June 3, 1943 |
Brooklyn, New York
|Listed height||6 ft 7 in (2.01 m)|
|Listed weight||210 lb (95 kg)|
|High school||Erasmus Hall
(Brooklyn, New York)
|College||North Carolina (1962–1965)|
|NBA draft||1965 / Round: 1 / Pick: 5th overall|
|Selected by the Philadelphia 76ers|
|Position||Forward / Center|
|1972–1974||Carolina Cougars (ABA)|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Points||16,310 (21.2 ppg)|
|Rebounds||7,981 (10.4 rpg)|
|Assists||3,305 (4.3 apg)|
|Stats at Basketball-Reference.com|
|Basketball Hall of Fame as player|
Billy Cunningham was born in Brooklyn, New York. His fame began while he was playing at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, where he was the MVP in the Brooklyn League in 1961. That year, he was the First-Team All-New York City, and a member of the Parade Magazine All-America Team.
Cunningham then went to the University of North Carolina, where he excelled. He once grabbed a record 27 rebounds in a game vs. Clemson on February 16, 1963. Cunningham also set a single-game North Carolina record with 48 points against Tulane on December 10, 1964. In his UNC career, he scored 1,709 points (24.8 points per game), and grabbed 1,062 rebounds (15.4 rebounds per game). Upon graduation, his 1,062 rebounds were the best in North Carolina history and he held seasonal records for most rebounds (379 in 1964) and rebound average (16.1 in 1963).
Honors and achievements
- 3-year letter winner (in his day, freshmen were ineligible for varsity athletics)
- All-Atlantic Coast Conference (1963–65)
- ACC Player of the Year (1965)
- All-ACC Tournament Team (1963–64)
- ACC Academic All-Conference (1965)
- A USBWA All-America (1964–65)
- Helms Foundation All-America (1965)
- Sporting News All-America 2nd team (1965)
- Team Captain (1965)
- Played in the East-West Game in 1965
- Played at the World University Games in 1965
- Named to the ACC 50th Anniversary men's basketball team, honoring the fifty best players in ACC history (2002)
Professional basketball career
Cunningham was a member of the powerful 1967 Sixers championship team (featuring Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Chet Walker, and Luke Jackson). After Chamberlain left the team in 1968, Cunningham became the 76ers' franchise player. He would replace the injured and aging Luke Jackson as the starting power forward of the team, and averaged 24.8 points per game and 12.8 rebounds per game during the 1968-69 season while leading the 76ers to 55 wins. After that season, he earned the first of what would be three straight All-NBA First Team selections.
In 1972, he joined the Carolina Cougars of the American Basketball Association. In his first ABA season, Cunningham averaged 24.1 points per game, 12.0 rebounds per game, and led the league in total steals. He led the Cougars to the best record in the league and was selected to the All-ABA First Team and was named the ABA MVP. During the post-season, the Cougars defeated the New York Nets in five games in the Eastern Division Semifinals to advance to the Eastern Division Finals. In the Division Finals the Cougars lost a tight seven game series to the Kentucky Colonels, 4 games to 3. In the 1973-74 season Cunningham and the Cougars finished third in the Eastern Division and lost again to the Kentucky Colonels in the Eastern Division semifinals.
After the 1973-74 season, Cunningham returned to the 76ers, where he played until he suffered a career-ending injury early in the 1975-76 season. For his career, Cunningham scored 16,310 points and grabbed 7,981 rebounds in both the NBA and the ABA.
After his playing days were done, he became the head coach of the 76ers on November 4, 1977, and built a great team featuring the likes of Bobby Jones, Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney, Moses Malone, and Julius Erving. He reached the 200, 300, and 400-win milestone faster than any coach in NBA history. He led Philadelphia to the playoffs in every year as coach, and advancing to the NBA Finals 3 times, in 1979-80, 1981-82 and 1982-83, facing the Los Angeles Lakers all 3 times. The 76ers lost to the Lakers in 1980 and 1982, but after acquiring Moses Malone, Cunningham finally got them past the Lakers in 1983, winning the franchise's second (and most recent) NBA Championship as part of a 12-1 playoff run. Upon his retirement, his 454 wins as a head coach were the 12th best in NBA history.
Beyond playing and coaching
In 1987, Cunningham replaced Tom Heinsohn as the lead color commentator (alongside play-by-play man Dick Stockton) for CBS' NBA telecasts. Cunningham left CBS Sports the following season to join the Miami Heat expansion franchise as a minority owner; he ultimately sold his interest of the Heat on August 12, 1994. Cunningham was subsequently replaced on CBS by Hubie Brown.
|Regular season||G||Games coached||W||Games won||L||Games lost||W–L %||Win-loss %|
|Post season||PG||Playoff games||PW||Playoff wins||PL||Playoff losses||PW–L %||Playoff win-loss %|
|PHI||1977–78||76||53||23||.697||1st in Atlantic||10||6||4||.600||Lost in Conf. Finals|
|PHI||1978–79||82||47||35||.573||2nd in Atlantic||9||5||4||.556||Lost in Conf. Semifinals|
|PHI||1979–80||82||59||23||.720||2nd in Atlantic||18||12||6||.667||Lost in NBA Finals|
|PHI||1980–81||82||62||20||.756||2nd in Atlantic||16||9||7||.563||Lost in Conf. Finals|
|PHI||1981–82||82||58||24||.707||2nd in Atlantic||21||12||9||.571||Lost in NBA Finals|
|PHI||1982–83||82||65||17||.793||1st in Atlantic||13||12||1||.923||Won NBA Championship|
|PHI||1983–84||82||52||30||.634||2nd in Atlantic||5||2||3||.400||Lost in First Round|
|PHI||1984–85||82||58||24||.707||2nd in Atlantic||13||8||5||.615||Lost in Conf. Finals|
- Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1986)
- All-NBA First Team (1969, 1970, 1971)
- ABA All Star, First Team (1973)
- All-NBA Second Team (1972)
- Four-time NBA All-Star
- Elected to the ABA's All-Time Team
- One of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996)
- His number 32 jersey is retired by the Philadelphia 76ers; however, he reactivated it for Charles Barkley to wear for the 1991–92 NBA season. Barkley normally wore the number 34, but switched to 32 in honor of Magic Johnson, who had announced at the start of the season that he was HIV-positive.
- "The Rumble: AN OFF-THE-BALL LOOK AT YOUR FAVORITE SPORTS CELEBRITIES", New York Post, December 31, 2006. Accessed December 13, 2007. "The five Erasmus Hall of Fame legends include Raiders owner Al Davis, Bears quarterback Sid Luckman, Yankee pitching great Waite Hoyt, Billy Cunningham and Knicks founder Ned Irish."
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