• The 5 best Baylor alumni in NBA history

    Taurean Prince, David Wesley and Vinnie Johnson NBA action photos

    The NBA traces its founding to 1946, when a group of hockey owners decided to start a basketball league. Three years later, that league merged with another entity, and the “National Basketball Association” was born.

    That same year, 1949, also saw the first Baylor Bear play in the NBA: Red Owens, who debuted that season with the Tri-Cities Blackhawks and the Anderson Packers. It took a while for Baylor to establish a presence in the league, but since 1980, there has been at least one Bear in the NBA every season.

    All this raises the question: who are the best NBA Bears of all-time?

    Our efforts to rank them are unscientific, and certainly up for debate. Here, humbly, is our selection of Baylor’s all-timers: NBA champions, record-holders, long time veterans, and the five best Bears in NBA history (years at Baylor in parentheses):

    5. Taurean Prince, BSEd ’16 (2012-16): There seems little doubt that Prince, the most recent Baylor lottery pick in the NBA Draft, will continue to climb the list of the best NBA Bears. Now in his fifth season, he’s averaging over 11 points and 4 rebounds and has established himself as a consistent threat for the Hawks, Nets and Cavaliers.

    4. Micheal Williams (1984-88): A 10-year NBA veteran, Williams holds a unique record, having made the most consecutive free throws in league history (97 straight in 1993). He made the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 1992 and averaged 15.1 points and 8.7 assists for the Timberwolves in 1993 before injuries took their toll. Williams still ranks among the top 40 all-time in career steals per game.

    3. Terry Teagle, ’82 (1978-82): Teagle was the 1980 Southwest Conference Player of the Year and a first-round pick two years later. He played 12 seasons in the NBA, averaging double-figure scoring in seven of them, and finished his career having averaged 11.6 points and 2.6 rebounds a game for the Rockets, Pistons, Warriors and Lakers. (Fun fact: It was Teagle’s basket that made Magic Johnson the NBA’s all-time career assist leader.)

    2. David Wesley, BSEd ’09 (1989-92): Though undrafted out of Baylor because of questions about his size, Wesley went on to average 12.5 points per game over a 14-year NBA career — the highest career scoring average of any Baylor alum. For a 10-year stretch in the mid ’90s and early ’00s, he was in the upper echelon of NBA point guards for the Celtics and Hornets, known for his particularly tough defense, and his 11,842 career points rank second all-time behind Moses Malone among undrafted NBA players. He returned to Baylor in the late 2000s and finished his degree while serving as a student manager.

    1. Vinnie Johnson, ’80 (1977-79): Johnson became the first Baylor Bear to have his number retired by an NBA team in 1994 when the Detroit Pistons honored his No. 15. “The Microwave” brought instant scoring into the game over a 13-year career highlighted by his time as a key member of Detroit’s vaunted “Bad Boys.” A two-time NBA champion, Johnson hit a game-winning buzzer-beater in the 1990 NBA Finals to give the Pistons their second straight title.

    How will this list change in the future? Today’s NBA includes former Baylor standouts such as Prince and Royce O’Neale, who averaged a career high in points per game last year for the Utah Jazz, and two 2021 draft picks in Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell, who may well end up on this list someday.

    Whatever the case, it’s fun to think about some of the great names in Baylor basketball history and imagine who might be the next to join their ranks in the years ahead.

    Sic ’em, Bears!

    You might also like:
    * #NextLevelBU: 18 Baylor alumni with NFL franchises in 2020 (Dec. 2020)
    * With Hall of Fame election, Mulkey joins long list of legendary Bears (April 2020)
    * The 9 best Bears in Major League Baseball history (March 2019)

    [updated Oct. 2021]