Gervin attended Martin Luther King, Jr. High School, where he struggled on and off the court until he reached his senior year, when he had a growth spurt and averaged 31 points and 20 rebounds to lead his school to the state quarterfinals.
Gervin received a scholarship to play for Jerry Tarkanian at Long Beach State, but had such a culture shock that he returned home before the first semester was over. He transferred to Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan and averaged 29.5 points as a sophomore forward in 1971–72.
While competing in a Division II tournament in Evansville, Indiana, Gervin punched a Roanoke College player. Gervin was suspended for the following season and eventually was kicked off the team. Invitations to try out for the Olympic and Pan-American teams were withdrawn.
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.
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 an 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 1981, 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). 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 after missing multiple preseason workouts amid the possibility of being relegated to the bench by new head coach, Cotton Fitzsimmons. 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.
When he left the NBA, Gervin played for several years in Europe: in Italy for Banco Roma during the 1986-87 season where he averaged 26.1 points per game, 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.
Nicknamed Iceman for his cool demeanor on the court, Gervin was primarily known for his scoring talents.
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.
He remains active in the San Antonio community with his seven organizations designed specifically for underprivileged kids, including the George Gervin Youth Center. Gervin is beloved in San Antonio and believes that his own experience as an underprivileged child in Michigan inspired him to get involved.
At the time of his trade to the Bulls, he held nearly every significant scoring record in Spurs history. Many of his records have been surpassed by David Robinson and Tim Duncan. Gervin retired with the most blocks by any guard in NBA history.
Though a revered NBA and ABA All-Star and Hall of Famer, Gervin never made an appearance with a team in either an NBA or ABA championship series during his 13-year career in American professional basketball.