COMMENTARY | The best "Big Three" in the history of the Brooklyn Nets franchise didn't even play together in the NBA.
But for the final three years of the old American Basketball Association, the trio of Julius Erving, John Williamson and Brian Taylor brought the then-New York Nets to the height of the franchise's glory, ABA titles in both 1973-74 and in the ABA's final season of 1975-76.
Guard Brian Taylor was the first to join the franchise, opting to sign with the Nets out of Princeton in 1972 after being drafted by both the ABA's New York club and by the NBA's Seattle SuperSonics.
Taylor went on to win ABA Rookie of the Year honors in 1972-73, averaging 15.3 points per game for the Nets, who went 30-54 and were bounced in the first round of the playoffs in coach Lou Carnesecca's final year at the helm.
The rest of the trio came together in 1973. John Williamson, or as he was known "Super John," came to New York from New Mexico State University, where he averaged 27.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in two varsity seasons. Williamson was 6 feet 2 inches and, at his best, 185 pounds of unstoppable force when he decided he wanted to take the basketball somewhere. He earned All-Rookie honors in 1973-74, averaging 14.5 points and 3.2 assists per game and chipping in 11.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists during the Nets' run to the franchise's first title.
Taylor, meanwhile, saw his scoring drop to 11.1 points, but bumped his assists up to 4.5 per game and also had 2.1 steals a night in his second season. In the playoffs, Taylor averaged 14.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.4 steals.
The guy who put this group over the top, however, was Julius Erving, Dr. J himself. Erving was acquired from the financially struggling Virginia Squires. New York put together a complicated $4 million package together to get Erving from the Squires and the rest, as they say, is history.
Erving won the first of his three consecutive ABA Most Valuable Player honors, leading the league in scoring at 27.4 points per game (his second straight scoring title in his three seasons in the ABA) while also averaging 10.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.3 steals and 2.4 blocks. In the playoffs, Erving averaged 27.9 points, 9.6 boards, 4.8 dimes, 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks as New York lost just two games en route to beating Virginia in five games in the first round, sweeping the Kentucky Colonels in the Eastern Division Finals and taking down the Utah Stars in five games for the championship.
In 1974-75, Erving shared MVP honors with George McGinnis of the Indiana Pacers, averaging 27.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.9 blocks. Taylor checked in 14 points, 3.7 assists and an ABA-best 2.8 steals while making his first All-Star game and Williamson averaged 11.5 points and 2.6 assists.
The Nets were upset in the first round by the Spirits of St. Louis in a shocking five-game series, but came back with revenge in mind in 1975-76.
Williamson's production jumped to 16.2 points per game. Taylor was an All-Star again, averaging 16.7 points, 3.8 assists and 2.3 steals.
And Erving? Try 29.3 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, 2.5 steals and 1.9 rebounds a night. In a league that was on life support, Dr. J was the face of the ABA, even winning pro basketball's first slam-dunk contest at halftime of the final ABA All-Star game in San Antonio (see video here).
In the playoffs, Erving was simply unstoppable. Dr. J scored 34.7 points per game while grabbing 12.6 rebounds, dishing 4.9 assists and notching 1.9 steals and two blocks in 13 games as the Nets roared to the title by taking out the San Antonio Spurs in a seven-game semifinal series before beating the Denver Nuggets in a six-game ABA Finals. Taylor returned from an injury that cost him 30 regular-season games to average 15.8 points, 3.5 assists and two steals in the playoffs and Super John erupted for 22.2 points, 2.6 assists and a steal a game.
Unfortunately, the NBA would never see how good this trio could have been together. The Nets included Taylor as part of a package traded to the Kansas City Kings to acquire All-Star point guard Nate Archibald.
Then on Oct. 20, 1976, the Nets sold off the best player they ever had. Erving was dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers for $3 million in cash.
The glory days ended quickly, as the Nets collapsed to just 22 wins in their first NBA season and left Long Island for New Jersey in the summer of 1977.
The Nets wouldn't post another winning record until 1981-82. They wouldn't win a playoff series until 1983-84. They wouldn't make their first trip to the NBA Finals until 2001-02.
And, of course, the franchise hasn't sniffed a title since winning the ABA's final championship 37 years ago.
But that doesn't mean that the trio of Julius Erving, John Williamson and Brian Taylor wouldn't have matched up against some of the best "Big Threes" the NBA has ever known.
If only they had gotten the chance.
Phil Watson is a freelance commentator and journalist who covers the Brooklyn Nets, New York Yankees and New York Giants for the Yahoo Contributor Network. He is also editor of brewers101.com and holds an editorial position at HoopsHabit.com.
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