Basketball legend Walter Davis is dead at 69

Walter Davis ranks among the most prolific scorers and exciting players in college and pro basketball history. (UNC)
Walter Davis ranks among the most prolific scorers and exciting players in college and pro basketball history. (UNC)

Nov. 3 (UPI) -- Basketball icon Walter Davis, who starred as a University of North Carolina Tar Heel, won a gold medal as a member of the United States Olympic team in 1976, and claimed NBA Rookie-of-the-Year honors with the Phoenix Suns two years later, is dead at 69.

Davis was a five-time NBA All-Star and the Suns retired his No. 6. While he became an NBA mega star, his roots remained in North Carolina where he got his start.


He starred for the Tar Heels during the 1970s under the direction of iconic UNC head coach Dean Smith. While at UNC, Davis scored 1,863 points, grabbed 670 rebounds, had 409 assists, and played his way into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

Davis passed away Thursday morning "of natural causes while visiting family in Charlotte, N.C," a statement from the University of North Carolina said.


"I am going to miss him dearly," said friend and former teammate Phil Ford. "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."

Ford said he and Davis became instant friends when Ford was invited as a high school senior to UNC on a recruiting visit and the pair forged an enduring bond. He and Davis remained close for 50 years.

"He was the best man at my wedding, and I was the best man at his," Ford said. "I'm blessed we were teammates and friends, and I thank God I had him in my life all these years."

A native of Pineville, N.C., Davis went on to become one of the best shooters in UNC basketball history. He led the Tar Heels to an ACC Tournament title and appearance in the NCAA championship game.

This season marks the 50th anniversary of Davis's 25-foot buzzer-beater against Duke that capped an eight-point comeback in the final 17 seconds of regulation to send the game to overtime, where the Tar Heels went on to win.


It is one of the most iconic moments in college basketball and, even as a freshman, cemented his place in Carolina Basketball history.

"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," said UNC coaching legend Roy Williams.

The 6-foot-6 forward/guard was selected as the fifth pick of the 1977 NBA Draft and played most of his 15 year career with the Suns. He remains the franchise's all-time leading scorer with 15,666 points.

"We are heartbroken," the Suns said in a social media post Thursday.

"'Sweet D' was one of the game's best, a prolific scorer whose smooth playing style and 'velvet touch' endeared him to generations of our fans," the post read.

His speed and scoring prowess earned him the nickname "The Greyhound." Former Suns broadcaster Al McCoy came up with a host of monikers for Davis, including "The Candyman" and "The Man with the Velvet Touch." Davis spent time with the Denver Nuggets, as well.

Walter Davis' nephew Hubert Davis is the current UNC basketball coach.


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