On Julius Erving, Pete Maravich And The Greatest Short-Lived Fast Break In World History

Basketball, J. Tinsley — By on January 10, 2014 at 4:15 am

Valentine’s Day 2014 is YouTube’s ninth birthday. Since February 14, 2005, the site has gone on to become one of the many faces of its generation and — as a true testament of its impact — an actual verb in the process. It’s a DVR for the DVR-less. And a chance to relive iconic moments in pop culture, or even those long since forgotten.

In slightly less poetic terms, YouTube — minus the annoying ads before 88.3% of its videos — is the shit. Ponder for a moment, however, the impact YouTube and the Internet would’ve held had it come around decades earlier. Let’s say … the 1970s.

The rapid rise in technology in recent years has had both positive and negative effects. For nothing else other than laughs and debate, imagine Twitter, social media, blogs and all other invasions of privacy being around in the 1970s (aka the generation our parents smoked a lot of weed, had a lot of “free sex” and danced to everyone from The Bee Gees to The Temptations to Marvin Gaye).

1. #BlackTwitter would be run by the Black Panthers, and Sweet Baby Jesus it would have been a sight to see. Just know the world missed out on a Huey Newton Twitter rant following Arthur Ashe becoming the first black man to win in Wimbledon in 1975.  Or him live tweeting the ENTIRE Roots mini-series.

2. The day Elvis died would have only been exceeded by the day Michael Jackson died three decades later.

3. Six words. Pam Grier with an Instagram account.

4. While cult classics like The Godfather, Grease, Jaws and more originated in the ’70s, one movie stands out from the rest in terms of its reach bravado, savvy and all-around quotes that would’ve fit seamlessly in the social media explosion: The Mack.

5. Imagine searching Julius Erving and “Pistol” Pete Maravich highlights every night.

As it stands, Dr. J and Pete both share legacies as irreplaceable figures in basketball history. Erving, the high-flying acrobat who became one of the most well-liked and lauded figures (he’s also the owner of the funniest “how she got pregnant” story in world history)b and Pistol, the basketball savant and enigma with a penchant for flashiness, effectiveness, and somehow the worst case of luck and timing.

An often-forgotten nugget in the annals of basketball history is Maravich and Erving were teammates in 1972 for three exhibition games. That’s right. One of the greatest ball-handlers and scorers was paired with one of the 20 greatest players, leapers and all-around athletes in this game called life.

How the two came together and quickly separated is as much folk legend as it is Romeo and Juliet-esque. Joined in union due to Dr. J’s falling out with the Virginia Squires over contract disputes and one hell of a shady agent, Erving flew to Atlanta to sign a four-year contract in 1972 with the Hawks that would’ve paired him alongside Walt Bellamy, Lou Hudson and, of course, Maravich. And sign the contract he did.

The only problem was the Milwaukee Bucks — unaware of the signing -—drafted him in the first round of the NBA draft the same year. From there, a civil war between two franchises would ignite vying for the luxury of Erving’s services. The dispute brought forth its own set of good, bad and WTF-worthy news.

Good News: For Atlanta, at least, they believed they were landing Erving off the strength he A) wanted to come there B) he signed there C) no player was ever blocked from jumping leagues and D) Erving technically couldn’t be “drafted” because he was already a pro.

Bad News: Ultimately, after months of legal battles and verbal positioning, neither squad ended up being awarded Julius’ services. On October 2, 1972, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Neaher laid down the law, mandating the only team Erving was allowed to suit up for was the one he wanted away from in the first place, the Squires. So he did, where he’d lead the ABA in scoring. By the summer of 1973, however, Erving was on the move to New Jersey to pay for the Nets. The Squires received money and the promise Dr. J would stay in the NBA. The Hawks, on the other hand, received cash to pay for court fees.

WTF News: Looking at the situation for what it is, from a team perspective, there really wasn’t a bad option here for Julius in regards to a supporting cast. Remember to note the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013-2014 are drastically different from the Bucks of 1972-73. With Bob Dandridge and an elder statesmen in Oscar Robertson, Erving alongside a then-25-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would have given the franchise the most lethal one-two punch (Kareem being the “one”) in the league. There may have not been much to do in Milwaukee in the ’70s — Brett Favre was three and Aaron Rodgers wouldn’t be born for another decade — so the Bucks were light years ahead in the “hottest ticket in town” rat race.

It’s impossible to say whether Kareem feels the need to request a trade to either New York or Los Angeles to fit his “cultural needs,” a desire Milwaukee would grant in June 1975, had the cards been dealt differently. The Bucks  missed the playoffs that year, but with a once-in-a-generation wing player like Erving, who knows if those desires sprout. Then again, perhaps it was for the same reasons Julius, himself, noted his non-desire to play, live or have anything to do outright with Milwaukee.

“I didn’t know anything about Milwaukee,” Erving told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel years later. “I really didn’t have anything against Milwaukee. As a matter of fact, [GM] Wayne Embry had followed me from my sophomore year of high school, every basketball camp I went to. … So when he drafted me, I knew exactly why. But I just didn’t know anything about the city, the team. My interest in that time was going to Atlanta, if I was going to go anywhere else other than Virginia, so Milwaukee just kind of got left out in the cold. It wasn’t a real consideration.”

Translation: “I’m not leaving my wife for you.”

Thus brings the wagon full circle. Dr. J to Atlanta in 2014 would’ve never happened due to the endless amount of legalities floating around and ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack reminding us why every hour on the hour. But merely having a chance in 1972 was all the inspiration NBA history geeks needed to imagine what could have, should have and, depending who’s asked, should have been. Pete wanted Julius as a teammate and vice versa. In 1987, only months before his death, Maravich recounted his brief on-court marriage with Dr. J.

“Julius was the most creative player that I’ve ever played with. It was so easy to play with him. I think during that time my average was about 14 or 15 assists per game,” the LSU legend said. “I’d just come down the court and his eyes would see mine — and I knew that he was going to the hoop. I’d just throw a little rainbow up there and it’d be history because nobody could get up like Dr. J.”

Sounds like a bromance with all the potential in the world to spawn into something special, huh? Of course it does. That’s because Dr. J and Pistol Pete were robbed of being the most heroic duo to grace the city of Atlanta until OutKast released Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik in 1994. And they both know it.

The NBA as a whole and highlight junkies worldwide were robbed, too. The Pistol and The Doctor were never afforded the chance to matriculate into conductors of the greatest two-man fast break until two future Hall of Famers decided to call South Beach home while altering the course of pop culture history in the summer of 2010.

We see those two on YouTube every night. The only in-game footage of Dr. J and Pistol Pete is this. Cherish greatness, NBA fans. It rarely ever comes along. And it’s even rarer it actually works in our favor.

J. Tinsley

@JustinTinsley is stuck halfway between a dream and reality. The plan? To make that dream a reality.

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