The path of every NBA basketball player is not the same; you got those who are dominant throughout their whole basketball career, and then you got your late bloomers who take some time to realize their potential. Here’s a list of players who thrived on all basketball stages, becoming NCAA, NBA, and Olympic champions.
Clyde Lovellette was the first player to win the NBA and NCAA championships, along with the Olympic gold medal.
The three-time All-American center got his NCAA ring as a member of Kansas University in 1952. They faced St. John’s in the championship game, beating them comfortably behind Lovellette’s 33 points and 17 rebounds performance, setting a then-NCAA tournament scoring record, and earning the most outstanding performer honors.
Lovellette achieved his second major basketball accomplishment in the same year, as he and six of his Jayhawk teammates led the USA to the gold medal at the Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Warren Womble coached the team, with Kansas’ Forrest “Phog” Allen being his assistant. Clyde was the team’s leading scorer with 13.9 PPG and had scored game-high 9 points in a historically low-scoring final when the USA beat the Soviet Union 36-25.
Jellybelly completed the treble by winning the NBA title in his rookie season, as his Minneapolis Lakers went all the way. He went back-to-back with Red Auerbach‘s Boston Celtics in 1963 and 1964, but had a minimal role during the run, as those were the two last seasons of his Hall of Fame NBA career.
Bill Russell and K.C. Jones
Bill Russell and K.C. Jones were teammates on all three championship teams that put them on this list. The two played together at the University of San Francisco, leading them to two consecutive NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956.
Their first NCAA championship run was capped off with a win over La Salle. Bill Russell was named tournament’s most valuable player, while Jones earned a spot on the all-tournament team, after dropping game-high 24 points in the finals. The Dons posted a 29-0 record on their way to a second consecutive NCAA championship, with Russell recording a monstrous 26-27 double-double in the title game against Iowa. Russell and Jones made the All-WCC Team, with Russ being named to the all-tournament team.
The duo made the USA team in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourn, Australia, with Russell being the team captain. The USA had the unbeaten 8-0 run, winning another gold medal after beating the Soviet Union in finals once again, behind Jones’s and Russels’s combined efforts of 29 points.
Their joint championship run continued in the NBA, as they were both drafted by the Boston Celtics. Russell became NBA’s greatest winner, lifting the trophy 11 times in his 13 years in the NBA. K.C. Jones wasn’t as big of a contributor during that historic run but did become an eight-time NBA champ, eventually being inducted to the Hall of Fame.
Jerry Lucas started his winning run at the Ohio State University, after beating the University of California in the finals of the tournament during his freshman year. Lucas led his team to a blowout win with a 16 points performance. His play got him to the all-tournament team, along with Cinncinati’s Oscar Robertson.
Lucas was selected to the 1960 Olympics U.S. Basketball team with the likes of Jerry West and already mentioned Big O. Luke played a key role in the success of the team and helped them complete another undefeated run to capture their fifth gold medal. They did it in a dominating fashion, with an average margin of 42.4 points.
Jerry’s 12 years in the NBA were capped off with him winning his first and only NBA championship with the New York Knicks in 1973. It was his penultimate season in the league, so he didn’t play a key role in their run for the title. However, it was enough to place him on this unique list of players to win a championship on three different levels.
Quinn Buckner may be the least known individual in this group of players. He didn’t have an elite career on any of the three levels but still managed to win all three.
His Indiana University Hoosiers had the historic title run at the collegiate level, after going undefeated in the 1976 NCAA tournament. Buckner put his imprint on Indiana’s balanced scoring performance, ensuring himself an NCAA ring, opening the door to the NBA.
Before heading to the Association, Buckner received the honor of playing for the 1976 U.S. Olympics team. He became the part of a gold-winning group in Montreal, being the USA’s fifth-leading scorer, having a solid all-around tournament.
Buckner’s NBA journey peaked in 1984, with him winning his sole NBA championship. Quinn provided a solid backup option for the C’s at the point guard position. He retired after two years, concluding a very successful basketball career on every stage.
Magic Johnson is one of only three players in history to have won titles at every level: high school, college, the NBA, and the Olympics, with the other two being Jerry Lucas and Quinn Buckner.
His legendary rivalry with Larry Bird began on the collegiate level; the two faced each other in the finals of the 1979 NCAA tournament. Magic was the one who came out with the ring, as his Michigan State defeated Bird’s Indiana State 75-64. It was the overture of one of the greatest individual basketball rivalries, one we would witness in the NBA for years to come.
Magic went on to have a historically great NBA career, winning five championships and becoming the greatest point guard the league has ever seen. His shortened basketball career was rounded with him winning the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics, as the part of the Dream Team, the greatest collection of basketball talent ever assembled.
Michael Jordan‘s winning quest began at UNC. The team led by His Airness and legendary James Worthy beat Patrick Ewing‘s Georgetown in a one-point thriller, with M.J.’s iconic game-winning mid-range shot to seal the deal.
Jordan’s legendary NBA career brought him six championships, and countless individual accolades. He also led the 1992 Dream Team to the gold medal, as the cherry on top of the iconic career of the greatest to ever lace ’em up.