Welcome back to NBA Tuesday on the Daily McPlay, where we’re examining the Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards for both professional basketball leagues in 1976—the final season of the colorful ABA. Gone too soon, but never departed from our hearts …
Remember to check out the first miniseries entry on this year for context, because knowledge is power.
1976 NBA FINALS MVP: Jo Jo White, PG, Boston Celtics (original); Dave Cowens, C, Boston Celtics (revised)
The Boston Celtics won a six-game Finals series over the upstart Phoenix Suns, and everyone remembers the triple-overtime Game 5 in Boston, right? The game is legendary, and when the Celtics won it eventually, it took the spirit right out of the Suns. What a series! But basically no one knows that Boston point guard Jo Jo White won the Finals MVP nod at the time.
He probably should not have, as his teammate—center Dave Cowens—outplayed everyone to the tune of 20.5 ppg, 16.3 rpg, and 3.3 apg while shooting 52.1 percent from the floor. Suns C Alvan Adams was almost as good: 23.0 ppg, 10.2 rpg, and 4.7 apg with a 48.8-percent conversion rate. In the end, though, we give this piece of hardware to Cowens, which makes a lot more sense.
1976 ABA FINALS MVP: Julius Erving, SF, New York Nets (original, confirmed)
The New York Nets won the final ABA title, in six games, over the Denver Nuggets. Both teams would join the NBA the following season, but it was Nets small forward Julius Erving who made a name for himself here with another playoff MVP award. He turned in an all-time great performance: 37.7 ppg, 14.2 rpg, and 5.3 apg. He shot a stunning 59 percent from the floor, too, in a masterful display. Award confirmed.
1976 NBA DPOY: George McGinnis, PF, Philadelphia 76ers
Six players finished with at least 5.0 Defensive Win Shares: Los Angeles Lakers C Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (7.19); Washington Bullets power forward Elvin Hayes (5.89); Cowens (5.64); Philadelphia 76ers PF George McGinnis (5.46); Bullets C Wes Unseld (5.22); and Golden State Warriors SF Rick Barry (5.06). The two teammates cancel each out, and the Lakers missed the postseason, somehow.
That leaves us with Cowens, McGinnis, and Barry. Boston and Golden State cruised into the postseason, while Philly only made it by 6 games. Perhaps they would not have made it without McGinnis’ defensive efforts. Remember, he won our ABA DPOY nod in 1974, too, so his first year in the “big league” proved he could play with anyone: 12.6 rpg, 2.6 spg, and 4.3 fpg. He wasn’t afraid of anyone, clearly.
1976 ABA DPOY: Erving
There really are only two candidates for this award: Erving (6.01 DWS) and Kentucky Colonels C Artis Gilmore (5.85), a three-time winner of this award already (1972, 1973, 1975). With both teams sporting comfortable margins for postseason berths, we’re going to default here to the higher-valued player: Dr. J! He had that all-around game we didn’t see too often back then (11.0 rpg, 2.5 spg, 1.9 bpg). Hot damn!