The Decade of the Nickname: These Were the Best NBA Players of the 1970s

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The 1970s opened with the shocking news that the Beatles broke up. The music industry took another big hit when “The King” Elvis Presley (no not Lebron, he has only won one NBA championship, so he is nowhere near “King” status) was found dead. The Watergate Scandal rocked the United States and troops pulled out of Vietnam the next year. When those soldiers came home abortion was legalized so pulling out quickly became a thing of the past.

On the entertainment side, the world was evolving as technology was gradually advancing, with the Walkman and the VCR both introduced in decade. Diehard basketball fans were now listening to games on their Walkman or even recording the games on their VCRs, which led to much more visibility for the league. The ABA (American Basketball Association) merged with the NBA in 1976 bringing in a new batch of NBA superstars and changing the game forever. The NBA was also riding high entering the 1970s in large part due to the momentum it had built the previous decade.

The 1970s is known as “The Decade of Parity” mostly because of its eight different NBA champions. But the parity amongst the players was also a reason, which made this list by far the most debatable of all. These are the “Top 5” NBA players of the 1970s:

5 Elvin “The Big E” Hayes

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“The Big E” had an immediate impact in the NBA leading the league in scoring in his rookie year scoring 28.4 points per game while also pulling down 17 rebounds. In a 17 season span Hayes was the only player to win a rebounding title besides Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain (he did so twice, ’70 and 74) and that company is as elite as it gets. Hayes won an NBA championship in 1978 and was an all-star every year in the decade. “The Big E” is sits firmly as the eighth all-time leading scorer in NBA history and is fourth all-time in rebounds.

4 “Pistol” Pete Maravich

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“Pistol Pete” was the most “hated on” player of his generation and maybe of all-time. He was a slender 6’5 Caucasian point guard with a dazzling array of moves. His game was simultaneously flashy AND flamboyant. His peers frowned upon his style because he was a white man that played a “colored” brand of ball. He was easily the best passer of his generation, maybe ever. He was famous for his fancy dribbling, no-look passes and unparalleled accuracy with his passing. He changed the way the position was played must be given endless credit for never changing the way he played the game in spite of the harsh criticism he received. Essentially, he was Steve Nash with better ball handling skills. “Pistol Pete” averaged 24 points and five assists in the 70s and was a five-time all-star.

3 Walt “Clyde” Frazier

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Frazier is recognized as the greatest New York Knick of all-time. The Knicks are one of the most prestigious sports franchises period, so that is saying a lot of Walt. Frazier led the Knicks to two NBA championships in the 70s (the only team to win it more than once in the decade), beating the Los Angeles Lakers and Abdul-Jabbar both times in the Finals. He was an all-star six times and was the all-star game MVP in ’75. Frazier averaged 20 points, six rebounds and six assists in the 70s. His jersey was retired by the Knicks and is currently hanging from the rafters in the Mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden.

2 Julius “Dr. J” Erving

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Although Dr. J did not enter the NBA until the ’76-’77 season his impact on the game was immediate. He is widely considered the greatest player in ABA history and when the ABA merged with the NBA, Mr. Erving came gloriously. His play transcended the game. He was the first real high-flyer who soared way above everybody gracefully before completing powerful, athletic dunks that were never seen before. His style of play was ahead of its time and changed the way the game was played forever. During the 70s Dr. J averaged 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks and shot 50 percent. He was MVP of the all-star game in ’77 and would go on to become a legendary NBA and ABA player.

1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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The sky hook! The Goggles! No doubt about it, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is clearly the best player of the 70s. In this decade he averaged 28 points per game, 14 rebounds and 4 assists. He won the MVP five times in the 70s, made the all-star team all 10 years and won a championship in ’71. Currently Abdul-Jabbar is the all-time NBA scoring leader, is third in rebounds and third in blocked shots. Although Abdul-Jabbar did not get the credit he deserved until his career was winding down, he is now recognized as one of the greatest players of all-time. He is also recognized as one of the most distinguished professional athlete pot-smokers of all-time and that demands respect! His place in history is undoubtedly cemented in this decade.

The 1970s was a truly unique time for the NBA. The merger added a new wrinkle and there weren’t as many teams or players as there are now. The teams were not watered down, they all had depth since it was so hard to get into the league. Most offenses were well-rounded and involved a lot of passing and cutting without the ball. Although the style of play was almost the opposite of today’s style, the 70s are when the game started to transform. Dr. J and “Pistol Pete” were a major part of the games evolution and their contributions were much more than what you see on the box score. The game was never the same after the 1970s and these were the best players of that era, wouldn’t you agree?

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