The NBA is celebrating players from the NBA 75 list almost daily from now until the end of the season. Today’s honoree is George Gervin, who began his career with the Virginia Squires of the ABA. This story originally appeared in the Feb. 2 1974, issue of The Sporting News under the headline, “Thin ‘Ice’ Endangers Squires Foes Only.”
NORFOLK — The city of Detroit has cut down its output of automobiles, but it continues to produce some of the best pro basketball players in assembly-line fashion
George Gervin, a slender and stylish 6-8 forward for the Virginia Squires, is the latest and greatest high-scoring model out of Motown.
Among the ABA’s top scorers since the beginning of the season, averaging over 25 points a game, he was the lone representative of the host franchise voted to play in the league’s seventh annual All-Star Game here on January 30.
Gervin said he first took notice of the ABA after Spencer Haywood and later Ralph Simpson signed with the Denver Rockets. “I knew them both well,” said Gervin.
HE HAD COMPETED with both of them in the summer schoolyard leagues in Detroit. Mel Daniels, Maurice McHartley and John Brisker often were in the games. St. Cecelia’s Summer League had its share of homegrown ABA standouts, as well as some NBA players from the Pistons.
Charlie Edge, a 6-6 rookie forward for the Memphis Tams, who competed in the same summer circuit, remembers Gervin in those games. “He went up against anybody, just like he does now,” said Edge. “He’s afraid of nobody. You still had to play him the same, and keep him from driving the lane.”
Gervin may go to the hoop as quick as anybody in the ABA, and that includes former teammate Julius Erving, now with the Nets. Gervin doesn’t give you all the in-the-air motions like Dr. J, but he’s just as effective, slam dunks the ball just as often, and is a much better outside shooter.
Gervin had good reason to develop his outside shot. He said he has a very healthy appetite, “but nothing sticks,” so he weighs only 178 pounds. He handles the ball so well that he often takes a turn at guard when Coach Al Bianchi believes there’s a need for more strength up front.
BECAUSE OF HIS slender physique, his penchant for colorful clothes and his cool demeanor on and off the court, his teammates call him, “Iceberg Slim” — after the notorious pimp-turned-author who had a best seller — and “Ice” for short.
“George has got a little gangster in him,” said Erving with a smile.
Surely, Gervin would’ve been called “Virginia Slim” if Charlie Scott, since gone to the Phoenix Suns, hadn’t beaten him to it a few years back.
The Squires have had more than their share of stars since the ABA first located a franchise in Virginia. Owner Earl Foreman has sold off all of them — Scott, Rick Barry and Warren Jabali to name a few. Earlier this season, he sold Swen Nater for $300,000 to San Antonio.
“I thought he’d be the last to go,” Gervin said. “A seven-footer who weighs 250 … that’s championship power.”
FOREMAN MUST figure he’ll get another star the next time around, if he retains ownership of the Squires. He thinks they come easy, which is understandable, considering the Squires’ success in that area. They always have the best draft lists.
They got Gervin at mid-season last year after he’d been ruled ineligible to play at Eastern Michigan University at the start of his junior year. After leaving school, he had played a dozen games for the Pontiac (Mich.) team in the Continental Basketball Association when Foreman made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
The school said Gervin was ruled ineligible because of his score on an NCAA-required entrance exam. He scoffs at the suggestion, saying he’d taken that test a year and a half earlier. He thinks he was kicked out of college competition because of “the incident,” as he calls it, that occurred in NAIA playoff competition at the end of his sophomore season.
He lost his temper in the second half of a game with Norfolk State, and simply beat up the player who was guarding him. “I had to be frustrated,” he says now when he recalls it.
GERVIN HAD scored 25 points with seven minutes to go, but had difficulty getting a shot off in several forays up the court, and lost his cool.
“I really wanted to win,” he said, trying to explain away his behavior. “We had won 18 in a row. I couldn’t take it no more; I just exploded. It was the first and last fight I ever had in a basketball game, even on the playgrounds where tempers were always flaring up. It’s not like me.”
Those who know him best, including Coach Bianchi, agree with Gervin on that count. He’s among the most popular players on his team.
The fans in Virginia feel the same. They shout “GEE GEE” whenever he gets the ball. There’s some showboat in his blood, and he likes to take down defensive rebounds with one hand, and drive the lane or baseline for slam dunks.
He shoots his long jump shot just like Jerry Lucas of the Knicks, his feet forward and perpendicular to his hands at the instant of release, his body bent like a boomerang heading on a vertical slant away from the basket.
Gervin gets especially psyched up when the Squires compete with the Nets. He likes to match tricks with Erving, who played alongside of him the second half of last season.
In their first meeting of this season, for instance, Gervin got 43 points compared with 39 by Dr. J. “I don’t compare myself with him, though,” said Gervin. “He’s one of the best, no doubt about that.
“I DON’T MIND being compared with him. But I’m not trying to imitate him. I have my own foot to plant.”
There are times when Gervin’s shot selection is strictly Early George McGinnis, and he’s got a lot to learn. The Squires held a one-point edge in the last minute of their victory over the Nets, for instance, when Gervin let loose with a 35-foot, three-point attempt with none of his teammates under the board, and missed.
“I don’t know why I did it,” Gervin said a few days later, “It had to go. I felt it.
“Sometimes I’m not completely tuned in on the court, but that should come with experience. I don’t feel I’m a super star yet because in order to be considered one, we’ve got to win. Otherwise, I’m nothing. I feel I can play; I feel I can do it, but I haven’t played a full season yet. I haven’t put my game completely together yet.”