Nicknamed Iceman for his cool demeanor on the court, Gervin was primarily known for his scoring talents. He led teams at both Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan and Long Beach State. After leaving college, Gervin was set to try out for the Virginia Squires of the ABA. According to legend, Gervin made 22 of 25 three-point attempts at the tryout; he was immediately signed despite the fact that Virginia officials had never seen him play competitively.
His first 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 an NBA-record at the time 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. The Spurs drafted high scoring guards Oliver Robinson of UAB and Tony Grier from South Florida to take some offensive pressure off Gervin. Prior to Michael Jordan, Gervin had the most scoring titles of any guard in league history.
When he left the NBA, Gervin played for several years in Europe: in Italy for Banco Roma during the 1986-87 season, and in the Spanish National Basketball League for TDK Manresa team (he was 38 years old at the time). At this point in his career he had lost some of his quickness, but his scoring instinct remained; he averaged 25.5 points, 5 rebounds and 1.2 assists, and in his last match he scored 31 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to keep Manresa in the first Spanish division.
Gervin's trademark move was the finger roll, a shot in which one rolls the basketball along his or her fingertips. While others mimicked this style when shooting layups, Gervin was known to "finger roll" from as far as the free throw line. While sitting out 3 games due to injury, Gervin's replacement, Ron Brewer, averaged over 30 ppg. When Gervin returned, he scored 40 points. When asked if he was sending a message, Gervin said, "Just the way the Lord planned it" and added, "Ice be cool" (with Ron Brewer).
Gervin's legacy has inspired other athletes, such as Gary Payton who said Gervin was his favorite player to watch as a kid. Asked to elaborate, Payton said that it was because "he was just so saucy." He was also idolized by former NFL and Heisman-winning quarterback Ty Detmer. Detmer records in his autobiography that he was elated to receive Gervin's autograph one day as a youth in San Antonio.