The strangest trade in sports history involved money and rights to a couple of journeymen basketball players. It also sent the best basketball player of his era to New York, and a rookie defenseman to the Atlanta Flames. Yes, a hockey player.
It was 1973. The NBA was in competition with the upstart American Basketball Association. The ABA delighted crowds with its red, white and blue basketballs and a three-point shot. It also took players who were college underclassmen, something the NBA did not do for several more years.
One of those underclassmen was Julius Erving, who left the University of Massachusetts for the Virginia Squires. He became the most exciting player until Michael Jordan. He was also the most coveted by the NBA.
Players and fans called him "Dr. J" because the man sure could operate on the basketball court. He had moves no one had shown before.
Erving played two years for the Squires, but wanted a better contract. Erving hired a new agent who struck a deal with the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA.
The basketball world threw a fit. Both Atlanta and Erving claimed he no longer had college eligibility, so he was free to sign with an NBA team, just as any other ABA player could. The NBA's Milwaukee Bucks claimed it had NBA draft rights to Erving. The Virginia Squires claimed it still had Erving under contract. The ruckus went to court.
A federal judge ruled that Erving's contract with Virginia still stood and granted an injunction. But Erving didn't want to play at the small arenas in Norfolk, Hampton, Richmond and Roanoke anymore. Squires eventually traded him to the New York Nets along with Willie Sojourner for George Carter, draft rights to Kermit Washington and $800,000.
But the Hawks were still furious. Erving had signed a contract, played in pre-season games, and had been paid. Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons said Erving was the best player he had ever seen. The dispute was finally settled by team ownership.
The Ice Age Comes To Atlanta
The New York Nets were owned by Roy Boe, who also owned the one-year old New York Islanders hockey team. Tom Cousins owned the Hawks and the one-year old Atlanta Flames hockey team.
(c)1972, J.E. Simmons
To clear up the Erving matter, Boe send a defenseman just drafted by the Islanders to the Flames along with $400,000.
The name of the player who completed this strange trade? Pat Ribble.