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Best Milwaukee Bucks Draft Picks: Number 3, Julius Erving

Getting a Closer Look at Julius’ Career, and What Could Have Been

Milwaukee Bucks v Philadelphia 76ers
Julius Erving Playing Against the Bucks, Likely in the Postseason
Photo by Anthony Neste/NBAE via Getty Images

Hi Bucks’ fans! Welcome to the all-time top Bucks’ draft picks, power ranked by the fan’s yourselves. We are counting down all the way from #12 to #1, and today we are moving on to a legend, who was drafted by the Bucks back in 1972, Julius Erving.

Before I start, I would like to say that this article is going to focus on Julius Erving’s career, but also the what-if scenarios had he chosen to play with the Bucks over the ABA. I realize he never played in Milwaukee.


Julius Erving was selected 12th in the 1972 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, and was currently playing for the Virginia Squires in the ABA. More on that later. According to basketball reference, “Dr. J” was the best player in his class according to win-shares, with Bob McAdoo and Paul Westphal the next two players.


Dr. J was the 1981 NBA MVP, and won the 1983 NBA title with the Philadelphia 76ers. He was an All-Star in all 16 of his years (11 with NBA, 5 with ABA), and never averaged less than 16.8 PPG, which happened his last season. He has three ABA MVP’s, and two ABA championships. He also was an All-NBA first teamer five times, and has many other career highlights to his credit. He has similarity scores close to Charles Barkley and Dirk Nowitzki.


So here is my Dr. J draft information, courtesy of Wikipedia, and why he chose the ABA. I know, it’s Wikipedia but I never actually read anything before about why Dr. J didn’t go with the Bucks, so I found it interesting. Anyways, because the NBA didn’t allow players who didn’t graduate college (essentially) to join the NBA, the ABA was able to draft Erving as a collegiate junior. That’s how he wound up with the Virginia Squires, and then the New Jersey Nets, prior to his NBA tenure. The following season, prior to the 1972 NBA Draft, the Hawks signed him to a deal in a similar fashion to how players from the NBA sign with teams in Europe. In spite of that pre-existing deal, the Bucks selected Erving, and essentially a long legal process occurred. During this time, he opted to stay with the ABA’s Virginia Squires while his contract dispute went on, since he wanted to play for the Hawks and join Pete Maravich. The Bucks eventually won the dispute, so Erving chose the ABA.

In the ABA, after just one more season, the Virginia Squires traded him to the Nets, who eventually joined the NBA at the time of the merger. He then ended up on the 76ers in another odd situation. Since the Knicks were already in the NBA, the Knicks were mad at a team encroaching on their territory. So, they charged the Nets $4.8 million for being an NBA team on their turf, and the Nets tried to sell Erving to the Knicks as collateral. Then, in what is viewed as a colossal mistake by the Knicks, they turned it down. So, the 76ers gave the Nets $3 million to take Dr. J’s contract to help the Nets get established, and that’s how he wound up in Philly.

As far as how Dr. J’s legacy impacts the Bucks, I guarantee it would have given us at least the 1974 title (he won the ABA’s that year), and probably at least one in the 80‘s. We might have even been able to keep Kareem and/or Oscar longer than 1974 if we had Erving as well. But that big three would have easily handled John Havlicek, Dave Cowens and JoJo White. Erving and Kareem clearly are the two best players, and Oscar is likely third. That series went seven games, and I really believe that having a supreme talent like Erving on top of those two makes the Bucks nearly unbeatable in 1973 and 1974. But, let’s give them 1974 for sure because the 1973 season was tricky. It was hard to find reasons as to why, but a Warriors team led by players like Nate Thurmond and Rick Barry beat the Kareem/Oscar Bucks in the playoffs, before losing to the West/Goodrich/Chamberlain Lakers. That just seems odd as how that worked, but I think Dr. J at least gets us to the West Finals vs. the Lakers. From there, it’s anyone’s guess, but the Knicks somehow blew that team out of the water with Walt Frazier. The 70‘s were a weird time in the NBA, but Dr. J being in Milwaukee might have helped the association when it was in dire need (and later “saved” by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird).

Going back to how Dr. J affects the Bucks, let’s add in the 1980‘s. Between 1981 and 1985, the Bucks lost four series to the 76ers in the playoffs; Julius Erving’s 76ers. They still had Moses Malone on those teams and Charles Barkley on the ‘85 team, but if you take away Dr. J and give him to the Bucks, it is like taking Kawhi Leonard from Toronto and putting him on the Bucks. Adding him with fellow all-time draft picks Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief, and Paul Pressey, as well as Bob Lanier, Junior Bridgeman and Terry Cummings, among others would have massively helped, and I guarantee at least two more Finals’ appearances which could have led to a possible fourth and fifth championship (including the assumed 1974 victory). And if Dr. J’s presence could have kept Kareem around for those years instead of him going to the Lakers, that would be insane. I think it would have helped him stay, but it wasn’t a guarantee by any means. Still, if we had the 80’s team with Kareem and Dr. J on it, that just isn’t fair.


How Many More Championships Do the Bucks Win if We Had Dr. J from 1972-1990?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    (17 votes)
  • 28%
    (66 votes)
  • 38%
    (90 votes)
  • 26%
    (62 votes)
235 votes total Vote Now


So, this situation really hurt the 70‘s and 80‘s for the Bucks, since they had some really good teams then that just couldn’t get over the hump like the ‘71 team. I argue this was far more detrimental than Dirk to Dallas mistake, because he had a direct impact on us losing in the postseason. We lost to the 76ers and Dr. J four times in the 80’s alone, and even if you take him away from that team and put him on like the Pacers or something, that immensely helps the Bucks. So, his legacy is only harm for the Bucks, and I bet the older fans we have still remember what he did to us in the 70’s and 80’s.

As for basketball, he was a great basketball player, and one of the best small forwards of all-time. His impact on the game is still legendary, and it’s just too bad the Hawks bid for him before we could draft him. What a difference that would have made.

There you have it, Julius Erving. It now comes down to the top two. Has Giannis already passed Kareem? If you think so, vote for Kareem, not Giannis. If Kareem still has the better overall career, not just Bucks’ career, vote for Giannis. And don’t forget to comment why.


Who is the Second Best Bucks Draft Pick?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
    (135 votes)
  • 43%
    Giannis Antetokounmpo
    (105 votes)
240 votes total Vote Now

This poll will close at noon Central, June 22.