When you think of the ABA/NBA merger of 1976, it's impossible not to think about all the dynamic players who entered the league at that time: Julius Erving, Dan Issel, George Gervin, Moses Malone, Artis Gilmore, David Thompson, Maurice Lucas and plenty of others.
But no player who came over in the merger had more of an impact in that initial season than point guard Dave Twardzik. That's right, Dave Twardzik.
Twardzik not only helped lead the Portland Trail Blazers to a title in 1977, but he also put together one of the most remarkable shooting seasons in NBA history.
Twardzik shot 61.2 percent from the field that season, a ridiculous number for any NBA player let alone a point guard. Twardzik started 74 games that season for the Blazers but didn't qualify to lead the league because he was short a few makes.
"Knowing your limitations," was how Twardzik explained his uncommonly high percentage. "The system fit perfectly for me, playing for [coach] Jack Ramsay. He couldn't have scripted it any better. Jack wanted to run as much as possible; Jack gave you the freedom to penetrate when you could in transition. And when we got into the halfcourt we were a very unselfish team.
"I got a lot of stuff taking it to the basket. I didn't force many shots and I didn't really shoot from the outside a whole lot. Most of my scoring came from drives and cuts to the basket."
Twardzik's game, however, didn't really fit with the ABA stereotype. The ABA was known for athleticism and high-flying, the 3-point shot and uptempo style. Everyone knows the ABA was different than the NBA, but was it as good?
"As far as talent goes, if you look at the All-Star Game the year of the merger, half the all-stars were former ABA players [10 of 24 players played in ABA]," Twardzik said. "So, there was talent in the ABA, absolutely. Was there exposure? Absolutely not."
Exposure eventually came for ABA guys, but it wasn't until the ABA was all gone. There were no fewer than five ABA players who participated in the NBA Finals between the Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers in 1977: Twardzik, Lucas, Erving, McGinnis and Caldwell Jones.
"There was no animosity between the ABA and NBA guys, but you did want to prove yourself," Twardzik said. "I was not at the level of the better players who came from the ABA, but I felt like I had something to prove. Did 'Doc' have anything to prove? He might have, but it probably had something to do with proving he was the best player in the whole league. But I just wanted to make the NBA."