Give Me the Loot — UNC & Duke Headline Top NBA Earners by College AlumniPosted by EJacoby on February 9th, 2012
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor to RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.
If you want to ask your friends a great trivia question, or perhaps settle a debate, check out the Wall Street Journal’s list of college basketball programs whose players have earned the most money in the NBA since 1985. The WSJ calls it the ‘Basketball Alumni Loot Index.’ This is the kind of intense research that pays off, as this article is now a great bookmark for fans’ reference.
A look at the data shows plenty of interesting results. North Carolina and Duke are the first and second schools on the list, to nobody’s surprise. Our beliefs are confirmed that these two programs produce the most successful NBA players. Powerhouses like Arizona, UCLA, Georgetown, Connecticut, Kansas, and Kentucky all round out the top 10, again legitimizing the findings. Incredibly, Division II school Virginia Union cracks the top 50 of the list thanks to the $100 million-plus earnings of Ben Wallace and some of Charles Oakley’s deals from the 90s. DePaul has made the NCAA Tournament just once in the past 12 years, but they rank #31 on this list, thanks to recent pros like Wilson Chandler, Quentin Richardson, Bobby Simmons, and Steven Hunter. They also had Rod Strickland in the late 80s, who signed multiple lucrative contracts in a great 17-year career.
Another name that jumps out to us is Indiana, which is considered one of the all-time great programs but only ranks #41 on this list. That brings us to a crucial point, which is that this list truly only represents the most recent successful NBA alumni, and it’s not a real indicator of 30 years of success. Because in 1986, a max salary was nowhere near what it is today. Therefore, a program like Indiana may have produced some historically great NBA players (Isiah Thomas, for example), but they either entered the league before the 1985 cutoff period or right after, when their deals were not as lucrative. It’s still amazing that the top 10 consists of mostly all the juggernaut programs we would expect to see, proving that these teams have been successful both over the long haul and in the past 15-20 years.
The schools highest on this list that are not from the six power conferences are UNLV (#15), Xavier (#19), Memphis (#24), and Temple (#25), none of which should come as a major surprise. The Atlantic 10, C-USA, and Mountain West are often considered as high major leagues, though, so we then have to dig a bit deeper to find the highest true mid-major school. That would be Louisiana Tech at #33, thanks to a trio of names you may have heard of - Karl Malone, P.J. Brown, and Paul Millsap. Who knew that Louisiana Tech was such a hotbed for future NBA power forwards?
The accumulation of higher salary is not necessarily an indicator of the best players in the NBA. However, it is most definitely a signifier of success. In order to receive a six-year, $70 million contract, a player must already be an established star in the league, regardless of whether he actually lives up to the deal. In addition, NBA lottery picks no longer receive the massive guaranteed contracts that other sports do. The salary scale in the NBA gives a pre-determined contract to rookies based on where they were selected, so it’s up to the player to perform at a high level to secure a second deal where they can really cash in.
One of the most fascinating parts of this study is that North Carolina alumni have accrued just over $850,000,000 of NBA salary, and that does not even include the earnings of the three future NBA stars from perhaps the greatest UNC team ever. In 1982, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, and, of course, Michael Jordan were part of the National Champion Tar Heels team, and they all entered the league right before the 1985 cutoff. Carolina would reach $1 billion worth of earnings with the addition of MJ alone if the eligibility was stretched back just one more year.
Look for Kentucky to soon shoot up this list and make a push for the top five. John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins are in for major paydays in the next two years, perhaps as much as $15 million per year for Wall. Also, Oklahoma is definitely moving up from #45 on the list as Blake Griffin is likely to sign for $80 million or more when he’s extended by the Clippers in the next two years. Davidson can probably jump from #175 to the top 100 once Stephen Curry signs his first huge contract and starts making that money. Hopefully, the WSJ can give us an updated list in future years.