Walter Davis, a basketball icon known for his remarkable journey from college stardom to the NBA, passed away on Thursday at the age of 69. Davis, who had a career spanning 15 seasons in the NBA, left behind a legacy of excellence.
Walter Davis was visiting family in Charlotte, North Carolina when he succumbed to natural causes, as confirmed by his alma mater, the University of North Carolina. He was a two-time All-ACC honoree during his college years in 1976 and 1977, where he showcased his exceptional skills, averaging 15.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.4 assists over four seasons. He led the Tar Heels to an ACC tournament win and an appearance in the NCAA championship game during his senior year.
As one of four North Carolina stars who represented the USA in the 1976 Olympic basketball team, he played under the guidance of the legendary coach Dean Smith, leaving a significant mark in the history of the sport. Walter’s nephew, Hubert Davis, currently holds the position of head coach at UNC, continuing the family’s legacy in basketball.
Following his college career, Davis was chosen as the fifth overall pick by the Phoenix Suns in the 1977 NBA Draft. In his rookie year, he received the NBA Rookie of the Year award, marking the beginning of an illustrious career. Throughout his time in the league, he spent 11 seasons with the Suns, becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Davis was recognized as a six-time NBA All-Star, boasting impressive averages of 18.9 points, 3.8 assists, and three rebounds over 1,033 career games, which also included stints with the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers.
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The Phoenix Suns, a team where Davis became a legend, retired his No. 6 jersey in 1994 and paid a heartfelt tribute, saying, “We are heartbroken by the passing of Suns legend Walter Davis, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer and a member of our Ring of Honor. ‘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. He will forever be a member of our Phoenix Suns family and community. Our thoughts remain with his family and friends during this difficult time.”
Known for his elegant playing style, Davis earned enduring nicknames such as “Sweet D,” “The Greyhound,” and “The Man with the Velvet Touch.” Former teammate Eddie Johnson, who witnessed Davis’s incredible jump shot firsthand, reminisced about his unique abilities, saying, “I always felt my jumper was pure until I played against and eventually became a teammate of Walter Davis. He had the most beautiful jumper to ever play in the NBA and exhibited a wonderful personality to go with it! Too Soon, my friend. RIP Sweet D!”
The Denver Nuggets also shared their condolences and hailed Davis as a “Great man who left a lasting impression on the organization, the communities he did so much for, and everyone he interacted with.”
In a notable moment in sports history, legendary journalist Bryant Gumbel once asked a 21-year-old Michael Jordan, “Who’s the best player you ever saw?” To which Jordan replied, “To play against? Has to be Walter Davis. I played against Walter Davis in the summertime, and he has been an outstanding basketball player.” This testament to Davis’s talent showcases the profound impact he had on the game.
In 1992, Davis decided to retire from basketball and pursue a career in broadcasting, an endeavor he truly enjoyed. He once told ESPN in 2003, “Once I started doing it, I liked it. I get to travel, but I don’t have to play. I get the best seat in the house and talk about something that was a big part of my life.” Later, in 2002, he joined the Washington Wizards as a scout, remaining closely connected to the world of basketball.
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Walter Davis’s journey from the college courts of North Carolina to becoming a beloved NBA legend will always be remembered, and his impact on the sport will continue to inspire future generations of basketball enthusiasts.