Comparing different eras of the NBA has become such an engrained portion of talking about the game that it almost becomes a never-ending loop. Whether its comparing the talents of players from different eras, dynasties after a team has won a championship or figuring out how to rank the league’s best players both past and present. Players from each era always boast that their time period in the NBA was undoubtedly the best, which results in revisiting the conversation over which era was the gold standard.
The truth is, it’s impossible to compare different eras due to the different styles of play and the natural evolution of the game, but that hasn’t stopped the conversation from happening. The latest entry in the conversation comes from Hall of Famer Julius “Dr. J” Erving, whose 16-year career spanning across both the ABA and NBA is littered with two ABA championships, one NBA title, four MVP awards, and an All-Star appearance in every season he played, just to name a couple accomplishments.
There are very few players who have the type of experience and success that Erving had during his playing career, so his insight into how the league has changed from his era is probably one of the most interesting perspectives. On a recent appearance on CBS Sports’ “Nothing Personal with David Samson,” Erving shared a bit of that insight, and while he didn’t go as far as to say his era was the best, he did throw a little jab at this generation of players when asked about how players from his era weren’t given first-class treatment as they had to fly commercial and often had to room with other teammates.
“That was the good old days, it kept the humility intact,” Erving said. “You felt honored to be a professional athlete and not privileged, because there was just some things you just had to suck it up and go do. We depended a lot on our trainers and equipment managers and what have you to move the franchise from city to city, and you always had to catch the first flight out the next morning so we didn’t have a lot of the conveniences they have today, but that’s okay. I think it’s made some of the players a little softer than the ’70s, ’80s, ’60s and ’50s players, but there’s fan appreciation for the softness and the finesse and it is what it is.”
While that’s not an all-out diss of today’s players, it does highlight some of the stark differences between players from the ’70s and ’80s and the current crop of players that extends beyond just how the game is played. Charles Barkley has said in the past that NBA teams didn’t start chartering team flights until his third year in the league, and as the league gained more popularity during the Michael Jordan era, the conditions for players only improved. As players became celebrities, the power they had in the league also increased to the point we’re at today, where if a player is unhappy in their current situation they can essentially force their way to a better one. That can be an eye-popping trend to watch for players from Erving’s era, who never had as much say as players have today.
In addition to talking about his own playing days, Erving shared his opinions on the Philadelphia 76ers, a team he spent 11 seasons playing for and won and NBA championship with n 1983. In the midst of the trade rumors surrounding Sixers’ All-Star guard Ben Simmons over the past few months, Erving vocalized some advice for the franchise as trade talks have stalled.
“I think the Sixers have been a source of frustration — in playing Atlanta this year I think they were the favorite team and Atlanta just like surprised us,” Erving said. “A couple years ago, seventh game against Toronto and Kawhi hits the shot — there’s a little degree of luck that you gotta have to get to the Finals. There’s some luck even involved in the Finals where usually the best team wins, not the lucky team. But getting there, and going through that process to get there with all those playoff rounds and the number of games you have to win…to beat a team four times is no small feat. You have to have focus, concentration, things going your way and you have to forget about the referees, they don’t decide the outcome of the game, the players decide the outcome of the game.
“So it’s been a long drought in Philadelphia, our fans are eagerly awaiting for the team to get over the top. There’s a lot of controversy with the Ben Simmons situation, but it seems like the team is staying pat with their big three of Joel [Embiid], Ben [Simmons] and Tobias [Harris]. I think if they add pieces, get another year in with Doc Rivers, because you know last year was his first year on the job with the Sixers. Sometimes you need time with people to really know how to bring out the best in them.”
Perhaps the Sixers take Erving’s advice and run it back another year to see if Simmons and Embiid can figure things out together. Practicing patience has essentially been Philly’s motto for years now with its “trust the process” mantra. However, after another disappointing early playoff exit this past season, that mantra is wearing thin. The path to a championship also isn’t getting any easier for the Sixers, with the Eastern Conference as loaded as ever entering next season. If Philadelphia doesn’t at least make it to the Finals, then some changes will need to be made at some point in the near future.