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Suns, UNC basketball legend Walter Davis dies at 69

FILE - Walter Davis of the Phoenix Suns pictured in 1987. Davis, a five-time NBA All-Star who had his number retired by the Phoenix Suns, has died. He was 69. Davis was star in college for North Carolina where he played for the late Dean Smith. The school's release said Walter Davis died Thursday morning, Nov. 2, 2023, of natural causes while visiting family in Charlotte, North Carolina. (AP Photo/File)
Walter Davis of the Phoenix Suns pictured in 1987. (AP Photo/File)

Walter Davis, a former all-star at the University of North Carolina who spent 15 seasons in the NBA, died Thursday. He was 69.

He was visiting family in Charlotte when he died of natural causes, according to his alma mater.

Davis was a two-time All-ACC honoree (1976 and 1977) and averaged 15.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 119 games over four college seasons. The Pineville, N.C., native and North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame inductee led the Tar Heels to an ACC tournament win and the NCAA championship game as a senior.

He was one of four North Carolina stars to play on the 1976 Olympic basketball team that won gold with coach Dean Smith at the helm. Walter's nephew, Hubert Davis, is the current head coach at UNC.

After his collegiate career, Davis was selected by the Phoenix Suns with the fifth overall pick of the 1977 NBA Draft. His first campaign earned him NBA Rookie of the Year honors, and he spent a total of 11 seasons with the Suns. He remains the team's all-time leading scorer.

Davis was a six-time NBA All-Star. He averaged 18.9 points, 3.8 assists and three rebounds across 1,033 career games with the Suns, Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers.

The Suns retired Davis' No. 6 jersey in 1994 and remembered him in a statement released Thursday via X, formerly Twitter:

"We are heartbroken by the passing of Suns legend Walter Davis, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer and a member of our Ring of Honor," the Suns wrote. '‘Sweet D’ was one of the game’s best, a prolific scorer whose smooth playing style and ‘velvet touch’ endeared him to generations of our fans. He will forever be a member of our Phoenix Suns family and community. Our thoughts remain with his family and friends during this difficult time."

Davis' sleek style of play garnered lasting nicknames, such as "Sweet D," "The Greyhound" and “The Man with the Velvet Touch." Former teammate Eddie Johnson used one of those monikers as he reflected on Davis' jump shot.

"I always felt my jumper was pure until I played against and eventually became a teammate of Walter Davis," Johnson wrote. "He had the most beautiful Jumper to ever play in the NBA and exhibited a wonderful personality to go with it! Too Soon my friend. RIP Sweet D!"

The Nuggets also issued a statement about Davis, calling him a "Great man who left a lasting impression on the organization, the communities he did so much for and everyone he interacted with."

In 1984, sports journalist Bryant Gumbel sat down with a 21-year-old Michael Jordan and asked, "Who's the best player you ever saw?"

"To play against? Has to be Walter Davis," Jordan answered, seven games into his NBA career. "I played against Walter Davis in the summertime, and he's been an outstanding basketball player."

Davis retired from basketball in 1992 to pursue a career in broadcasting.

"Once I started doing it, I really liked it," he told ESPN in 2003. "I get to travel, but I don't have to play. I get the best seat in the house and talk about something that was a big part of my life."

He left television to join the staff of the Washington Wizards as a scout in 2002.