Like Duke University and the University of Kentucky, the University of North Carolina is considered as a basketball factory because Tar Heel blood runs deep in the NBA. A total of 14 UNC alumni have won a combined 29 NBA titles, making the UNC basketball program one of the most successful ever.
Here are the best North Carolina Tar Heels basketball players ever:
Michael Jordan wasn’t just the best Tar Heel player ever. He is the greatest basketball player of all-time. MJ burst into the scene when he hit the game-winning jump shot that won the National title for North Carolina in 1982. Jordan would turn pro after winning Olympic gold in 1984. He was picked 3rd overall by the Chicago Bulls and immediately made an impact. He was Rookie of the Year and became an instant star because of his high-flying moves and breath-taking dunks. When all was said and done, Jordan led the Bulls to six NBA titles, in two bunches of three-peats. He averaged 30.1 points per game during his career and 33.4 points per game in the postseason. Truly, His Airness was the best product the University of North Carolina has ever produced.
Big Game James was the Los Angeles Lakers’ first overall pick in the 1982 NBA Draft and he became one of the most instrumental figures in the Lakers’ Showtime Dynasty during the 1980s. Worthy was one of the best finishers the game had ever seen and teaming up with a brilliant passer like Magic Johnson made him even look better. He averaged 21.1 points per game in the playoffs and is the only player on this list other than Michael Jordan to be named as NBA Finals MVP.
Vince Carter was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in the 5th overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft and was traded on draft night to the Toronto Raptors for Antawn Jamison, his college teammate. Carter proved the Raptors correct when he was named as Rookie of the Year in 1999. He won the 2000 NBA Dunk contest and is acknowledged as one of the game’s best dunkers. During his prime, he was also a pesky defender and a decent shooter. Carter would go on to play for eight teams in an unprecedented career which has seen him play in three different decades. He will be playing his 22nd season for the Atlanta Hawks this coming season.
As we mentioned earlier Jamison was traded for Carter on draft night and while Carter became Vinsanity, Jamison didn’t have the kind of career his Tar Heel teammate had. But Jamison became a two-time NBA All-Star and during the 2001 season, he became the first NBA player to record back to back 50-point games since Michael Jordan in 1987. During that season, Jamison would average a career-best 24.9 points per game for the Warriors. In 2004, Jamison was named as the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year winner.
Bob McAdoo was named as the Rookie of the Year after he was selected by the Buffalo Braves with the 2nd overall pick of the 1972 NBA Draft. McAdoo would blossom into a star as he would lead the NBA in scoring in three seasons while winning NBA MVP honors. After bouncing around from one losing team to another, he would find his way to the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1981 season. In L.A., McAdoo would win two NBA titles in four seasons while playing off the bench. After his NBA retirement, he would play six more seasons in Italy.
Walter Davis was another Tar Heel who won Rookie of the Year honors. He accomplished the feat after being selected with the 5th overall pick in the 1977 Draft by the Phoenix Suns. He played most of his career in Phoenix where he is one of the franchise’s all-time greats. He would earn the nicknames “The Man with the Velvet Touch and “The Greyhound”. Despite being hounded with back problems, he was able to play 15 NBA seasons. He is the uncle of another popular Tar Heel, Hubert Davis.
Brad Daugherty was the Cleveland Cavaliers’ #1 overall pick in 1986 and he was supposed to be the NBA’s next big thing. However, Daugherty had an injury-prone NBA career which saw him play just eight seasons with back problems. Despite that, Daugherty ended his NBA career as the Cavs’ all-time leading scorer and rebounder. He appeared in five NBA playoffs but was never able to make it far because his teams ran into Michael Jordan’s Bulls three times.
Billy Cunnigham’s otherworldly leaping ability earned him the nickname “Kangaroo Kid”. He was the Philadelphia 76ers’ 4th overall pick and during the 1966-67 NBA season, he helped the Sixers to a 68-13 regular-season record and his only NBA title. Cunningham would make four NBA All-Star teams and earn a spot among the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history.
Jerry Stackhouse was selected 3rd overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1995 and he was selected ahead of fellow Tar Heel Rasheed Wallace. After averaging 19.2 points per game during his first year, he was named to the All-Rookie Team. He was traded to the Detroit Pistons during his third NBA season and in 2000-01, he led the NBA in total points scored. That season, Stackhouse also put up 57 points against Bulls and would average 29.8 points per game.
Big Smooth was the Dallas Mavericks’ 4th overall pick in 1984. After he was named to the All-Rookie team, he posted the first 30 points-20 rebounds game in Dallas Mavericks history. When he transferred to the Seattle SuperSonics, he had three straight seasons where he made at least 100 three-pointers per season. Perkins appeared in 15 NBA playoffs during 19 NBA seasons. He went to the NBA Finals in 1991 with the Lakers and in 1996 with the Sonics but in both instances, he was denied a ring by Michael Jordan and his Bulls.