Gervin initially played for the Pontiac (Michigan) Chaparrals of the Eastern Basketball Association, where he was spotted by Johnny Kerr, a scout for the Virginia Squires of the ABA. Kerr signed Gervin to the Squires for a $40,000 a year contract.
Gervin’s time in Virginia would be short-lived, however. The Squires’ finances had never been stable, and they had been forced to start trading their best players to get enough money to stay alive. In the space of only four months, they traded Julius Erving and Swen Nater for cash and/or draft picks. During the 1974 ABA All-Star Weekend, rumors abounded that the Squires were in talks about dealing Gervin for cash. The rumors turned out to be true; on January 30 Gervin was sold to the Spurs for $228,000. The ABA tried to block the trade, claiming that by trading their last legitimate star, the Squires were holding a fire sale. However, a court sided with the Spurs. Within two years, the Squires were no more.
San Antonio Spurs
With Gervin as the centerpiece, the Spurs transformed from a primarily defense-oriented team into an exciting fast-breaking team that played what coach Bob Bass called “schoolyard basketball”. Although the Spurs never won an ABA playoff series during Gervin’s first three years there, their high-powered offense made them very attractive to the NBA, and the Spurs joined the more established league as part of the 1976 ABA–NBA merger.
Gervin’s first NBA scoring crown came in 1978, when he narrowly edged David Thompson for the scoring title by seven hundredths of a point (27.22 to 27.15). Although Thompson came up with a memorable performance for the last game of the regular season, scoring 73 points, Gervin maintained his slight lead by scoring 63 points (including a then NBA record 33 points in the second quarter) in a loss in his last game of the season. With the scoring crown in hand, he sat out some of the third, and all of the fourth quarter.
Gervin went on to lead the NBA in scoring average three years in a row from 1978 to 1980 (with a high of 33.1 points per game in 1979-80), and again in 1982. Prior to Michael Jordan, Gervin had the most scoring titles of any guard in league history. In 1982, the Spurs drafted high scoring guards Oliver Robinson of UAB and Tony Grier from South Florida to take some offensive pressure off Gervin.
In 1985, Gervin was traded to the Chicago Bulls for forward David Greenwood. The Bulls’ rising star Michael Jordan stated he was “unhappy” after the trade. The last NBA game of Gervin’s career was Jordan’s 63 point game against the Boston Celtics in the playoffs on April 20, 1986. Gervin recorded 1 assist and 1 personal foul in five minutes of play for the Bulls.
Gervin holds the distinction of being a former teammate of both Julius Erving (with the Squires) and Michael Jordan (with the Bulls).