Magic Johnson recently created a stir when he claimed that his “Showtime” Lakers would “probably sweep” this year’s Warriors. Apparently, that’s a thing for NBA legends these days, because Julius Erving followed suit, claiming that his 1983 76ers could also have topped Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Co.
“Dr. J” was not so bold as to claim his championship Sixers squad would have rolled the Warriors in four straight, but he did say that his side “would have figured it out.” In remarks to a Los Angeles radio station Wednesday, hours before Golden State was set to try to come within one win of a second NBA title in three years, Erving touted the ’83 76ers’ depth and versatility.
That team delivered Erving his only NBA title, and it also is remembered for the playoff prediction of Moses Malone. “Fo’, fo’, fo’,” the all-star center famously said, calling for a sweep of Philly’s three postseason rounds (it had a first-round bye in the format used at the time).
The 76ers nearly got there, losing only once, to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals, en route to a 12-1 playoff record that was the NBA’s best until the Lakers went 15-1 in 2001. If the Warriors win Wednesday and go on to prevail in Friday’s Game 4, they will have accomplished an unprecedented 16-0 postseason run.
“This is a phenomenal team,” Erving said of the Warriors on ESPN LA 710. “They can put up points, and they do play team defense. They hustle, and they scrap.”
“But when you have a team with the makeup of our team that year? We could play slow, we could play fast,” Erving added. “Moses was such a dominant force, you know, I just have visions of him grabbing the rebound a few times and taking it coast to coast.”
Golden State would certainly have had its hands full with the burly Malone, who arrived in Philadelphia in 1982 and instantly transformed the 76ers from a team that couldn’t quite get over the hump into, for one magical season at least, the league’s most dominant force. The former Rocket won both the Finals and regular season MVP awards in 1983, nabbing the latter honor for the third time in his Hall of Fame career.
In terms of the small-ball Warriors theoretically having huge problems containing a legendary center, much the same was said Monday by Johnson and his former Lakers coach, Pat Riley. “They’re too small,” Johnson said of Golden State, to which Riley added, “Try to put somebody on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.”
Not surprisingly, the Warriors’ Draymond Green offered a different take, after being apprised of Johnson’s comments. “The game is completely different than it was back then,” he said. “Nowadays, if you can’t shoot a three, you’re a liability on the floor. That wasn’t the case back then. …
“So I never understand when people try to compare eras and say, ‘Oh, this team could have beat this team’ or ‘They couldn’t have beat that team,’ ” Green added. “They were great in their time, we’re great in our time, and respect that.”
To Erving, a Hall of Famer in his own right, it wasn’t just that his Sixers had Malone, but they also boasted all-star guards in Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney, plus “a guy like Bobby Jones coming off the bench.”
“We had four centers, four guards and four forwards, so a lot of the parts were interchangeable,” Erving said. With head coach Billy Cunningham “being the task master that he was,” Erving asserted that his team “would have figured it out.”
“We would have figured out how to play against this team and how to beat this team.”
Of course, one difference between Johnson’s claims of superiority to the Warriors and those of Erving is that those Lakers won five titles in the 1980s, whereas the 76ers could manage just the single triumph. For the time being, these Warriors can also claim a sole championship, but that all could change very soon, although it would probably take even more than that to shake Dr. J’s confidence in his classic crew.