As I’m sure many of you know, NBA great Chauncey Billups decided to end to his long and illustrious career last week. Here, a look back at the life of our fellow Buffalo, who may be the greatest athlete to come out of Colorado.
A home-grown hero
Not many people know that Billups is originally from the Mile High City. He was born on September 25, 1976 in Denver and attended Denver’s George Washington High School from 1991-1995.
During his four-year tenure with the GW Patriots, Billups averaged 23.8 points per game and led his team to two consecutive 6A state championships in 1993 and 1994. He was named player of the year every year that he was on the roster, and was given the title “Mr. Colorado Basketball” for three of those years.
On top of all that, he was named a McDonald’s High School All-American during his senior season. This year marks the 37th year of the All-American Game tradition, in which the best high school players are showcased in an East-West match up. To put that honor into perspective, some of last year’s All-Americans included No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins, No. 2 Jabari Parker, and No. 4 Aaron Gordon. These guys are the elite of the elite.
In an article released last week by the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) Billups was quoted saying, “Not a lot of guys made it in basketball from this state. So I carry that chip on my shoulder everywhere I go and everywhere I play, no matter what team or what the letters on the front of the jersey say, I always just carry that pride with me — knowing that I probably wasn’t supposed to be here.”
Where the Buffaloes roam
In 1995, Billups began his collegiate career at the University of Colorado. Despite being recruited by Kansas, Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech and the University of California-Berkeley, Billups decided to take his talents to Boulder.
His two years with the Buffaloes remains arguably one of the most fabled periods in program history. In his freshman season alone, the 6’3 guard averaged 17.9 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game and 5.5 assists per game. In his second game as a college rookie, Billups set a school record for most points scored by a freshman in a single game with 31. To this day, Billups is the only CU freshman in history to score 30 points in a single game, a feat he achieved four times.
On December 2 of that same year, Billups achieved the first ever triple-double in school history with 24 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the school’s win over George Mason. Such performances earned him the title of Big Eight Freshman of the Year and a spot on the coaches’ second team.
He saw even more success during his sophomore year with the Buffs. During the 1996-97 season, Billups averaged 19.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg, and 4.8 apg. At the end of the season, he led the Buffs to their first NCAA tournament appearance in over twenty years, where they defeated Indiana 80-62 in the first round.
To this day, Billups is one of two players in program history to reach the 1000-point mark in just two seasons, and he currently holds the record for the second fastest player to record 500 points (28 games).
Legendary status in the NBA
At the end of his sophomore season, Billups put his college career behind him when he declared for the NBA.
“And with the third pick of the 1997 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics select Chauncey Billups of Colorado.”
Throughout his 17-year professional career, Billups became one of the most juggled-around players in the NBA. He spent only 51 games with the Celtics his rookie year before being traded to the Toronto Raptors. At the time, reports were flying around that head coach Rick Pitino and his staff didn’t exactly get along with Billups, and didn’t know which guard position to place him at (point or shooting).
Over the next five years, Billups was sent back home to the Denver Nuggets before being traded to the Orlando Magic. But he never played a game for the Magic — a shoulder injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. After that, he went to Minnesota and became a Timberwolf.
That was where he really started to break out in his professional career. When Minnesota’s starting guard Terrell Brandon suffered a season-ending knee injury in February of 2001, Billups stepped in to complete the job. With his help, the T-Wolves were able to win enough games to earn a postseason bid that year. Despite being swept by Dallas in the first round of the playoffs, Billups contributed an average of 22 points per game throughout the series.
The next year, his free agency was courted by the Detroit Pistons, where he spent the next six years making a total of $35 million. In 2004, Detroit’s investment paid off when Billups helped the Pistons win a national title. After averaging 21 points and 5.2 assists in just five games, Billups was named MVP of the NBA Finals.
From 2008 on, he moved around often while he played for Denver, New York, the Los Angeles Clippers and finally back to Detroit.
During the 2013-14 season, his 17th in the pros, Billups played as the point guard for the Pistons. Although he had boasted double-digit averages in scoring in all but four of his seasons in the NBA, his skills and his health were starting to deteriorate with age. Thirty-seven may not seem old by normal standards, but when you have to face guys 10 and almost 20 years younger than you, it’s getting up there. There are only six active players in the NBA right now who are older than Billups: Steve Nash (40), Derek Fisher (40), Ray Allen (39), Andre Miller (38), Tim Duncan (38) and Kevin Garnett (38).
But after 17 years, Billups’ career has to come to a close. In his final season with the Pistons, the guard played in only 19 games after an unsuccessful recovery from a knee surgery back in January. At the end of the season, the Pistons chose not to renew his contract.
Take pride, Buffs
It’s not very often that an athlete like Chauncey Billups comes out of the University of Colorado.
As a matter of fact, no player like Billups has come out of CU before. In its 113-year history, Colorado basketball had never seen an alumnus spend more than 12 years in the pros, and none of them had what it took to earn a bid into the Naismith Hall of Fame.
According to the official Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame website, “A player must be fully retired for five years before being eligible for Enshrinement. He/she may then be considered for Enshrinement in the sixth year of retirement.”
The nomination process goes as follows (per the BHOF website):
“A Nomination Packet consists of a completed nomination form procured from the BHOF, and news clippings, magazine articles or other informative, factual data about the candidate. This material shall be submitted to the President and CEO of the BHOF by November 1 of each year for consideration in the following year’s class. All nominees with completed nomination materials are presented to the appropriate Screening Committee for review.”
Start clipping those newspaper articles, Buffs fans. We’ll see you in six years, Chauncey.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Alissa Noe at email@example.com.