Former Mountaineer Jevon Carter is enjoying a heck of an NBA playoff ride as a member of the Phoenix Suns.
The winners of the Pacific Division in the regular season, the Suns have remained hot in the playoffs and are now within sight of a spot in the NBA Finals. With a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference championship series heading into Saturday’s game four, Phoenix is just a couple steps away from making only its third-ever NBA Finals (1992 and ’76).
Carter hasn’t seen a whole lot of action for the Suns in this year’s playoffs, playing in just six of the team’s 14 postseason games so far, totaling four points in 20 minutes of action.
Still, the former West Virginia All-American is part of a squad on the cusp of a berth in the NBA Finals. It’s a position few Mountaineers have found themselves in over the years, as just four other former WVU players have been on squads that advanced to the NBA Finals – Hot Rod Hundley, Jerry West, Fritz Williams and Jerome Anderson.
A native of Mullens, West Virginia, who went on to greatness at WVU (1972-75), Anderson is the most recent Mountaineer to appear in the NBA Finals, and that took place 45 years ago. As a rookie with Boston in 1975-76, Anderson was part of a Celtic team that defeated Phoenix 4-2 in the ’76 Finals. He saw just one total minute of action in the series, scoring two points in Boston’s 105-90 victory over the Suns in game two. After spending the 1976-77 season with the Indiana Pacers, Anderson moved on to a lengthy professional basketball career overseas as a player and a coach in Sweden and Norway. He passed away in 2009 at the age of 55 after a lengthy illness.
No Mountaineer has been on a team that played in the NBA Finals since Anderson, and only three preceded him.
A native of Weirton, West Virginia, Fritz Williams was a first-round pick in the 1968 NBA Draft, and enjoyed an eight-year pro career. He spent two of those seasons with Milwaukee (1973-74 and 1974-75) and was with the Bucks when they fought their way through the Western Conference to a Finals matchup with Boston in 1974. Williams played in all six games, starting the first three of them, in that Finals series, scoring a total of 18 points, as the Celtics took the title, 4-2, over Fritz, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the rest of the Bucks.
Hot Rod Hundley played in three NBA Finals in his time with the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers (1958-63). Despite scoring 3,625 points in 431 games in his NBA career, Hundley didn’t have much success in any of his Finals appearances. Boston swept all four games from the Lakers, who were still in Minneapolis, in the 1959 Finals. Hot Rod saw action as a reserve in all four games, but didn’t score a point. In 1962, he helped the L.A. Lakers, who now featured Jerry West, to the NBA Finals. Hundley played in all seven games, but scored a total of just five points, as Boston took an emotional 110-107 game seven overtime victory to secure the championship. The next year, which was Hundley’s last in the NBA as a player, his Lakers again ran up against the Celtics, and L.A. lost the series in six games. Hot Rod played four minutes of game two of that Finals, but didn’t score. It would be the last NBA game of his career.
Bobby Smith, who was a player and future assistant coach at WVU, was a member of the Lakers in 1959-60 and for a few games early in the 1961-62 season, but he was no longer with the team by the time the ’62 playoffs began, so he was close to joining the Mountaineer Finals club but didn’t quite make it.
Jerry West continued his Lakers’ career after Hot Rod departed. One of the game’s all-time greats, West played in nine NBA Finals series (1962, ’63, ‘65, ‘66, ’68, ’69, ’70, ’72 and ’73). In one of the few negatives of his career, though, West was able to lead L.A. to just one championship over his 13-year career. Jerry and the Lakers lost to Boston in the Finals six times during that span, while falling to the New York Knicks twice (1970 and ’73). His only title came over the Knicks, 4-1, in 1972.
Whether in victory or defeat, though, the native of Cheylan, West Virginia, was incredibly productive when the championship was on the line. In his nine Finals series, he played in 55 games and averaged 30.5 points in those outings. Statistically, his best Finals came in 1969, when he averaged 37.9 points per game in the 4-3 loss to Boston. He also reached his playoff career-high in a 120-118 Lakers win in the ’69 series opener, pouring in 53 points on 21-of-41 shooting with an 11-of-13 performance from the free-throw line to go along with another career-best of 10 assists. He also had 42 points in game seven of that year’s series, but it wasn’t enough to edge out the Celtics in the decider, as Boston prevailed, 108-106, in L.A. West won the Finals MVP for that 1969 series, even though his team lost the championship. It’s the only time in NBA history that the Finals MVP award has gone to the player on the losing team.
West is the ultimate Mountaineer in many regards, and he is in terms of NBA Finals production as well. West scored 4,457 postseason points in his Laker career, and 1,679 of those came in his 53 Finals games. All other former WVU players combined, participated in 19 Finals games and scored a total of 25 points.
Whether Carter gets on the court for an NBA Finals game is still to be determined, but just suiting up for the Suns, if they make it to the Finals, would put J.C. in very rarified West Virginia company.