Born on April 27, 1952 in Detroit, Michigan Gervin was one of six children. His basketball story was the prequel to Michael Jordan’s in a sense that his High School basketball coach wanted to cut him as a 5’8” sophomore trying to make the JV squad at Martin Luther King High School. Luckily for Gervin, his cool demeanor was something that he has always had going for him and it was an assistant coach that kept him in the program and allowed basketball genius to develop.
After stretching out to a lanky 6’4” by his junior year it was grades that were stopping George from making his presence felt on the hardwood, but in the true sense of greatness, Gervin would overcome such obstacle. Just like every other obstacle that comes along with being raised in the inner city environment of a big city. By his senior year at MLK, George Gervin was a superstar. He was averaging 31 points and 20 rebounds a game and accepted a scholarship to Long Beach State in what would be a very short-lived excursion to the left coast.
George Gervin didn’t last long out west and would transfer back to his home state of Michigan before the school year’s conclusion. He would then make his mark on the basketball world playing for Eastern Michigan University where he would blow up for nearly 30 points per game in his sophomore campaign! More was to come for Gervin, a scoring sensation, but first on the docket were more hurdles. Both personal, and professional.
Playing in a small college tournament, George Gervin did something that to me is so unfathomable from a guy that was so cool and collected on the court that it almost seems too outlandish to be true. Gervin swung a punch at a player named Jay Piccola and with that hook shook up his seemingly easy coast to professional basketball greatness. The consequential turn of events were as wide in scope as Gervin’s offensive repertoire and the road that he was to now travel would be a long and winding path as result.
Gervin lost his privilege to play collegiate basketball that next season, and as a result many of the doors that were opening for him were slammed shut. With not many other options, Gervin decided to take his game to the little known and even less documented EBA, that’s the Eastern Basketball Association, in an attempt to right the ship. He was making meager money, destroying lesser talented players, and just waiting for his star to rise again so he could redeem himself for such a poor decision that haunted his past.
And that chance came on a night that would change basketball history forever…
The ABA was in its inception and it just so happened that on a night that Gervin dropped 50 points on some B-level suckers. A scout by the name of Johnny Kerr was in the arena to witness the incredible display. Kerr was a scout for the ABA Squires, who had just nabbed Dr. J, and he knew that what he saw that night was what he was looking for.
This night, friends, would be the night that Gervin was waiting for his whole life. He was quickly signed by the Squires and the rest is history. In his rookie season he would average 14.1 points while becoming more than just a basketball player. His cool demeanor and even cooler hoops style would land him one of the coolest, pardon the pun, nicknames of all-time. Credit “Fatty” Taylor for the first “Ice” reference because at first glance of Gervin he called him, “Iceberg Slim,” the nom de guerre of a slender pimp who had just written a best-selling autobiography about his former life on the streets of Chicago (credit www.NBA.com for the anecdote about the nickname’s origin, as much as I wish I could have been there). Regardless, the name was born and so was a star!
That next year the Squires would move to San Antonio and the new city would become the stage for the next twelve years of Gervin’s career. He immediately upped his scoring average to 23.4 points that year, fourth best in the league, and was beginning to treat fans to his incredible offensive style. Gervin was a magician with the rock. He could just as easily wet jumpers in defender’s faces all night long, but Gervin had a flair that no one had ever seen. He would glide his now 6’7”, slender as a flag pole, frame around the opposition like a snake and usually flip the ball in off the glass or barely graze the net for the deuce. He was as deadly as a scorer as they come and his incredible prowess as an offensive genius was just starting to be realized.
In the next few years the ABA would be absolved by the far more popular NBA and Gervin’s high-wire act was soon going to get the exposure that it deserved. By the time that the late 1970’s rolled around George Gervin was scoring at rates that nobody could match. He barely edged out Denver’s David Thompson for the scoring title in 1978 with an average of 27.2, but for the next two consecutive years he would leave no doubt about who was the premiere scoring threat in the NBA. In ‘79 he would average 29.6 points a night and in ‘80 he made the scoring title his for the third straight year with a post of 33.1 points a game! That’s three straight years Ice had taken his game to the next level and been the premiere scoring threat in the world’s greatest basketball association. So what does he do? He wins the scoring title again in 1982 for his fourth scoring title in five years with a mark of 32.3 points per game. This fourth scoring title put him in the echelon with Wilt Chamberlain and the future accomplishments of Michael Jordan as the only players in NBA history to win four or more scoring titles.
And the rest is history, hoop heads. The final chapter on Ice reads a little something like this: He was All-NBA First Team in 1978, '79, '80, '81, and '82, All-NBA Second Team in 1977 and ‘83. Ice retired the San Antonio Spurs All-Time leading scorer with 19,383 points and he was a NBA All-Star nine times consecutively from 1977-85 while capturing the MVP in 1980. Ice Man was All-ABA Second Team in 1975 and ‘76 while being an ABA All-Star in 1974, ‘75, and ‘76. He was the named to the ABA All-Rookie team in 1973 and concluded his career with a scoring average of 26.2 points. The Ice Man scored more than 50 points four times in his career and more than 40 points an impressive 64 times. He scored 1,000 points or more for 13 consecutive years and no one will ever wear a San Antonio Spurs jersey with the number 44 on it ever again. He finished his playing days with a combined 26,595 points and to top it all off, as if there was a need to put a cherry on top, George Gervin was named one of the 50 greatest players of All-Time and was inducted into the Naismth Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996.
He was never known as a great defender, but when you do one thing you might as well be known as one of the best ever. For these reasons, George Gervin is this installment of Historical Glimpses and truly should be recognized by fans of all ages as one of the NBA’s historical offensive masterminds. I leave you now with a brief YouTube clip that I think sums it all up. Notice the style, grace, and above all… The beauty of that finger roll!