In today’s edition of Throwback Thursday, we fondly look back on the career of George “The Iceman” Gervin. One of the smoothest scorers the game has ever seen, it’s apt that Kevin Durant (another silky smooth scorer) has drawn many comparisons to the Iceman.
If you couldn’t tell already, George Gervin was a lights-out scorer, and the 6-foot-7 swingman had the uncanny ability of making the game look easy. Whether he was rising up over the defense for a silky smooth jump shot or gliding to the rim to finish with a trademark finger-roll, it always looked effortless for the Iceman.
Gervin ended his career with over 26,000 points scored, but he couldn’t have come from a more humble beginning. Raised by a single mom in an impoverished area in Detroit, Gervin was one of six children and said himself how lucky he was to have just been able to have food on the table and a roof above his head.
Gervin discovered basketball by playing over at his neighbor’s house. As easy as it would’ve been to be sucked into the world of drugs and violence, he escaped reality by finding a sanctuary playing basketball.
Without a formal introduction to the game, Gervin lacked the fundamentals of basketball and didn’t have a very good jump shot. When Gervin tried out for his high school team, the head coach wanted to cut him, but an assistant saw the potential and pleaded for Gervin to have a chance.
The assistant coach, Willie Meriweather, became like a father figure to Gervin and taught him the fundamentals of the game. Gervin already had love for the game and was spending countless hours by himself late at night in the gym, finding solace in the peace and quiet of the hardwood floor.
As good as Gervin was getting on the basketball court, he was still struggling in school and was forced to miss some of his games due to academic probation. With the encouragement of his coach, Gervin overcame his academic problems and had himself a terrific senior year of high school; averaging 31 points and 20 rebounds, he led his team to the state quarterfinals.
With his high school career over, Gervin accepted a scholarship to play at Eastern Michigan, where he averaged 26.8 points over two seasons. His sophomore season was cut short when he punched an opponent in the face, leading to his eventual dismissal from the team.
With his college career over, Gervin decided to join the Eastern Basketball Association. He dominated to the tune of 40 points a game, but all that success only reaped about $500 a month, and he struggled to make ends meet.
Gervin got a break when a scout for the ABA came to one of his games; Gervin scored 50 points that game and immediately found himself with a new job playing for the Virginia Squires of the ABA.
Why do the Virginia Squires sound familiar? That was the same team that Julius Erving played on. While the spotlight was clearing on Dr. J, fans all over began to note the smooth game of Gervin. The talented duo’s time together was short-lived; the Virginia Squires were in a perpetual state of financial distress and had to sell their best players just to stay afloat.
In less than a year, the Squires had sold off Dr. J and Gervin, and yet still managed to find themselves bankrupt and went under within two years.
Gervin was bought by the San Antonio Spurs for $228,000 at the age of 21. The Spurs were still part of the ABA for the first three years of his career in San Antonio, and Gervin showed off his impressive skill set. Putting up about 21 points a game during the ABA years, it was clear that Gervin would be the franchise player of the Spurs.
His rare scoring ability translated into individual success, as Gervin was perennially in the top 10 in points, which resulted in consecutive All-Star games. But with the merging of the two leagues, critics never imagined that Gervin could keep up his level of production with the more talented NBA.
Gervin ended up being dominant; he captured four of the next five scoring titles (with averages of 27.2, 29.6, 33.1 and 32.3 points a game) and earned five selections to the All-NBA First Team, no small feat considering he played in an era with Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes, Pete Maravich and Bill Walton.
But for all his individual accomplishments, Gervin could never get over the hump of winning a league MVP. In his two best years, he was beaten out in the voting by Bill Walton and then Moses Malone.
Gervin couldn’t get over the hump of winning a championship either. While the Spurs were a great regular-season team, they just couldn’t put it all together and finish a season with the championship. The Spurs made three conference finals with Gervin, but were bested by the Washington Bullets and the Los Angeles Lakers (twice), respectively.
Gervin ended his career with an average of 25.1 points per game, shattering many records along the way. Gervin was elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1996 and was selected as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
And now, please enjoy this mixtape of the Iceman: