North Carolina is synonymous with great basketball. Some of the top names in the basketball world, both current and former, call North Carolina home.
I’ve already written about the state’s basketball culture in articles like “Duke vs. Carolina: What’s the Big Deal?” and “An Ode to Coach K“. It’s no secret that I love college basketball, but I also enjoy following the NBA, especially the players with ties to my home state.
While I might be slightly biased towards players that I have seen play in my lifetime, I wanted to focus on all of the premier talent that was either born or grew up in the Tar Heel State. Here is my list of top 10 NBA players from North Carolina.
10. John Wall
John Wall was the biggest name in the state when I was playing high school basketball and was the top college recruit in the country. He spent his first two years playing at Garner Magnet High School and then moved to Raleigh where he played for Broughton High School.
His time at Broughton was short-lived however and he quickly transferred to Word of God Christian Academy. It was here that his game took off and gained national recognition. I still watch his high school highlights on YouTube because of how amazing he was to witness.
After graduating from Word of God he chose to spend his one year of college at Kentucky before declaring for the NBA draft. He was drafted in 2010 as the first overall pick to the Washington Wizards. He spent 10 years in Washington earning 5 All-Star appearances, and in 2020 was traded to the Houston Rockets. This offseason he just signed with the LA Clippers.
9. Jerry Stackhouse
There is a surprising amount of talent that has come out of the little eastern town of Kinston, NC. Of all the talent, Jerry Stackhouse is definitely the biggest name. He led Kinston High School to the National Championship in the 1991-1992 season, earning the State Player of the Year Award. He spent his college years as one of the North Carolina Tar Heels’ top players and helped the team reach a Final Four.
After a successful two years at UNC, Stackhouse declared for the 1995 NBA Draft. He was selected third overall by the Philadelphia 76ers, and many gave him the moniker of the “Next Jordan”. While he didn’t become quite as dominant as MJ, he had a very long and successful career.
He played for a number of different teams over his 18 years in the NBA and was a two-time NBA-Allstar. He has spent a lot of time and resources giving back to his Kinston hometown and mentoring young and upcoming athletes from the area. He’s one of the most loved NBA players from North Carolina because he hasn’t forgotten where he came from.
8. Pete Maravich
“Pistol” Pete Maravich moved to Raleigh in 1963 when his father accepted a job as Men’s Basketball Head Coach at NC State. He got the nickname “Pistol Pete” while playing at Broughton High School. He would shoot the ball from his side, like a gunslinger drawing a pistol.
After graduating from Broughton, he attended Edwards Military institute in Salemburg, NC where he averaged 33 points per game.
When his Dad took a new job coaching at LSU, Pistol Pete followed him. He led the nation in scoring all three of his varsity seasons, and set NCAA records that still stand today.
In 1970, he was drafted third overall to the Atlanta Hawks. He played for a number of other teams, and was forced to retire due to injuries after a ten year NBA career.
Maravich became the youngest player ever inducted in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and still holds the all time record for points scored in Division 1 NCAA basketball. He tragically passed away at the age of 40 due to a rare heart condition, but left a legacy as one of the greatest ball handlers of all time and an amazing offensive playmaker.
7. David Thompson
On this date in 1978, David Thompson of the @denvernuggets posted a career-high 73 pts #TBT #NBATBT pic.twitter.com/gl0P4yn5nG— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 9, 2015
David Thompson is one of the greatest dunkers that the game has ever seen. He jumped so high in fact, it was rumored that he could grab a quarter off of the top of the backboard.
David “Skywalker” Thompson was born in Shelby, NC where he attended Crest High School. He led the NC State Wolfpack to an undefeated 1973 season and the school’s first NCAA Championship in 1974. He is known as one of the ACC’s top players of all time and is the only men’s basketball player at NCSU to have a jersey retired.
Thompson was drafted number one overall in both the NBA and ABA drafts in 1975. He signed with the Denver Nuggets, an ABA team that soon became part of the NBA after the NBA/ABA merger. He has been given credit for inventing the alley-oop and is one of six players to score over 70 points in an NBA game.
Thompson struggled with drug addiction during his NBA career, which many felt held him back from his true potential. He has since however turned his life around and has become a motivational speaker.
6. Bob McAdoo
Join us in wishing a Happy 70th Birthday to 5x #NBAAllStar, 2x NBA champion, 1974-75 NBA MVP and @Hoophall inductee, Bob McAdoo! #NBABDAY pic.twitter.com/iD9IFT679e— NBA History (@NBAHistory) September 25, 2021
I’ll have to admit I didn’t know much about Bob McAdoo. He played at UNC and his NBA career spanned the 70’s and 80’s, long before I was even born. But after doing some research I’ve learned that Bob McAdoo was a certified bucket. He was one of my dad’s favorite players to watch back in the day, and he thinks I should have had him way higher on my list (but it is MY list after all).
McAdoo grew up in Greensboro, while his father worked as a janitor at NC A&T University. He attended Ben L. Smith High School and after a few years of junior college, transferred to UNC Chapel Hill to play basketball. There he helped the Tar Heels reach the Final Four in 1972.
In 1972, he was selected second overall in the NBA Draft to the Buffalo Braves. McAdoo played for a number of teams, including the “Showtime” Lakers in the 80’s where he won 2 NBA Championships.
He also was league MVP in 1975 and a 5 time All Star. He spent 14 years in the NBA and 7 years playing professionally in Italy. McAdoo was named to the NBA 75th Anniversary team in 2021, a list comprised of the top 75 players all time.
5. Dominique Wilkins
Dominique Wilkins didn’t get his nickname “The Human Highlight Reel” by pure happenstance. There’s a reason he is considered one of the most acrobatic dunkers the world has ever seen.
Wilkins grew up in Washington, NC and led Washington High School to consecutive 3-A State Championships in 1978 and 1979. He played in college for the Georgia Bulldogs and was the number three overall pick in the 1982 NBA Draft.
Most of his NBA career was spent on the Atlanta Hawks, although he played for a few other teams and also professionally oversees. The 9 time NBA All Star is famous for his high flying and electrifying dunks which landed him a spot in 5 dunk contests. He won two of them, and developed a friendly rivalry between fellow high flyer Michael Jordan.
4. Chris Paul
Chris Paul is one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game. Although small in stature, he makes up for it with his big personality and game.
Chris was born in Winston-Salem, but grew up in nearby Lewisville, NC. He played high school ball in Clemmons for West Forsyth High School. He received national recognition for scoring 61 points in one game his senior year. His grandfather was killed earlier that year at 61 years old, and Chris was determined to score one point for every year of his life.
CP3 went on to play two successful years at Wake Forest University, giving the school its first number one ranking in its history. I remember watching Paul play my Duke Blue Devils and they were always exciting rivalry games.
In 2005 Chris Paul was drafted fourth overall to the New Orleans Hornets where he was voted Rookie of the Year. CP3 is a 12 time NBA All Star and has won 2 gold medals with the US Men’s National Team. He has led the league in steals and assists various years as he plays for different teams. He is currently playing for the Phoenix Suns remains a dominant presence.
3. James Worthy
James Worthy is another player I did not know much about (although I knew his name and that he was considered a legend). He was born in Gastonia and played at Ashbrook High.
I also probably didn’t know much about him because he played at UNC Chapel Hill. In his three years as a Tar Heel, he was a key part of the team’s success and helped secure a championship for them in 1982. After winning it all, he decided not to return to school for his final season and entered the NBA Draft.
He was selected first overall (just over Dominque Wilkins) to the Los Angeles Lakers. This is where he would stay for his entire 12 year career winning three NBA championships and Finals MVP in 1988. Worthy was a 7 time All Star who was also named to the NBA 50th and 75th anniversary teams.
2. Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry is arguably the greatest shooter who has ever lived, and has changed the game of basketball forever by prioritizing the three pointer. He grew up in Charlotte as his father, Del Curry, was playing for the Hornets. Having a professional basketball player as a dad allowed him to constantly be around the game and learn from the greatest.
He played in high school for Charlotte Christian School and then went to Davidson for college. Although Davidson is a small school, Curry brought national media coverage with his performances. This included Cinderella upset runs in the NCAA tournament and leading the country in scoring his senior season.
In 2009, Curry was chosen 7th overall in the draft to the Golden State Warriors. Many didn’t know what to expect from Steph at first, due to his smaller frame and injuries but he soon proved the doubters wrong. He has accumulated 8 All Star appearances, 4 NBA Championships, 2 MVP awards, and a Finals MVP. If that wasn’t enough already, Curry and the Warriors show no signs of slowing down and are sure to add more hardware to the trophy case.
These players didn’t quite make the cut, but should not be forgotten.
Sam Jones is the only player here that isn’t currently in the NBA, but his name kept coming up in my research. I had never heard of him because he played in the 50s and 60s, but he was teammates with Bill Russell on the Celtics and has won 10 NBA Championships.
Brandon Ingram and Seth Curry both played at Duke and are from NC, so you know I have to show them some love. Brandon is also from Kinston and is protégé of Jerry Stackhouse.
Seth is younger brother to Steph Curry and is also an amazing shooter. PJ Tucker, Devonte Graham and TJ Warren are all from the Raleigh area. Tucker went to a high school in our conference a few years before me and I played against Devonte Graham and TJ Warren in middle and high school (I’ve got to live through my glory days somehow).
Bam Adebayo, Montrezl Harrell, and Hassan Whiteside are all upcoming stars who may someday mark their places in North Carolina basketball history.
1. Michael Jordan
I think everyone saw this coming, but the number one player in NBA history from North Carolina is without a doubt Michael Jordan (and that is coming from a Duke fan).
MJ grew up in Wilmington, where he played for Laney High School. Many have heard the famous story of Michael getting cut from the varsity team his sophomore year and using that experience to motivate him the rest of his life. After growing taller and becoming the team’s star player, he chose to play college at UNC Chapel Hill. He quickly became a star on the next level, earning ACC Freshman of the Year and hitting the game-winning shot to earn his team the 1982 National Championship. After winning National Player of the Year, MJ decided to leave campus and make a mark in the NBA.
Jordan was the third pick overall in the 1984 Draft to the Chicago Bulls. The fact that he was not drafted first was more fodder that he used to fuel his game. He always played with a chip on his shoulder and was never satisfied with greatness. The hard work and dedication earned him 6 NBA Titles, 6 Finals MVPs, 5 Season MVPs and 14 All Star appearances. In his 13 years with the Bulls and final season with the Washington Wizards, Air Jordan was responsible for popularizing the NBA on a global stage, and was a true icon of the generation.
And that’s my list for Top 10 NBA players from North Carolina. It is cool to see how two things that are so important to me, basketball and North Carolina, overlap. Is there anyone I missed? Who is your top 10? Let me know in the comments!