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5 Greatest ABA players who came into the NBA

Not many jumped higher than Doc
Not many jumped higher than Doc
Michael Tillery

The NBA and ABA merger of 1976, after so many failed attempts, added some of the best talent to the NBA. The entertaining ABA style of play offered a new view of the sport. Those players already stars became even bigger stars after the merger. Who were those players who transcended the ABA and made the NBA even better?

#5 Spencer Haywood

Spencer Haywood was the youngest player in the world during the 1968 Olympics
Spencer Haywood was the youngest player in the world during the 1968 Olympics

Spencer Haywood, after the Supreme Court case that gave him the ability to play professional basketball without playing for four years in college, averaged 30 and 20 in his rookie season with the Denver Nuggets of the ABA. He was Rookie of the Year, MVP of the All-Star game and also ABA MVP in 1969-70. The only other player to accomplish that feat is Wilt Chamberlain. He is the reason so many players have been able to play in the NBA before their college class graduates. The 6'8" power forward, whose turnaround jumper became Kobe Bryant's (and not Michael Jordan's as is widely known), was a smooth scorer who banged down low with the best of them. I've interviewed Wood so many times and appreciate the history I know he will always mention in our conversations. Spencer Haywood could easily have been one of the best players in the game had he played today.

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#4 Rick Barry shows the NBA another way to shoot from the line

Rick Barry's free throw style is something every player having difficulty at the line should try
Rick Barry's free throw style is something every player having difficulty at the line should try

Golden State Warriors legend Rick Barry was a gifted scorer in the ABA who continued to score proficiently once he got into the NBA. The career 23 points per game scorer in the NBA shot 89% from the line in 14 professional basketball seasons. Shaq once said: “I told Rick Barry I’d rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand.” Imagine where Shaquille O'Neal would sit on the all-time points list if he mimicked Barry.

When Ben Simmons was excoriated for shooting 34% in the playoffs, I hit up Rick Barry on June 17th to see if he would want to work with Simmons. He said he would be more than happy to work with Simmons to teach him his underhand free throw if Simmons had the nerve to do so. Ben Simmons, you have a basketball legend willing to help you out, so reach out to him.

#3 George Gervin

George Gervin was as feared a scorer pro basketball has ever seen
George Gervin was as feared a scorer pro basketball has ever seen

Go back in time and look for the precursor to Kevin Durant and you will find George Gervin. The Iceman could shoot it from anywhere, even before a three-point line existed in the NBA. The 22 per game scorer in the ABA upped that scoring average to 26 a game in the NBA. He is the fifth player to win three consecutive scoring titles, and won four out of five. The battle for the 1978 scoring title is a classic.

#2 Moses Malone

Not many were as relentless on the offensive glass as Moses Malone
Not many were as relentless on the offensive glass as Moses Malone

Two-time NBA MVP Moses Malone is one of the few players in NBA history to be traded the year after winning the award. He is one of the top rebounders in league history and won six rebounding titles. A true scorer in every sense of the word, the year before winning MVP, Moses averaged a career-high 31 points. It was his trade to join the next player on this list that finally gave Moses Malone an elusive NBA title.

#1 Julius Erving

Before hitting the NBA in 1977, Julius Erving was a three-time MVP and three-time scoring champion in the ABA. He won two championships in his five ABA seasons. He averaged 29 a game in those ABA years and 22 in the 11 seasons he played in the NBA. His dunk contest win in 1976 - the year before transitioning into the NBA - is widely acknowledged as a precursor to what is now seen on NBA All-Star Saturday night. Julius Erving is credited with saving two leagues - the ABA and the NBA from financial ruin with all of his whirling dervish style and flair. He was Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan, and still one of the most respected athletes to ever play pro sports.

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Edited by Arnav Kholkar

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