Julius Erving is one of the best basketball players in history. When it came to earnings, however, Dr. J's career ended just before salaries began to soar higher than his breathtaking one-handed dunks.

Erving's biggest payday by far came in the wee hours Sunday morning when an online auction closed and 144 of his possessions had sold for $3,552,627.

His 1974 ABA New York Nets championship ring fetched $460,741, the highest total ever for a sports ring. Five more of Erving's rings each exceeded $195,000. Three MVP trophies each exceeded $165,000.

What SCP Auctions had described as "the largest and most significant player basketball collection ever sold" indeed set a record for the most money brought in for one man's basketball memorabilia.

"It was mindboggling," SCP president David Kohler said. "Normally rings go for $25,000 or so. Before the sale I didn't think they'd bring $50,000. We were blown away. I spoke to Julius and he's ecstatic."

Nearly everything went higher than expected. Dr. J asked a minimum bid of only $2,000 for his high school class ring, yet it sold for $35,801.

One reason: Dr. J's former NBA team, the Philadelphia 76ers, acquired 18 of the items through the auction and plans to put them on display. As reported by Ball Don't Lie, team CEO Adam Aron tweeted the development.

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The cash should come in handy for Erving, 61, who was sued last month for an outstanding debt of $205,277.84 to a bank in Georgia. The Heritage Golf Club near Atlanta he bought in 2008 and a $2.3 million home he owns in Utah face foreclosure.

All in all, collectors spent more than $6.5 million at the auction – a new high in the dozen-or-so years of organized online bidding.

Among the non-Erving pieces that sold for eye-popping amounts:

• Lou Gehrig’s 1938-39 bat used to hit his last home run, which originated from the estate of actor Bing Russell, yielded $403,664. The only bats that have sold for more were the one Babe Ruth used to hit the first homer at Yankee Stadium and Shoeless Joe Jackson's "Black Betsy." Here is a story about the history of the bat on ThePostGame.com.

• A historic 1887 photograph and dinner program signed by baseball Hall-of-Famer Mike "King" Kelly (see below) went for $214,936, by far the highest price for a photo signed by a single player. Kohler said the only baseball photo to be sold for more was a team shot signed by the entire 1927 New York Yankees. Here is a story about Kelly and the autographed program on ThePostGame.com.

• Muhammad Ali's fight-worn trunks from the Ali vs. Frazier "Fight of the Century" sold for $173,102.

• Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane’s 1934 American League MVP trophy fetched $125,332 and a Ted Williams Boston Red Sox game-worn road jersey sold for $77,820.

All impressive numbers, all prized by new owners, but this auction started and ended with the Dr. J collection. He said a portion of the proceeds would go to the Salvation Army.

"It is my hope that the buyers of these items will derive much pleasure from their ownership," Erving said in a statement. "I also hope these treasures initiate much discussion inside and outside of basketball circles that help to preserve my legacy."

Here's a list of the highest auction prices for items sold by Erving:

• 1974 ABA New Jersey Nets championship ring: $460,741

• 1983 76ers championship ring: $244,240

• 1978 All-Star ring: $238,853

• 1983 All-Star ring: $218.977

• 1984 All-Star ring: $218,977

• 1976 New York Nets ABA championship ring: $195,396

• 1980-81 NBA MVP trophy: $177,632

• 1975-76 ABA MVP trophy: $173,102

• 1977 NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable trophy: $168,728

-- Steve Henson is a senior editor and columnist at Yahoo! Sports. He can be reached at henson@yahoo-inc.com. Follow him on Twitter .

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