team in points rebounds assists and guarding the best forward on the other team. In the NBA he led a Philadelphia team that kept competing for a championship all the while featuring the individual play of stars, (like Erving) while negating the team game. Frankly I got to watch him a bit in the 70's and 80's. In the 70's I saw him play for the Nets against a Denver team with a similarly talented super duper star, David Thompson, wherein they both elevated their games to lead their teams and created one of the more memorable sporting events I've ever seen. Dr J is among the 50 great basketball players of all time, appropriately so. Some of his most startling plays..... and then a look at his ABA slam dunk competition against among others David Thompson.....
David Thompson was at NC State right around the time when I became a sports fanatic. My uncle was a professor at the University of Maryland, and my aunt was Assistant Superintendent of schools in Howard County - bottom line: free season tickets to University of Maryland basketball games for several years, dating all the way back to the Jim O'Brien years and continuing through their "three-guard offense" years (remember that?). At my age, Thompson, by sheer reputation and from the couple of times I saw him play in college, was essentially a space alien. I didn't really follow pro basketball back then, so Thompson, to me, was the best player in the world. Only Wilt Chamberlain and Kobe Bryant have scored more points than David Thompson in one NBA game.
Don: I think this is the ONLY great 17 year run characterized by a single coach and a single starter. The ONLY one. Simply unprecedented. One other remarkable thing about this run of coach/player/superstar and many many changing parts: Their style of play has changed ...and changed dramatically over this run. In the early years Duncan was the hub of the offense and was a "twin tower" with David Robinson. Robinson, who had been a huge star in his own right graciously moved from being the offensive highlight of the team and put even more effort into defense...and Tim Duncan was the offensive focus. Then over many years the team changed and kept changing in composition...and over the last several years especially as Duncan has aged the focus of the offense changed considerably. Between the Robinson years and the more recent years...a different offensive focus arose as Parker and Ginobelli became stars in their own right and style and partook in 4 of the 5 championships while becoming stars in their own right. Parker significantly evolved as he added passing to his repertoire and his remarkable ability to penetrate, along with developing a reliable jump shot. Ginobelli is a remarkable player in his own right. In the last couple of years the team evolved again. This particular team this year remarkably showed off an exquisite passing attack spread throughout the team. So many players contributed in this thorough passing attack. Really remarkable that an entire team participated. I particularly found it fascinating in that Tiago Splitter, who looked like a big stiff to me, became the recipient and the passer of so many effective incredibly quick "touch passes" that resulted in baskets. Was he capable of this before he joined the Spurs? I doubt it. Finally this article expounded on advanced metrics by stats.com that chart things like "miles run by the team" spacing, and other advanced metrics that work to explain this transformation. The spurs outran the Heat by almost 1 mile in their 3rd and 4th games...and outpassed them by over 100 passes per game in that dominant stretch. Of relevance here: within the world of basketball, and often publicized, Coach "Pop" is well noted as a foodie. Last year, after losing the championship, two long time assistant coaches left to take over other pro teams and two new assistant coaches joined the team. One thing they noted was that at team and group preparatory meetings there diets were going to change from beer and burgers to wine and fish and finer dining. Maybe its Coach Pop's foodie obsession that has helped fuel this extended period of excellence. Were the Spurs that great in this series or the Heat that bad? I'm not sure. But it was a dominant victory during a long stretch of excellence.
The last line in this video can teach us that greatness almost *always* stands on the backs of giants. Had Erving only known, had he had himself to draw from, had he spent ten years practicing this dunk and training to do it, who knows what kind of flare he would have come up with? Instead, it's something he came up with on short notice. Michael Jordan and Vince Carter (shown at the end of the video) grew up in their gyms dreaming about being Dr. J. One very interesting component to Jordan's version: He held the ball low, with a bent elbow, at the same level of his forehead, right up until the point when he began to descend. Only then did he slowly extend his arm upward, so it appeared that he was rising the entire way to the basket, when, in fact, he began dropping long before he reached the rim. It was a brilliant slight-of-hand illusion, and was probably well-thought-out in advance.