I'll admit it outright: I've lost interest in the NBA. I used to watch it religiously, at least during the playoffs, but then the series started to expand until EVERY round was a seven-game job, and the progression from sixteen teams to two became a march not unlike that of Napoleon into Russia (with similar watchability, but less drama).  I've never liked the 24 second clock, which in my opinion stunts the beauty of a basketball team's offense the way thalidomide stunts a healthy limb, and the teams' generally indifferent defense means that most NBA possessions seem to involve two passes and a jump shot, which isn't a whole lot different than watching professional bowling in terms of variability. The announcement that in this year, a player stepping toward the basket for a layup/dunk would be allowed TWO steps was to me just one more admission that the league has perverted the game of basketball to the point where it's hard to watch even with the greatest players on earth.

Now the only thing keeping me interested in the NBA is the presence of former Tar Heels.

Carolina's long and storied success at the college level has been echoed at the professional level, and a great many former Heels have won themselves NBA championship rings. As best I can recall:

6 rings - Michael Jordan ('91-'93, '96-'98 Bulls)
3 - James Worthy ('85, '87, '88 Lakers)
3 - Scott Williams ('91-'93 Bulls)
3 - Rick Fox ('01-'03 Lakers)
2 - Kenny Smith ('94, '95 Rockets)
1 - Billy Cunningham ('67 76ers)
1 - Charles Scott ('76 Celtics)
1 - Bobby Jones ('83 76ers)
1 - Pete Chilcutt ('95 Rockets)
1 - Rasheed Wallace ('04 Pistons)

That's 22 rings. Even if you fold in Williams' 3 rings (won as a reserve on Jordan's Bulls) and Chilcutt's 1 ring (won as a reserve on Smith's Rockets), that's still a solid 18 professional titles won in the last 50 years by former UNC players. (And it doesn't include those won by coaches, such as Billy Cunningham's 1983 Sixers, or by executives such as Mitch Kupchak, whose Lakers have won 4 titles since he took over as general manager, or by ABA teams, such as the 1969 title won by Larry Brown of the Oakland Oaks).

Naturally, every UNC fan is deeply proud of this record, and will note it loudly and publicly, particularly if there are Duke fans within earshot, given that Duke players have won, as a group, exactly two NBA championship rings. One of them was earned by former Blue Devil Jeff Mullins, who averaged 8.2 points per game for the Golden State Warriors back in 1975; the other was claimed by Danny Ferry, who snagged a ring in 2003 as one of the deep bench reserves (1.9 points per game) for the Tim Duncan-led San Antonio Spurs.

In his current role as GM of the Cleveland Cavaliers, however, Ferry has come to see the value of UNC players; this year the Cavs drafted Danny Green, a starter on the Heels' 2009 NCAA title team, signed free agent Jawad Williams, who started for the Heels' 2005 champions, and traded for former ACC Player of the Year Antawn Jamison to give Cleveland more offense during the playoffs. I don't think it's coincidental that the Cavs are the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.

But in fact, ALL the Eastern squads have Tar Heels on the court. Rasheed Wallace is the Boston Celtics' sixth man; Marvin Williams starts for the Atlanta Hawks, now on the edge of elimination at the hands of the Orlando Magic; and starting for the Magic is Vince Carter. In short, if an Eastern Conference team wins the title this year, UNC will be up to 23 rings (at least).

Not all the UNC alumni have had  such success, alas; Wayne Ellington's Timberwolves, Brandan Wright's Warriors, and Sean May's Kings didn't even make the playoffs. Out in the Western Conference, Brendan Haywood's Mavericks and Ty Lawson's Nuggets lost in the the first round, while in the East, Jerry Stackhouse's Bucks lost to the Hawks, while Raymond Felton's Bobcats fell to the Magic. Then again, with so many former Heels playing, they can't ALL win.

Personally, I'm hoping for the Cavs to win it all. For one thing, that would give the Heels a total of 25 rings earned by players, and for another, I don't want a Heel-less Western Conference team to take the title. (Neither the Lakers, the Spurs, the Jazz, nor the Suns have a UNC alum on the roster.) Worse, should the Suns or the Jazz pull off the upset and win it all, a third ring would go to a former Duke player; the former feature Grant Hill and the latter Carlos Boozer.

I wouldn't object to Rasheed winning his second ring, or Marvin picking up his first, but it's not my preference. And though I'd love for Vince Carter to get a championship (and maybe get's Bill Simmons to quit ragging on him in the process), I'll admit there's one thing that may make rooting for the Magic more difficult.

One of their reserves is J.J. Redick.


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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on May 9, 2010 9:30 PM.

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