Ask any Carolina basketball fan who holds the men’s single-game-scoring record and the response may very well be Michael Jordan ’86, Tyler Hansbrough ’09, Phil Ford ’78, Charlie Scott ’70, Lennie Rosenbluth ’57 or any one of a few dozen other famous Tar Heels.
Just don’t expect to hear the name Bob Lewis ’67.
Yes, Lewis. Haven’t heard of him? Lewis scored 49 points in a game against Florida State University on Dec. 16, 1965, eclipsing by 1 point the record previously held by Billy Cunningham ’65, set just the previous year. His single-game scoring record is impressive, not only because it’s stood for 58 years — and counting — but also because Lewis accomplished it 21 years before the NCAA implemented the 3-point line. The record helped Lewis average 27.4 points per game during that 1965–66 season — still the second-highest season average at UNC, behind Rosenbluth’s record 28.0 average per game and above Scott’s 27.1.
“It’d be a good thing to go in a bar and ask who has the most points in a Carolina game because you could get yourself a beer really easily,” Lewis joked. “Someone would name 50 or 100 people before naming me because nobody knew of me.”
(Lewis wasn’t all that obscure in the 1960s. He and teammate Larry Miller ’68, together referred to as “L&M,” were the subject of a 1967 Sports Illustrated article titled “Chapel Hill’s Tobacco Rogues.”)
Still, Lewis, a humble man who played in the NBA for four years before embarking on a career with the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., until retiring at age 67, is surprised the record still stands.
“With all the different players that went through Carolina since I graduated, Michael Jordan and the other guys, and with the 3-point shot coming in later on, it seemed like it was something that eventually would have been broken,” Lewis said in a telephone interview from his home in Edgewater, Maryland. “There’ve been probably at least 100 players since I graduated that could have scored more points than that in a game, but nowadays they bring the guys that are so good out to rest them. I was fortunate I was able to play the whole game.”
And play he did. Lewis, a 6-foot-3-inch forward, shot a blistering 72 percent from the field, making 18 of 25 shots while converting 13 of 16 free-throw attempts. His dominance led the Heels to a 115–80 thrashing of the Seminoles.
The game ball, later signed by Lewis’ teammates and given to him, remained at the Washington home of his parents, John and Virginia Lewis, until he married Bettejane Burrows in 1967. Lewis kept the ball for 50 years until he donated it last fall to UNC’s athletics department. It will be placed in the Carolina Basketball Museum near the Dean E. Smith Center.
Lewis decided to give the ball to UNC after several conversations with Ron Smith ’79, a Presbyterian minister in Charlotte and author of The Tar Heels: A History of UNC Basketball Volume 1, 1891 to 1961. Smith said when he was a young boy, Lewis was his favorite player. “In the book’s introduction, I talked about my dad taking me to the first game that I ever went to, Carolina versus Kentucky, and Bob Lewis played in that game,” Smith said. “His number was 22, and because of that, I always wore number 22 as well.”
Smith sent Lewis a copy of his book, and after a few phone conversations the men became friends. Smith said he’s glad Lewis is getting recognition for the record, because for decades he’s been overshadowed by better-known Carolina players.
Lewis, for his part, couldn’t be more unassuming about the record. He has neighbors who don’t know about it or even that he played at Carolina. During basketball season, the record occasionally comes up with relatives and close friends, but Lewis said the conversation is less about his feat and more about amazement that it still stands.
The 1965 game against Florida State, played in a new Carmichael Auditorium, began much like any other. “I wasn’t thinking about anything special. It was just another game,” Lewis said. “Basically, I was shooting from pretty much everywhere and was making the baskets. And I think I did shoot quite a bit of free throws.”
As soon as he scored the record-making basket, Lewis took a seat on the bench.
“Coach Smith pulled me out of the game, patted me on the back and said, ‘Congratulations,’ ” Lewis remembered. “I didn’t know at that time I’d broken the scoring record. My teammates were jumping up and down and told me I’d just scored the most points in a single game. They were happy for me.”
Lewis doesn’t dwell on the record, citing another accomplishment during his UNC playing days as much more special.
“Coach Smith had always wanted to recruit some Black athletes, and Charlie Scott was the perfect person to break the barrier down there,” Lewis said. “We had a basketball clinic in Laurinburg, where Charlie was going to school at the time, and I went down there with the coaches and talked to him. Charlie knew I was from D.C. and knew some of the Black athletes I’d played against.”
In 1966, Scott became Carolina’s first Black scholarship athlete. He had a stellar career at Carolina, played in the NBA and is in the Hall of Fame.
As for the record, Lewis figures sooner or later it’ll no longer be his. “How that record has lasted this long, I have no idea,” he said. “Eventually it’ll be broken, and when it happens, I’ll be very happy for that person. I’ve been waiting for that phone call.”
— Laurie D. Willis ’86