Not every college basketball player has won an NCAA Tournament. Not every NBA player has won an NBA Finals. And not every USA Basketball player has won an Olympic gold medal. That’s just the way the game of basketball (or any other sport) works. Some players have never won any of the aforementioned titles, while others have won one or two. But there are eight players throughout the history of the game that have been fortunate (or lucky) enough to win all three, a list that includes the likes of Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, and Magic Johnson.
Center Clyde Lovellette was the first to win an NCAA title, an Olympic gold medal, and an NBA championship and did so within a span of just over two years.
In 1952, the three-time All-American led the University of Kansas to its first-ever NCAA Tournament title, scoring 33 points and grabbing 17 rebounds in the Jayhawks’ 80-63 victory over St. John’s in the championship game. Lovellette then went on to lead the U.S. team in scoring at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, averaging 13.9 points in leading the squad to a perfect 8-0 record and the gold medal.
He was taken with the ninth overall pick in the 1952 NBA draft by the Minneapolis Lakers but waited a year to join the team. But in that first year, Lovellette’s winning streak continued as he helped the Lakers to their third straight NBA title. He also won titles with the Boston Celtics in 1963 and 1964, his final two seasons in the league.
K.C. Jones and Bill Russell
We’re going to go ahead and lump K.C. Jones and Bill Russell into one section here as they accomplished the feat together. The duo won back-to-back NCAA titles at the University of San Francisco in 1955 and 1956 and both were chosen to represent the U.S. at the ’56 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.
Russell, who was named team captain, led the team in scoring with 14.1 points per game, while Jones was the fourth-leading scorer, averaging 10.9 points in helping the U.S. to an 8-0 record and the gold. They were both then selected by the Celtics in the 1956 NBA draft and won eight titles together in Boston. Russell would end his career with 11 championship rings, the most in history.
As a freshman at Ohio State, power forward/center Jerry Lucas led the Buckeyes to a national championship in 1960, recording 16 points and 10 rebounds in the title game over Cal-Berkeley. He then represented the U.S. at the Rome Olympics that summer and was the second-leading scorer on the team behind only Oscar Robertson, averaging 16.8 points per game as the Americans again went 8-0 on the way to the gold medal.
After two more seasons at Ohio State (he was named consensus National Player of the Year in both), Lucas was taken with the second overall pick in the 1962 NBA draft by the Cincinnati Royals, where he teamed with Robertson but never won a title. It actually took 10 seasons before Lucas joined this exclusive club as he won his lone NBA title with the New York Knicks in 1973, his penultimate season in the league.
Up next on the list is Quinn Buckner, who, as a senior at the University of Indiana, helped Bobby Knight‘s Hoosiers to an undefeated 32-0 record and a national championship. He was then a member of the U.S. team that went undefeated at the ’76 Olympics in Montreal and was the squad’s fifth-leading scorer, averaging 7.3 points per game.
Buckner then went on to play 10 years in the NBA and won his lone championship in 1984 with the Boston Celtics.
Michael Jordan won his NCAA championship as a freshman at the University of North Carolina in 1982, famously hitting the game-winning jumper in the title game to defeat Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas. Following his junior season with the Tar Heels, MJ jumped to the NBA but not before leading Team USA to an undefeated record and the gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Jordan led the U.S. in scoring, averaging 17.1 points per game.
Magic Johnson was the only man to take an alternate route to membership in this exclusive club. Magic knocked out the first leg of the trifecta in 1979 when he famously led his Michigan State Spartans to victory in the 1979 NCAA Championship Game over Larry Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores.
However, he’s the only member of this group to win an NBA title before winning Olympic gold. Johnson won his first championship with the Lakers as a rookie and then won four more during the 1980s. As he never got the chance to compete in the Olympics as an amateur, Johnson won his gold medal alongside Jordan with the Dream Team in 1992. Magic is one of three players on this list also to have won a championship in high school, the other two being Lucas and Buckner.
The newest member of the club is Anthony Davis, who capped off his lone season at the University of Kentucky by leading the Wildcats to a national championship in 2012. Shortly after being taken with the top overall pick of the 2012 NBA draft by the New Orleans Hornets, Davis was added to the U.S. national team roster after Blake Griffin suffered a knee injury. Davis only played 7.4 minutes per game in London and averaged 3.7 points but nevertheless picked up some hardware as the U.S. again went undefeated on the way to winning the gold.
AD then joined this exclusive club in 2020 when he won his first NBA title in his first season alongside LeBron James with the Los Angeles Lakers. And he’ll remain the newest member of the club for at least three more years as not one player on the 2021 Team USA roster won an NCAA title. And from what we’ve seen thus far, there’s a strong chance that team doesn’t even win gold in Tokyo.
Stats courtesy of Sports Reference