There are great players and then there are those who are also winners. Granted, winning isn’t the only way to judge the greatness of a player. Then again, winning is the main purpose of playing and does play a big role in a player’s legacy. With that in mind, there is a limited number of basketball players who have won a championship in both college and the NBA. It’s harder than you think, so we thought it’d be nice to take a look at some of the best players of all time who have both a college and NBA title on their resume.
The man born as Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. might be the biggest winner in basketball history. In high school, he helped his team to a 71-game win streak. He then went to UCLA, where he helped John Wood three straight national titles. The Bruins were 88-2 during Abdul-Jabbar’s three seasons, and he was hurt during one of those losses. It was more of the same in the NBA, as he led the league in scoring while leading the Bucks to a title in his second season. Abdul-Jabbar later won five more NBA titles in a span of nine seasons with the Lakers.
After winning a championship in high school, Magic and Michigan State got the better of Larry Bird’s Indiana State team in an epic national championship game in 1979. Johnson won Most Outstanding Player honors in that Final Four in what would become the first of many head-to-head battles with Bird. As a rookie with the Lakers, Magic teamed up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to win the NBA championship. Kareem was MVP of the season but Magic was Finals MVP. During his 13 seasons, Magic helped the Lakers win four more titles, knocking off Bird and the Celtics in the Finals twice.
Between 1956 and 1969, the Celtics won 11 NBA championships. It’s no coincidence that those are the exact same years Russell played for them. While he had some help around him, Russell was also a five-time league MVP, so he did most of the work. To date, only Henri Richard of the Montreal Canadiens can match Russell in the number of championships won in North American pro sports. Of course, Russell also led the San Francisco Dons to back-to-back national championships in 1955 and 1956. He also won Olympic Gold in 1956.
Thomas needed just two years at Indiana before leading the Hoosiers to the 1981 national championship. Things weren’t so easy in the NBA after Thomas was drafted by the rebuilding Pistons. However, slowly but surely, Thomas helped Detroit build a championship-caliber team, ultimately winning back-to-back NBA titles in 1989 and 1990 with Thomas being Finals MVP in 1990.
For what it’s worth, James Worthy and Sam Perkins did most of the heavy lifting when North Carolina won the 1982 national championship. However, when the game was on the line, Dean Smith drew up a play to give Jordan the game-winning shot against Georgetown. That was just the first of many memorable shots in Jordan’s career. As we know, he went on to lead the Bulls to six NBA championships, helping Chicago accomplish two separate three-peats.