Tar Heel Basketball Star Walter Davis Dies

Legendary basketball player Walter Davis ’77, a two-time All-ACC honoree and six-time NBA All Star, died Nov. 2. He was 69.

Walter Davis ’77 playing with broken fingers at the 1977 National Championship (Photo: Sally Sather)

Davis, affectionately known as “Sweet D,” was a true icon of the game. His exceptional skills, sportsmanship and unwavering dedication to the sport made him a beloved figure not only in the UNC community but also in the hearts of basketball fans worldwide. He is the uncle of current men’s basketball coach, Hubert Davis ’92.

Davis died of natural causes while visiting family in Charlotte, according to

This basketball season is the 50th anniversary of one of the most iconic moments of Davis’ UNC career and Carolina basketball history. In 1974, Davis, a freshman, banked in a 25-foot shot at the buzzer against Duke University to complete an 8-point comeback in the final 17 seconds of regulation, sending the game into overtime. Carolina went on to win.

“His love for this town, campus and University were best captioned in one word,” said Freddie Kiger ’74, a basketball statistician who worked under legendary coach Dean Smith. “A word Woody Durham used in 1974 when Sweet D’s shot banked in at the buzzer, ‘unbelievable.’ ”

Davis played for Smith from 1973 to 1977 and led Carolina to an ACC tournament title and an appearance in the 1977 national championship game, in which Davis led the team with 20 points in a loss to Marquette.

Davis holding Michael O’Koren ’80 after they lost the ’77 championship. Photo: Sally Sather)

“Walter was the classic Carolina player. He never tried to take the spotlight,” said Sally Sather, a photojournalist whose shots of Davis have been distributed nationally. “He is well-known for being kind to Michael O’Koren ’80 after they lost the ’77 championship. Michael was a freshman and Walter was a senior, and he is holding Michael’s head in his taped hands from where he had broken his fingers.”

In 1976, Smith selected Davis to play on the USA basketball team, which won an Olympic gold medal.

Davis went on to play for the Phoenix Suns, winning NBA Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 1978 and being named a six-time NBA All-Star. The Suns retired his jersey in 1994 and in 2004 added him to their Ring of Honor. Davis is also a member of the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame.

“I am going to miss him dearly,” former Carolina basketball player Phil Ford ’78 said in a statement. “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 got to watch him as a fan and loved getting to know him later,” former men’s basketball coach Roy Williams ’72 (’73 MAT) said in a statement. “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 truly a great Tar Heel.”

— Cameron Hayes Fardy ’23

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