North Carolina Basketball: Tar Heels Who Went on to Win NBA Championships

Rollin Yeatts@@TSBRollinFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2012

North Carolina Basketball: Tar Heels Who Went on to Win NBA Championships

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    For the University of North Carolina, winning doesn't stop at the college level.

    In the last 35 years, only 12 NBA championships have been won by teams that didn't have a former Tar Heel on the squad. UNC also produced eight players who are in the 2012 NBA Playoffs—two are still alive in the second round.

    That's pretty impressive.

    Through the entire history of the NBA, a total of 29 titles have been won by 14 former Tar Heels. According to Fox Sports Florida, that is the most by any college—above UCLA (26), Ohio State (25), San Francisco (25), Minnesota (18) and Kentucky (17).

    Where is Duke on that list?

    Despite Mike Krzyzewski producing the second-most NBA players in league history, former Duke players have only won two NBA championships—Danny Ferry in 2003 and Jeff Mullins in 1975 (before Coach K). That is every bit as shocking to me as the astounding number Carolina has won.

    Even more impressive is that UNC products continue to produce NBA championships beyond their playing years. Including general managers and coaches, UNC has produced a total of 42 titles.

    Who are the players that won NBA titles?

    That's what we are about to uncover. Then I'll finish it up with the former Tar Heels who made it to the 2012 NBA Playoffs.  

    You can find the full list of UNC's NBA champions on Hoopedia.

Billy Cunningham: 1967

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    Also known as the Kangaroo Kid, Billy Cunningham was a star from Chapel Hill to Philadelphia. Whether a team needed points, rebounds or blocks, it didn't matter—Billy was on it.

    In 1967, Cunningham helped lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 68-13 regular season. Not only did they put up one of the best records in NBA history, they did it scoring 125.2 points per game. Surprisingly, Wilt Chamberlain only accounted for 24.1 of those points.

    As for Cunningham, he put up 18.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in just his second NBA season—playing only 26.8 minutes per game.

    The 76ers would meet the San Francisco Warriors in the 1967 NBA Finals, blocking Boston from the championship series for the first time in 11 years.

    This championship must have been like watching an All-Star game. Game 1 went into overtime, with the 76ers pulling out a 141-35 victory. Philly would win the series 4-2, outscoring the Warriors by an average score of 126-118.

    For the 1967 playoffs, Cunningham averaged 15 points and 6.2 rebounds over 22.6 minutes per game.

    Cunningham would later win a championship as a head coach of the star-studded 76ers in 1983—a squad that included Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Mo Cheeks and another former Tar Heel, Bobby Jones.

Charlie Scott: 1976

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    Charlie Scott is a name everyone should recognize. Not only was he a star for the Tar Heels, but he was the first African-American scholarship athlete at UNC.

    Drafted in 1970, Scott dominated during his three years in the ABA. After averaging 31.7 points per game, he decided it was time to move to the NBA. Scott finished his pro career, averaging 20.7 points per game.

    In his first season with the Boston Celtics, Scott would end up facing the Phoenix Suns (his former team) in the 1976 NBA Finals. The Celtics took the first two games in Boston, and the home teams would go on to win the next three games.

    The Celtics finally closed out the series on the road in Game 6.

    Scott had a rough first five games, going 11-of-44 from the floor and fouling out twice. But in Game 6, Scott, John Havlieck and Dave Cowens went on tear, erasing a 67-66 Phoenix lead en route to an 87-80 win. Scott had three steals over that seven-minute span.

    Scott only averaged 15.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in the series, but he had 25 points and 11 rebounds in Game 6.

Mitch Kupchak: 1978, 1982, 1985

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    When you think about the most NBA titles by a former Tar Heel, the first name that comes to mind is Michael Jordan. After all, no player has won more than his six.

    However, there is no former Tar Heel who been a part of as many NBA championships as Mitch Kupchak, who has won 10 titles as a player, assistant GM and GM.

    As a player, Kupchak won three titles—one with the Washington Bullets (1978) and two with the Los Angeles Lakers (1982 and 1985). He retired from the NBA in 1986, but it wasn't long before he would be a part of another championship. As a matter of fact, it was the very next season.

    Kupchak racked up two more rings as the assistant GM for the Lakers, in 1987 and 1988. In 2000, he would take Jerry West's spot as the GM and do it again. The Lakers won titles in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010.

    We've seen some strange trades and acquisitions in Los Angeles since he took over, but the results speak for themselves. I think it's safe to say he is slightly more successful at GM than fellow Tar Heels Jordan (Bobcats) and Donnie Walsh (Knicks).

Tommy LaGarde: 1979

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    Though his college and NBA career wasn't as prolific as the previous three, partially due to injuries, Tommy LaGarde did end up with an NBA title.

    In his first season with the Seattle SuperSonics, they would play against his former Tar Heel teammate Mitch Kupchak and the Washington Bullets, in the 1979 NBA Finals. It was a rematch of the 1978 championship. This time, the SuperSonics would bring home the title.

    Unfortunately, it would be done without LaGarde.

    After earning a starting role as the Sonics' center and averaging 11 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, an injury to his knee cut short his season. He only played 23 games that season and was left out of the playoffs.

    LaGarde only played six seasons in the NBA, before retiring in 1985.

Bob McAdoo: 1982, 1985

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    Playing two seasons at Vincennes Junior College, Bob McAdoo was only with the Tar Heels for one year before being drafted second overall in 1972. His 19.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per game at Chapel Hill was enough for the NBA scouts.

    They were right, as he averaged more than  30 points per game in his second, third and fourth seasons with the Buffalo Braves.

    Though he was a big-time scorer through most of his career, he didn't end up on a championship team until he joined the Lakers in 1981. McAdoo only put up 9.6 points per game during the 1981-82 season, but he flipped the switch back on for the playoffs, scoring 16.7 points over 27.7 minutes per game.

    McAdoo and the Lakers brought home another title in 1985.

    That wouldn't be Bob McAdoo's last, though. He would win another championship as the Miami Heat's assistant coach in 2005.

    McAdoo is also a second cousin of the father of current Tar Heel James Michael McAdoo.

Bobby Jones: 1983

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    Before there was James Harden, there was Bobby Jones—the first player to earn the NBA Sixth Man of the Year. Known as the premier hustler in the NBA, he earned eight NBA All-Defensive First-Team selections over 10 seasons in the league.

    In 1983, Jones helped take Billy Cunningham's Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Finals. Facing the Los Angeles Lakers, the championship was a who's who among Tar Heel greats.

    On top of Philly's Cunningham and Jones, the Lakers were stacked with Bob McAdoo and Mitch Kupchak—and an injured James Worthy.

    That wasn't enough for the Lakers in this series, though. Not only did Philly sweep L.A., they went 12-1 through the entire playoffs—their only loss coming against the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals.

    Bobby Jones put up 8.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals over 27 minutes per game in the 1983 playoffs.   

James Worthy: 1985, 1987, 1988

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    James Worthy made an immediate impact in Chapel Hill, helping North Carolina to two straight championship games. The Tar Heels would lose the first, but Worthy would dominate the second, earning the Most Outstanding Player award for the 1982 NCAA Tournament.

    It would also be Dean Smith's first title.

    In 1985, James Worthy became the first Tar Heel to win a championship at both levels. He would earn two more with the Lakers in 1987 and 1988. In those playoffs, Worthy averaged 18.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.1 steals per game.

    James Worthy is an NBA Hall of Famer and joined Jordan on the list of the “50 Greatest Players in NBA History.”

Scott Williams: 1991, 1992, 1993

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    Before there was Frank the Tank, there was Scott the Tank. A solid player for the Tar Heels, Scott Williams was never a star. But he overcame one of the greatest tragedies one could possibly endure.

    In his sophomore year at Chapel Hill, Dean Smith had to be the one to notify Scott that both his parents were dead. Williams' father shot his mother and then turned the gun on himself.

    I don't know how one even begins to sort out something of that magnitude.

    Scott Williams did, and he went on to play in the NBA—despite being undrafted. A call from Michael Jordan placed him on one of the most legendary teams of all time.

    If you weren't a Bulls fan or didn't at least follow them, you probably wouldn't know about Williams' NBA career. Over 15 seasons, he never averaged double figures in points and only averaged more than 20 minutes per game three times.

    However, as a Bulls fan, I do remember. He wasn't as big a factor in his rookie season in 1991, when the Chicago Bulls won their first title. In 1992 and 1993, he played a much bigger role, filling in for everyone on the front line.

    Whether he was subbing for Bill Cartwright, Stacey King or Will Perdue, the Bulls wouldn't miss a beat. His best playoffs came in 1993, when he averaged 5.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists over 20.8 minutes per game.

Michael Jordan: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998

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    Scott Williams isn't the only one that had to deal with a tragedy.

    In July of 1993, after his third NBA title, Michael Jordan's father was murdered in a random act of violence. Jordan chose to deal with the tragedy differently than Williams—he chose baseball as his release.

    That decision may have prevented Jordan from achieving an insurmountable eight-peat—or whatever they would have called it. And I don't think there are many people that would argue with that prediction. They may have gone for nine or ten, had the front office kept the Bulls intact.


    It wasn't just the game-winners, the scoring and the elite defense that made Jordan special. He's also never lost an NBA Finals—and it never went past Game 6. He was also named Finals MVP for all six championships.

    Through his career in the playoffs, Jordan averaged 33.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals over an impressive 41.8 minutes per game. The guy just didn't sit.

    And for those who looked at Jordan as a greedy player (they are out there), he also averaged 5.7 assists per game. His best average was in 1991, when he dished out 8.4 dimes per game.

    People forget how complete his game was. Jordan will be considered the best for a long time to come.

Kenny Smith: 1994, 1995

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    Easily the most successful NBA point guard to come out of Carolina during the Dean Smith era, Kenny “The Jet” Smith had some outstanding seasons with the Houston Rockets.

    The 1994 and 1995 Rockets were stacked, to say the least. Not only was Smith a smooth operator at the point, but he had Hakeem Olajuwon, Otis Thorpe and Vernon Maxwell to feed the ball. On top of those stars, they also had a young Sam Cassell and Robert Horry.

    My only knock on Smith is that he only managed 4.3 assists per game during those playoff runs. In his defense, this team moved the ball around very well, so everyone racked up the assists.

    Where he really thrived was from beyond the arc. He knocked down 44 percent of his three-pointers in those playoffs—45 percent for his playoff career. Smith also averaged 10.8 points per game during that period.

Pete Chilcutt: 1995

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    Though he was taken in the first round of the 1991 NBA Draft, Pete Chilcutt never really lived up being the 27th overall pick. He only averaged 14.4 minutes per game and spent most of his NBA career bouncing around.

    Chilcutt got a lucky bounce in 1994, when he landed on the Houston Rockets, along with Kenny Smith. That season, the Rockets would win their second title in a row.

    In that title run of 1995, Chilcutt averaged 4.5 points and 2.9 rebounds over 16.2 minutes per game.

    Over Chilcutt's nine-year NBA career, he played for seven teams. He did earn a championship out of it, though.

Rick Fox: 2000, 2001, 2002

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    Rick Fox was a star at Carolina who ended up more of a role player in the NBA—a pretty darn good one, though.

    Fox was drafted by the Boston Celtics, but would later end up on the Lakers, where he would pick up three titles in a row. This was another team that was ridiculously stacked. It had two of the top scorers in the league in Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, who meshed well with above-average role players.

    The 2001 playoff run was the best for Fox, as he averaged 10 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. Points were hard to come by that year, too. O'Neal and Bryant accounted for 59.8 points per game during that run.

Rasheed Wallace: 2004

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    With the help of Rasheed Wallace, the Detroit Pistons finally took out L.A. in 2004. He wasn't the only former Tar Heel on the team, though.

    Larry Brown was the head coach, and he had Dave Hanners as an assistant. Even the video coordinator John Kuester was from Carolina—I guess he got a ring, too.

    Wallace never was as much of a scorer with the Pistons as he was with the Blazers. But he was an invaluable part of that championship team. He wore his heart on his sleeve and played a Dennis Rodman-like role.

    Wallace knew how to get under someone's skin. Then he would hit a big shot in the most critical times and proceed to rub salt in the wound.

    The chemistry and toughness of the Pistons was too much for Kobe, Shaq and the Lakers. Detroit dominated every aspect of the game. Los Angeles had to go to overtime to win Game 2—the Lakers' only win of the series.

    Not only was the series labeled the “five-game sweep,” but it would be the series that split up Kobe and Shaq.

    In the 2004 playoffs, Wallace averaged 13 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.9 blocks and one steal per game. That's just solid across the board.

Brendan Haywood: 2011

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    The latest former Tar Heel to win a championship came just one year ago. Brendan Haywood was never dominant at Carolina and hasn't been in the pros, either. But he has become another solid player off the bench.

    Haywood got his ring with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011.

    The Mavericks weren't supposed to win the series. They were up against Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Nobody gave them a chance.

    Things looked to be going that way, too. After the first three games, Miami was up 2-1 and ready to start celebrating. The Mavericks weren't having it.

    Dallas swept the final three games to take home the title. Haywood's part consisted of 3.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and one block over 15.3 minutes per game.

Who Is Left in 2012?

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    After Round 1 of the playoffs, only two Tar Heels remain standing.

    Ty Lawson had a great series, but it wasn't enough to put the Nuggets over the Lakers. He was averaging 19 points, six assists and one steal per game—easily the best performance by any former Tar Heel this year.

    Jerry Stackhouse and Marvin Williams were both on the Hawks, though Stackhouse was in street clothes. They gave Boston a ride, but the Celtics just outplayed them in crunch time.

    The Thunder just smacked around the Mavericks—there is no other way of putting it. That team consisted of former Tar Heels Vince Carter, Brendan Haywood and Brandan Wright.

    So far, Danny Green and Tyler Hansbrough, the final two Heels in the playoffs, are looking pretty good.

    Green earned a starting role with the San Antonio Spurs this season and is playing well in the postseason. Over 25.3 minutes, he is averaging 10.3 points, four rebounds, one assist and one block per game. He is also burying 43 percent of his three-point attempts.

    San Antonio leads its series against the Los Angeles Clippers, 2-0.

    Hansbrough hasn't made quite as big a contribution to his Pacers, but they are leading the series 2-1 over Miami. Psycho T is averaging 3.6 points and 3.3 rebounds over 15.4 minutes per game.

    Many expect Miami and Oklahoma City to be in the NBA Finals, but San Antonio or Indiana could be a surprise this year.

    When it comes to the NBA playoffs, you just never know.

    One thing I can guarantee. It won't be long before I have to add another Tar Heel to this list.