Billy Cunningham

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Billy Cunningham
Billy Cunningham 65-72.JPG
Cunningham during his second stint with the 76ers
Personal information
Born (1943-06-03) June 3, 1943 (age 77)
Brooklyn, New York
Listed height6 ft 7 in (2.01 m)
Listed weight210 lb (95 kg)
Career information
High schoolErasmus Hall
(Brooklyn, New York)
CollegeNorth Carolina (1962–1965)
NBA draft1965 / Round: 1 / Pick: 5th overall
Selected by the Philadelphia 76ers
Playing career1965–1976
PositionSmall forward / Power forward
Coaching career1977–1985
Career history
As player:
19651972Philadelphia 76ers
19721974Carolina Cougars
19741976Philadelphia 76ers
As coach:
19771985Philadelphia 76ers
Career highlights and awards
As player:

As coach:

Career ABA and NBA playing statistics
Points16,310 (21.2 ppg)
Rebounds7,981 (10.4 rpg)
Assists3,305 (4.3 apg)
Stats Edit this at Wikidata at
Stats at
Career coaching record
NBA454–196 (.698)
Basketball Hall of Fame as player
College Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2006

William John Cunningham (born June 3, 1943) is an American former professional basketball player and coach, who was nicknamed the Kangaroo Kid. He spent a total of 17 seasons with the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers (nine as player, eight as coach), and two seasons as a player with the Carolina Cougars of the ABA.

Early life[edit]

Billy Cunningham was born in Brooklyn, New York. His fame began while he was playing at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn,[1] 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.

College career[edit]

Cunningham while at UNC.

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 single-season records for most rebounds (379 in 1964) and rebound average (16.1 in 1963).

Honors and achievements[edit]

Professional basketball career[edit]

Phil Jackson (#18), Walt Bellamy (#8), Bill Cunningham (with ball), and Lucious Jackson (#54) all in a Knicks and 76ers game.

In 1965, Cunningham joined the Philadelphia 76ers of the National Basketball Association as a sixth man and played well enough to be named to the NBA All-Rookie Team.

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.

Cunningham in 1972

On December 20, 1970, Cunningham scored 31 points and grabbed a career-high 27 rebounds en route to a 134–132 road win over the Portland Trail Blazers.[2]

Cunningham signed a three‐year contract on August 5, 1969 to begin play with the American Basketball Association's Carolina Cougars in 1971–72. Contending that the Cougars had reneged on paying the remaining $80,000 of a $125,000 signing bonus due on May 15, 1970, he reversed himself and signed a four‐year, $950,000 contract extension to stay with the 76ers through 1974–75 on July 15, 1970. The Cougars' attempt to file an injunction against him was denied in United States District Court on September 24, 1971.[3] The reversal of that judgment in the United States Court of Appeals6 12 months later on April 5, 1972 meant that Cunningham was obligated to honor his Cougars contract until its expiration in October 1974.[4] He announced on June 15, 1972 that he was going to play with the Cougars beginning with the upcoming season at press conferences in Charlotte and Greensboro, North Carolina which occurred almost simultaneous to the Sixers' introduction of Roy Rubin as its new head coach.[5]

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 torn knee cartilage and ligaments ended his career as an active player early in the 1975–76 season.[6] For his career, he scored 16,310 points and grabbed 7,981 rebounds in both the NBA and the ABA.

Coaching career[edit]

He succeeded Gene Shue as head coach of the 2–4 76ers on November 4, 1977.[6] During his tenure, the team featured Bobby Jones, Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney, Moses Malone, and Julius Erving. In his first playoff appearance, he led the Sixers to a 4-game sweep against the Knicks, [7] before bowing down to the Bullets in six games. He reached both the 300 and 400-win milestones faster than any coach in NBA history. He led Philadelphia to the playoffs in every year as coach, and advanced to the NBA Finals 3 times, in the 1979–80, 1981–82 and 1982–83 seasons. The 76ers lost to the Lakers in 1980 and 1982, but after acquiring Moses Malone, they finally got past the Lakers in 1983, winning the franchise's third (and most recent) NBA Championship as part of a 12-1 playoff run. Upon his retirement on May 28, 1985,[8] his 454 wins as a head coach were the 12th best in NBA history. He holds the third best regular season winning percentage in league history of .698 (only Steve Kerr and Phil Jackson are ahead of him). He is still the winningest coach in Sixers history.

Beyond playing and coaching[edit]

Cunningham joined the broadcast team for CBS in the 1976-77 season, often paired with Brent Musburger, leaving after the season ended to coach the 76ers. Cunningham would later rejoin the CBS broadcast team starting with the 1985-86 season, again often paired with Musburger, covering both the NBA as well as NCAA men's college basketball for the network. 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, but would return to CBS to help fill-in during the 1990 NBA Playoffs, partnered with Verne Lundquist.[9] He then returned for one last year to help cover the 1991 NCAA men's basketball tournament, partnered with Dick Stockton once again.[10]

Head coaching record[edit]

Regular season G Games coached W Games won L Games lost W–L % Win–loss %
Playoffs PG Playoff games PW Playoff wins PL Playoff losses PW–L % Playoff win–loss %
Team Year G W L W–L% Finish PG PW PL PW–L% Result
Philadelphia 1977–78 76 53 23 .697 1st in Atlantic 10 6 4 .600 Lost in Conf. Finals
Philadelphia 1978–79 82 47 35 .573 2nd in Atlantic 9 5 4 .556 Lost in Conf. Semifinals
Philadelphia 1979–80 82 59 23 .720 2nd in Atlantic 18 12 6 .667 Lost in NBA Finals
Philadelphia 1980–81 82 62 20 .756 2nd in Atlantic 16 9 7 .563 Lost in Conf. Finals
Philadelphia 1981–82 82 58 24 .707 2nd in Atlantic 21 12 9 .571 Lost in NBA Finals
Philadelphia 1982–83 82 65 17 .793 1st in Atlantic 13 12 1 .923 Won NBA Championship
Philadelphia 1983–84 82 52 30 .634 2nd in Atlantic 5 2 3 .400 Lost in First Round
Philadelphia 1984–85 82 58 24 .707 2nd in Atlantic 13 8 5 .615 Lost in Conf. Finals
Career 650 454 196 .698 105 66 39 .629


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "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."
  2. ^ "Philadelphia 76ers 134 - Portland Trail Blazers 132". Stats. Retrieved February 28, 2020.
  3. ^ Munchak Corporation v. Cunningham, 331 F. Supp. 872 (M.D.N.C. 1971) – Retrieved November 29, 2020
  4. ^ Munchak Corporation v. Cunningham, 457 F.2d 721 (4th Cir. 1972). Retrieved November 29, 2020
  5. ^ Goldaper, Sam. "Rubin Quits L. I. U. to Pilot 76ers," The New York Times, Friday, June 16, 1972. Retrieved November 29, 2020
  6. ^ a b Goldaper, Sam. "Shue Ousted, Cunningham Named; N.B.A. Rosters Cut," The New York Times, Saturday, November 5, 1977. Retrieved December 1, 2020
  7. ^ "1978 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals - New York Knicks vs. Philadelphia 76ers". Basketball-Reference. Retrieved February 28, 2020.
  8. ^ Goldaper, Sam. "Cunningham Quits; Loughery Dropped," The New York Times, Wednesday, May 29, 1985. Retrieved December 1, 2020
  9. ^ The NBA on CBS, April 28th, 1990
  10. ^ NCAA on CBS, March 14th, 1991

External links[edit]