No other high school in California can claim it has had four alums play in the NBA Finals than Dominguez of Compton and one of those also has been MVP. We’ve gone through the rosters of every NBA Finals squad since 1950 so we can now add another archive list to our site to match the same for the World Series and Super Bowl. There’s only one year ever from the NBA Finals in which there were no players from California in it.
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There are two aspects of California high school alums involved in the NBA Finals (since the very first one in 1950) that really stand out.
First, is the high number of those who’ve been in the NBA Finals both as a player and head coach. And second is the number of schools that have had at least three players who’ve been on the rosters of the teams that have played each other.
Even though the NBA Finals goes back to a time in the 1950s when all of the teams were in the East and Midwest and many of those teams had a lot of local players (i.e. New York players on New York teams), there has been at least one player from the two finals’ teams from California in every year except one.
The only year in which there were no players from California on either team was the 1971 NBA Finals between the champion Milwaukee Bucks and runner-up Baltimore Bullets (before they moved to Washington D.C. and before the name was changed to Wizards).
California can boast of having three of the greatest in NBA history for winning championships as a player and head coach.
Someone who’s only been following the NBA for the last 10 years might think that Steve Kerr, the head coach of the three-time champion Golden State Warriors (2015, 2017, 2018), would have the most. Kerr, who is from Palisades of Pacific Palisades, also won rings as a player with the Chicago Bulls (from 1996-98 with Michael Jordan) and San Antonio Spurs (1999, 2003).
But Kerr’s total of eight falls short of the 11 that can be claimed by Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics and the 10 by K.C. Jones, Russell’s teammate at both the University of San Francisco in the 1950s and later on with the Celtics.
Russell, remember, was installed as a player-head coach of the Celtics after longtime coach and president Red Auerbach retired as coach in 1967. Russell then led the Celtics to titles in 1968 and 1969 as a player-head coach. He is a graduate of McClymonds High of Oakland.
Jones was a key player on Celtics’ teams that won championships eight times in a row, beginning in 1959 and continuing through 1966. The graduate from now closed Commerce High of San Francisco later got into coaching and made it to the NBA Finals for the first time leading the Washington Bullets in 1975. Jones then became head coach of the Celtics and earned NBA titles (with Larry Bird leading the way) in 1984 and 1986.
But there’s a lot more to the state’s legacy of legendary players/head coaches than just those three.
Porterville’s Bill Sharman and Los Angeles Hamilton’s Alex Hannum also are Naismith Hall of Fame inductees. Those two went up against each other in the 1967 NBA Finals with Hannum’s team from the Philadelphia 76ers (led by Wilt Chamberlain) defeating Sharman’s team from the San Francisco Warriors. Sharman later was head coach of the legendary 1972 world champion Los Angeles Lakers and played with Russell and K.C. Jones on Celtics’ championship teams from 1958 to 1961. Hannum is listed as a player on a Syracuse Nationals team that lost in the NBA Finals to Minneapolis. He later coached the St. Louis Hawks to the 1958 championship and had two other teams reach the NBA Finals.
Two others who’ve been a player and coach in the NBA Finals are Byron Scott from Morningside of Inglewood and Scott Brooks from East Union of Manteca. Scott, of course, played alongside Magic Johnson in several of the L.A. Lakers’ teams in the 1980s that won titles and was head coach of the New Jersey Nets when they played and lost in NBA Finals’ series in 2002 and 2003. Brooks played for the Houston Rockets in 1994 that won the NBA title and lost as head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012.
Scott is part of another fun fact involving his alma mater. In 1991, when the Lakers lost to the Chicago Bulls, he was joined on their roster by Morningside alum Elden Campbell. That is still the only time there has been two players from one California high school in an NBA Finals series.
Schools With The Most NBA Finals Alums
1. Dominguez (Compton)
This is the only school from California found with four since 1950 and that also probably would be a high total nationally.
The list is led by Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson, who died in 2007 at the tender age of 52 from a heart attack. Johnson played on NBA title teams both in Seattle and Boston. He was MVP of the 1979 NBA Finals as he averaged nearly 23 points plus six rebounds and six assists per game for a Sonics’ team that won four straight games after losing Game 1 in the series with the Washington Bullets.
Two others from Dominguez also were starters and key players on two other NBA title teams — Tayshaun Prince with the Detroit Pistons (2004) and Tyson Chandler with the Dallas Mavericks (2011). Both of them, unlike Johnson who was more of a late bloomer, also were named Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year while at Dominguez (Chandler twice).
The Dons’ fourth NBA Finals alum would be forward Cedric Ceballos, who played for the Phoenix Suns in 1993.
2. (tie) McClymonds (Oakland)
The Warriors not only have the legendary Bill Russell and his 11 titles with the Boston Celtics on their resume, but they also have Paul Silas, regarded as one of the game’s best rebounders ever. Silas was a teammate with Dennis Johnson with the Sonics in 1978 and before that was on two Boston Celtics’ title teams in 1974 and 1976.
We found it especially funny that the only time in the 1960s in which Bill Russell and the Celtics did not make it into the NBA Finals, which was the 1967 season, that was the year that Joe Ellis of McClymonds was in the NBA Finals playing for the San Francisco Warriors.
2. (tie) Skyline (Oakland)
Hall of Famer Gary Payton and his Skyline teammate Greg Foster both made it to the NBA Finals, but not at the same time. They both played for the Lakers, but the team Payton was on later in his career in 2004 lost in the finals while the team that Foster was on in 2001 won in the finals. Payton also was the best player on a Seattle Supersonics squad that lost to the Chicago Bulls in the 1996 NBA Finals.
Skyline can count a third NBA Finals alum from 1981 when reserve center Eric Fernsten was a member of the champion Boston Celtics.
2. (tie) Morningside (Inglewood)
We’ve already mentioned the year in which Monarch alums Byron Scott and Elden Campbell were teammates for one NBA Finals season with the L.A. Lakers. Campbell didn’t get a ring for that season, but he got one as part of the Detroit Pistons in 2004.
Morningside also makes this list with a third NBA Finals alum — Jackie Robinson (who was a member of the Sonics’ team that won it all in 1979).
More NBA Finals Alumni Notes
*Schools shown with two players who’ve been in the event include Artesia of Lakewood, Leuzinger of Lawndale, Palo Alto, Torrey Pines of San Diego, Oakland Tech, Westchester of Los Angeles, Crenshaw of Los Angeles, Foothill of Bakersfield, Huntington Beach, Wilson of Long Beach, Jefferson of Los Angeles, Lowell of San Francisco, Newport Harbor of Newport Beach and St. Ignatius of San Francisco.
*The 2008 Boston Celtics and 1979 Seattle Supersonics, who both won the NBA world championship, are the teams found to have had the most California high school alums with five each. There are several more with four (some that won and some that did not).
*One of our favorite teams was the 2011 Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs’ best player was Dirk Nowitzki, but that group also had three former state players of the year, including Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd (who got his first player ring after losing twice with the New Jersey Nets). Dallas also had center Tyson Chandler along with guard DeShawn Stevenson. Kidd was Mr. Basketball for 1991 and 1992 from St. Joseph of Alameda. Chandler was Mr. Basketball for 2000 and 2001 for Dominguez. Stevenson was a senior from Washington of Easton at the same time when Chandler was a junior and he was named State Senior of the Year for 2000.