UNC basketball legend Walter Davis dies at 69

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Thursday, November 2, 2023
UNC basketball legend Walter Davis dies at 69
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University of North Carolina basketball legend Walter Davis died of natural causes Thursday.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- University of North Carolina basketball legend Walter Davis died of natural causes Thursday, according to the university's athletics department.

Davis, 69, played for Head Coach Dean Smith from 1973-1977. He led the Tar Heels to an ACC Tournament title and an appearance in the NCAA championship game. In that championship game, Davis scored 20 points to lead all scorers, but the Tar Heels fell to Marquette 67-59. That Marquette team was coached by Al McGuire, who would retire from coaching after that game and move on to a proficient broadcasting career, notably calling some landmark games alongside ACC basketball legend Billy Packer.

Davis is also remembered for hitting a 25-foot shot at the buzzer against Duke in 1974. That shot capped an incredible comeback that saw the Tar Heels erase an 8-point Duke lead in the final 17 seconds of regulation. Davis' shot sent the game to overtime, where the Tar Heels would win.

Coach Smith selected Davis to play on the USA basketball team in 1976. He helped the team win the gold medal at the Summer Olympics.

"Walter and I knew each other for 50 years," UNC's Phil Ford said in a statement. "We met when I was a senior in high school and I was coming up to Carolina as a recruit at football games. Walter, Tommy LaGarde and Mitch Kupchak were my hosts and we just became great friends. When we were in school together he and I were best friends. He was the best man at my wedding and I was the best man at his. Throughout the last 50 years, we've remained in contact with each other and were best friends to each other. He loved me and I loved him. He was a great, great, great guy that happened to be a great basketball player. I've always said he could have been selected MVP in the 1975 ACC Tournament just as much as I was. I am going to miss him dearly. I'm happy I got to see him a couple of weeks ago in Chapel Hill, but this is very hard. I would like to believe he's in a better place right now but I'm going to dearly miss my friend. I don't know anybody that says bad things about Walt. I'm getting calls from people all around the country - John Lucas, Scott May, Quinn Buckner, David Thompson. Everybody thought the world about Walt, just like all of us Carolina players and fans did. I'm blessed we were teammates and friends and I thank God I had him in my life all these years."

"This is a sad, sad day with the passing of Walter Davis, one of our all-time great basketball players and an even nicer person," Former UNC head coach Roy Williams said. "Coach Smith and Coach Guthridge used to rave about how much fun it was to coach Walter. I got to watch him as a fan and loved getting to know him later. The big shot to end the "eight points in 17 seconds" game against Duke will stay with us forever as will many other fantastic moments. Walter is a truly great Tar Heel."

After his college career, Davis was drafted as the 5th overall pick in the 1977 draft by the Phoenix Suns.

In the NBA he was the Rookie of the Year and a 6-time All-Star. The Suns retired his jersey in 1994.

Davis is also the uncle to current UNC men's basketball head coach Hubert Davis.

Forward Walter Davis (24) of North Carolina, reaches long to grab the ball during the Big Four Basketball Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Jan. 3, 1976. (AP Photo/Harold Valentine)
James Worthy, Michael Jordan, Walter Davis (left to right) (Source: UNC Athletics)