Willis Reed, Grambling
Photo: Grambling State Athletics

We are in the thick of the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors.

But most may not know that both teams have historic ties to HBCU players and coaches.

In 1950, the Celtics became the first team to pick an African American player in the NBA Draft selecting West Virginia State guard Chuck Cooper.

Meanwhile, North Carolina A&T star Al Attles is the Warriors’ all-time leader in wins for a head coach, holding 1,075 victories with the franchise. He also led the team to its first championship in 1975 after moving to San Francisco.

It’s not just these two teams that have ties to HBCUs as the league has seen its fair share of great players from Black institutions.

Currently, there are three former HBCU players on the NBA’s 75th-anniversary team and 10 in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

This got us thinking: How would a team of the best HBCU alums in NBA history stack up against each other?

We put together a 12-man team with a traditional starting lineup and a bench consisting of two guards, two forwards, two centers, and a wild card.

Starters

PG: Earl Monroe, Winston-Salem State

Earl Monroe, Winston-Salem State
Photo: Frank Jones

When discussing the greatest basketball players to come from a historically black college, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe’s name will surely be mentioned.

Playing for Winston-Salem State, Monroe has the distinction of being the school’s all-time leading scorer.

As a senior, he averaged 41.5 points per game leading the Rams to a Division II national title, the first for an HBCU at the time.

Monroe was taken second overall in the 1967 draft by the Washington Bullets, making him still the highest-ever HBCU player. He later won the Rookie of the Year, averaging 24.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

Monroe played 13 seasons in the NBA with the Bullets and New York Knicks, averaging 18.8 points, 3.9 assists and three rebounds.

He was named to four NBA All-Star teams and won a championship in 1973 with the Knicks. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1990 and is a member of the NBA’s 75th-anniversary team.

SG: Sam Jones, North Carolina Central

Another member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team, Sam Jones played for a North Carolina Central team under Hall of Fame head coach John McLendon.

There, he averaged 17.7 points and 9.1 rebounds securing three All-CIAA team selections.

In the NBA, Jones played 12 seasons with the Celtics — the first true dynasty in the league’s history led by Hall of Fame center Bill Russell.

He averaged 17.7 points and 4.9 rebounds in 871 career games winning 10 NBA championships second only to Russell.

In addition, Jones was named to five All-Star teams and three All-NBA teams on his way to being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984.

SF: Bob Dandridge, Norfolk State

Bob Dandridge averaged 22.6 points and 13.0 rebounds in his four years at Norfolk State leading the team to an overall record of 88-16.

As a junior, he helped lead the Spartans to a CIAA championship. In his senior year, he set CIAA tournament records for points in a game (50) and points in a conference tournament (114).

Dandridge entered the NBA as a fourth-round pick by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1969 draft.

The former Spartan played 13 seasons with the Bucks and Washington Bullets, respectively winning an NBA championship with each team. The four-time NBA All-Star averaged 18.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists for his career.

PF: Bob Love, Southern

In his time playing with Southern, Bob Love was a three-time All-SWAC selection and a one-time NAIA All-American.

In his final season with the Jaguars, he led the team to their first SWAC championship in school history.

Beginning his NBA career with the Cincinnati Royals, Love later made a name for himself as a member of the Chicago Bulls.

Love went on to average 21.3 points and 6.8 rebounds in his eight seasons in the league

Overall, Love played in the NBA for 11 years. He was named an NBA All-Star three times, and appeared on three NBA All-Defensive teams and two All-NBA team selections.

C: Willis Reed, Grambling State

Arguably the most accomplished HBCU player in the NBA, Willis Reed was a two-time All-American at Grambling State.

He averaged 18.7 points and 15.2 rebounds leading the Tigers to two SWAC championships and an NAIA national championship.

In the 1964 NBA Draft, Reed was taken with the first pick of the second round by the New York Knicks with whom he spent his entire 10-year career.

He averaged 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds for his career leading his team to two NBA championships. He also secured seven All-Star selections and five All-NBA selections.

Reed became the first player in NBA history to win the All-Star MVP, regular-season MVP and NBA Finals MVP all in the same season (only Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal) have accomplished this feat since).

The Grambling big man became the first HBCU alum to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.

Bench

G: Avery Johnson, Southern

Avery Johnson’s college career began at the JUCO level at New Mexico Junior College before moving on to Cameron University and then finally at Southern.

Johnson averaged 9.2 points, 12 assists and 3.1 steals in his two seasons with the Jaguars, being named SWAC Player of the Year each year.

He entered the NBA in 1988 as an undrafted free agent signing with the Seattle Supersonics.

The Jaguar guard played the majority of his career with the San Antonio Spurs averaging 10.1 points and 6.9 assists in his 10 years there. It was with the Spurs that Johnson won his lone championship in 1999.

G: Jimmy Jones, Grambling State

Although Jimmy Jones had his best run in the pros in the ABA, he did play three seasons in the NBA at the end of his career.

During his time with Grambling State, Jones led the team to three SWAC championships while posting 20 points and eight rebounds per game.

Although the Tigers’ guard was drafted with the first pick in the second round of the 1967 NBA Draft by the Baltimore Bullets, he opted instead to play in the ABA.

Jones played seven seasons in the ABA with the New Orleans Buccaneers, Memphis Pros and Utah Stars. He averaged 19.2 points, 5.1 assists and 4.9 rebounds making six All-Star teams and three All-ABA teams in addition to being on the ABA’s All-Time team.

He then moved on to the NBA playing three seasons with the Washington Bullets, primarily as a backup point guard.

F: Anthony Mason, Tennessee State

Anthony Mason played for Tennessee State at a time when they were transitioning from independent to the Ohio Valley Conference.

He averaged 18.7 points and 8.1 rebounds for the Tigers. This included a senior season in which he led the OVC in scoring and third overall in the country (28.0) while also leading the OVC in rebounding (10.4).

Mason was drafted in the third round of the 1988 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. However, he began his pro career playing in Turkey before joining the NBA a year later with New Jersey Nets.

The Tennessee State forward played 13 years in the NBA for six different teams compiling 10.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists for his career.

He was named to an All-Star team in 2001, an All-NBA team and All-Defensive team in 1997 and won the Sixth Man of the Year award in 1995.

F: Charles Oakley, Virginia Union

Charles Oakley is one of the most well-known enforcers players to ever step foot on an NBA court.

He led the team to a CIAA championship as a senior in a season that saw him be named Division II Player of the Year.

Entering the NBA, Oakley was drafted ninth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers before being traded to the Chicago Bulls that same night.

The big man played a whopping 19 years in the league, averaging 9.7 points and 9.5 rebounds for his career.

Oakley was named to an All-Star team and to two All-Defensive teams as a member of the  New York Knicks.

C: Ben Wallace, Virginia Union

Another Virginia Union big man, Ben Wallace, played two years with the Panthers averaging 13.4 points, 10 rebounds and 3.6 blocks.

He led the Panthers to the Sweet 16 of the Division II tournament in his junior season and to the Final Four as a senior.

Entering the NBA as an undrafted free agent, Wallace went on to have one of the most successful careers of any undrafted player.

In 16 years in the NBA, Wallace averaged 5.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.3 steals.

He dominated on the defense winning four Defensive Player of the Year awards and was selected to six All-Defensive teams. He won a championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2004.

In addition, Wallace was a four-time NBA All-Star and made five All-NBA teams. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2021.

C: Zelmo Beaty, Prairie View A&M

Zelmo Beaty is one of the most underrated big men in NBA/ABA history.

Beaty was dominant in his time with Prairie View, averaging 25 points and 20 rebounds per game en route to securing two NAIA All-American selections.

He led the Panthers to two SWAC championships and an NAIA national championship as a senior.

He entered the NBA as the third overall pick in the 1962 NBA Draft by the St. Louis Hawks, making him the first HBCU player to be taken with a top-three pick.

Beaty, who was a two-time NBA All-Star, played seven of his eight NBA seasons with the Hawks, averaging 16 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.

The Prairie View star then played four years in the ABA with the Utah Stars. He was named to three All-Star teams, two All-ABA teams and won an ABA championship. Beaty was also selected to the ABA All-Time team.

WC: Truck Robinson, Tennessee State

In Tennessee State’s time in the Division II ranks, they had their most successful run with Leonard “Truck” Robinson on the floor.

In the Division II playoffs, Robinson led the team to the national championship game and two third-place games. His numbers were off the charts in his final two seasons, averaging  24.4 points and 16.8 rebounds.

Robinson then entered the NBA as a second-round pick in the 1974 NBA Draft by the Washington Bullets.

He played 11 seasons in the NBA tallying 15.5 points and 9.4 rebounds for his career. He was also named to two NBA All-Star teams. His best stint came in his two seasons with the New Orleans Jazz where he averaged 23.2 points and 14.9 rebounds.



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