Do you know the story of one of the greatest Big 3 never assembled in the NBA? Well, it's time to go through a story that saw one of the best players in NBA history almost joining two other All-Time greats. Julius Erving, also known as Dr. J, is one of the greatest players to ever touch a basketball. Although he only won one NBA title, he influenced a lot of people that came after him, including the widely-regarded GOAT Michael Jordan.
Now we only can speculate about what would have happened with his career if he actually played for a different team but there was a time when that was a real possibility. Dr. J was originally drafted by the Virginia Squires of ABA, where he instantly showed how great he was, finishing his rookie season with 27.3 points and 15.7 rebounds per contest, earning All-Second ABA Team honors for his performances.
Erving had second thoughts about his deal with the Squires and that was the start of a big story that almost sent him to the Milwaukee Bucks, where the duo of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson would welcome him with open arms. When the NBA announced they would honor all the contracts signed by ABA players, the Atlanta Hawks got to work very quickly, agreeing to a deal with the player. He entered the 1972 NBA draft, where the Bucks selected him with the 12th overall pick.
That started a lot of problems and a dispute between the Bucks and Hawks for Erving's rights.
"Julius Erving has signed an agreement with the Atlanta Hawks that will become valid at the expiration of his contract with the Virginia Squires. Even if we do have to wait three years to get him, he’s still worth it. He’s just turned 22 and is one of the most exciting players I have ever seen," said former Hawks president Bill Putman.
That didn't sit well with Milwaukee and they replied to that announced through his general manager.
"As far as the by-laws of the National Basketball Association go, the rights to Julius Erving belong to the Milwaukee Bucks," commented Wayne Embry, the Bucks' general manager. "It's as clear cut as that."
That was the start of a fierce battle between Bucks and Hawks, not paying attention to what the Virginia Squires had to say about this matter. Even though one judge ruled Erving's contract with Virginia terminated, things weren't that easy for Milwaukee or Atlanta. They were ready to go until the end to land Erving but neither team could win the lawsuits they filed.
Via Jon Newberry:
While the Hawks had been preoccupied with their battle with the NBA and the Milwaukee Bucks, the other matter of the Virginia Squires' claim had largely been overlooked. As stated earlier, no player had been blocked before when trying to jump from one league to another.
On Monday, October 2, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Neaher issued an injunction that effectively prevented Erving from playing pro basketball for any team except the Virginia Squires. It caught everyone off guard, especially Bill Putnam.
This was a very surprising ruling for everyone, as nobody had really paid attention to Julius' original team and they ended up winning the dispute. He led the league in scoring the next season before getting traded to the Nets, the team that took him to the NBA, where he became a legend.
If he went to Atlanta, Erving would have teamed up with Pete Maravich, one of the greatest point guards in NBA history. If he went to Milwaukee, he would have created arguably the greatest Big 3 of all time with Kareem and Big-O, who won the NBA title in 1971. Unfortunately, we never got to see that and Erving played for the Nets and Sixers in the association, winning only one title with the latter.