George Gervin 1974-1985
George Gervin is one of the NBA’s best basketball players to ever have graced the court. Simply stated, The Iceman is a legend. For his NBA career, Gervin averaged 26.2ppg. The title “Pure Scorer” gets thrown around a lot these days, but Gervin was its epitome.
Gervin had many instances throughout his career that almost seem mythical, they are so incredible. In 1978, Gervin led the league in scoring until moments before the last game of the regular season. Earlier that same night, David Thompson scored 73 points to take the league’s scoring title lead from Gervin. Entering the game, Gervin was informed that he needed 59 points to win the scoring champion crown. Gervin missed his first six shots of the game, and in a timeout told his teammates to forget about the scoring crown and concentrate on the game at hand. Gervin went on to score 20 points in the first quarter. Then in the second quarter, he set an NBA record that still stands today by scoring 33 points. He would go on to score 63 points in 33 minutes to win his first scoring crown.
Now, let’s take a moment to put this in perspective. First, the game was not in San Antonio, it was in New Orleans. So both Gervin and New Orleans knew he needed 59 points, and he scored 63 in a hostile gym. It’s just unbelievable to think about. How many players today have that kind on an “on/off” switch? How many players could need 59 points in a specific game, have it be known by all, and then go out there and get it done? This is not 20 points we are talking about, it’s 59!
Gervin represented San Antonio in 9 straight All Star games. He led the league in scoring four times, ’78 to ’80 and then again in ’82. From ’78 to ’80, he averaged 33.1ppg. He is simply one of the best offensive players to ever play the game. His trademark shot, of course, was the finger roll. While many players use the finger roll when laying the ball up, Gervin would finger roll from as far out as the free throw line. I challenge you to try that next time you are playing in a pickup game. Finger roll the ball from the free throw line. It’s ridiculously difficult to control the ball from that distance with your fingertips. The amount of practice it would take to perfect that shot is mind-boggling.
Another legend building story is of how he made his first professional team. They say he showed up to tryout for the Virginia Squires. In the tryout, he made 22 of 25 three pointers and was immediately signed even though the Virginia officials had never seen him play competitively. It sounds mythical, but let me tell you this is completely believable. When I was in high school, I often would practice at the Concord Athletic Club in San Antonio. Active and ex-Spurs would often frequent the gym to work on their game. I shot alongside such players as Antonio Daniels, Devin Brown, Steve Kerr, Vinny Del Negro, Terry Cummings, David Robinson, Sean Elltiott and George Gervin. Obviously, all of these players were incredible to watch practice. The game just came so easily to them. Steve Kerr used to take shots 12 to 15 feet behind the three point line, which at this small gym was the half court line, as if he was shooting a free throw.
Regardless, my point is that no one was as impressive as George Gervin. This was in ’97, and Gervin was obviously old at this point. But even so, I would sit on the sideline and watch Gervin shoot. He would always have a guy rebounding for him and would take 20 shots from both corners, the elbows, and the top of the key. He would take 20 from the corner and then move to the elbow. 20 more shots and he would move to the top of the key, etc. He would shoot straddling the three point line. One day I sat and counted his shots. I still remember because the guy missed 6 shots out of 100. He made 94 out of 100 shots straddling the three point line. I have never seen anything like that since. As far as basketball goes, that’s about as close to a spiritual experience as you are going to get. This guy in his late 40’s was still a better shooter than most everyone playing in the NBA. I remember thinking, “Man, I really wish I could have seen him play in his prime.”
Unfortunately, in 1985 the Spurs decided to trade George Gervin for 50 cents on the dollar to get David Greenwood. While Gervin was clearly aging, he made it clear that he wanted to finish his career in San Antonio. The Spurs still went through with the trade but interestingly enough, Gervin played his last year in a backcourt with a young kid by the name of Michael Jordan. It seems fitting that Gervin spent his last year tutoring the man who would become the greatest shooting guard to ever play the game.
George Gervin’s jersey was retired and he is in the Basketball Hall of Fame. In 1996, he was named as one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players, which he clearly deserved. George Gervin will always be a Spurs hero.