Top Five Lawyers Who Were Great College Hoopsters

Mark Thudium Columns, Lawyer 11 Comments

Bitter Lawyer has its list of the top five sports agents who have law degrees. In the spirit of college basketball season, we got to thinking about players who ruled the hardwood before taking a charge by enrolling in three hard years of law school. It only makes sense that a JD can prove helpful when spending your days representing the world’s best athletes, but we couldn’t help but wonder which athletes translated their blood, sweat, and tears shooting college hoops into successful legal careers.

So we started digging. While there are plenty of players who moved on to law school following their b-ball glory days, only a few were exceptionally great, which means we had to boil it down. Give it up for these five legendary lawyers—along with five impressive honorable mentions—who first had shining moments as college basketball players.

Spoiler Alert: Duke posts up early points by being represented twice on our list below, and there’s one surprising instance of a former player who not only makes this top five, but he became so uber-successful that he appeared on our Top Five Sports Agents who are Lawyers list as well.

1. Jay Bilas

Undergrad Team: Duke University (1983-1986)
Law School: Duke University School of Law (1992)

Bilas was part of Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 1982 recruiting class, which also included Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie and David Henderson.  They still rank as the highest-scoring single class in college basketball history. Bilas was part of Duke’s famous 1986 team, which earned its way to the Final Four national championship game.  During that same season, Duke won 37 games—the highest total for a single season in NCAA history.  Bilas finished college after scoring 1,062 points and grabbing 692 rebounds. He also graduated the third all-time career field-goal percentage leader, shooting over 55% from the field.

Following Duke, Bilas was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks and played ball in Europe from 1986-1989 before returning in 1990 to become Krzyzewski’s assistant coach for several years while attending law school.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Jay Bilas last year, and he told us about his transition from the basketball court to a court of law. Though his father talked him into going law school, he’s never regretted it. His life has prospered since his days of Coach K.  Bilas is currently a practicing attorney and college basketball analyst for ESPN and CBS, where he gets paid to debate issues like the 32-team expansion of next year’s March Madness.

2. Robert Pelinka, Jr.

Undergrad Team: University of Michigan (1988-1993)
Law School:  University of Michigan Law School (1996)

Named the 1993 NCAA Walter Byers Scholar Athlete of the Year, former point guard Rob Pelinka not only graduated from the University of Michigan with the distinction of being the only person in school history to make three Final Four appearances, but with a 3.9 GPA.  Winning the national championship in 1989, Pelinka was co-captain of the Wolverines as a fifth-year senior, making his final NCAA Final Four appearance in 1993.

Coming in at #8 on the Bitter Lawyer list of top sports agents with law degrees, Pelinka is currently the CEO of The Landmark Sports Agency, LLC. Most recently, he wrapped negotiations for top client Kobe Bryant, and last week, there was an official announcement of Kobe’s agreement to a three-year contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers.

While his impressive client roster is what he’s best known for now, here’s a performance of his own from 1993:

3. Len Elmore

Undergrad Team: University of Maryland (1971-1974)
Law School: Harvard Law School (1987)

As a center, Elmore helped lead the Terrapins to a 73-17 record from 1972-74, which included a 1972 NIT Championship and a 1973 appearance in the NCAA Elite Eight. He was a three-time All-ACC performer, an All-American in 1974 and is still Maryland’s all-time leading rebounder. Elmore is regarded as one of the best basketball players in ACC history.

While a player at Maryland, Elmore appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1973. He was a first-round draft pick of both the NBA (Washington Bullets) and ABA (Indiana Pacers), which led to a 10-season career for Elmore in the pros.

Believed to be the only NBA player to graduate from Harvard upon retirement from professional basketball, Bitter Lawyer interviewed Len Elmore in October 2009 and learned about his post-basketball career as a Brooklyn prosecutor and BigLaw attorney for Marc Dreier’s firm at the time of Dreier’s arrest. During that interview, Elmore predicted “Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina and a surprise team” would appear in this year’s Final Four—and, low and behold, he was right on two.

Currently, Elmore is a solo practitioner and is an occasional basketball analyst for CBS and ESPN. He was inducted into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001.

4. Bill Walton

Undergrad Team:  UCLA (1972-1974)
Law School: Stanford Law School (Never graduated, attended 1980-1982)

While at UCLA, William Theodore Walton, III was a three-time recipient of the NCAA Player of the Year Award. The 6-foot-11, 235-pound center was the linchpin of the Bruins, winning an NCAA record 88 consecutive games (30-0 his first two seasons) and two NCAA crowns in 1972 and 1973. As if that wasn’t enough, he was the Division I Player of the Year every season he played from 1972-74.

During his professional career, Walton was the number-one overall pick by the Portland Trailblazers in the 1974 NBA Draft and a member of the Trailblazers’ 1977 championship team.  He was named the NBA’s MVP in 1978 and earned a second championship title as a Boston Celtic in 1986.

Walton is also one-half of only the third father-son pair to ever each win an NBA championship. His son, Lakers forward Luke Walton, proved to be a chip off the old block when he won the NBA title in 2009.

A free agent in 1979, Walton signed a $7-million, seven-year contract with his hometown team, the San Diego Clippers, but only played 14 games in 1979-80 before a foot injury forced him to sit out the next two seasons.  During that time, he attended Stanford Law School for two years before returning to the NBA in 1982.

Since, Walton has been named one of Forbestop 10 American pundits, one of the top 50 sportscasters of all time, and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.  He would have ranked much higher on our list, obviously, but having never actually earned his JD, it was sort of hard to justify.

5. Quin Snyder

Undergrad Team: Duke University (1986-1989)
Law School: Duke University School of Law (1995)

One of Coach K’s best guards, Snyder played with the Blue Devils in three Final Fours between 1986 and 1989 and won two Atlantic Coast Conference championships in 1986 and 1988.  He was named to the all-ACC Tournament team in 1988 and served as Duke’s co-captain his senior year.  Overall, Snyder scored 848 points in his college career and still ranks third on Duke’s all-time career assists chart with 575 helps.

In 1991, after a year at Duke Law, Snyder simultaneously enrolled in Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, only to later take a year off from both programs to work as the assistant coach for the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers.  He returned to Duke in 1993 and completed both his JD and MBA degrees while assistant coaching for Coach Krzyzewski.  After five years as assistant coach and associate head coach, Snyder left Duke at age 32 and become the Missouri Tigers’ new head coach.

Working for the University of Missouri from 1999-2006, Snyder was initially considered one of America’s hottest young basketball coaches.  He even became the first coach to helm a 12 seed all the way to the Elite Eight in 2002.  But he was forced to resign the gig following a 2003 scandal and has since fallen a long way from his one-time Big 12 prestige.  After banking $1.015 million annually running the MO show, he now makes approximately $75,000 as head coach of the NBA Development League’s Austin Toros, where last year he was D-League Coach of the Year.  Some things never change, however.  He still gets flack for his famous hair.

Not often a fan favorite, here’s a clip of some of Snyder’s Final Four lowlights playing for Duke:

Five “College Basketball-Playing Lawyer” Honorable Mentions

6. Barry Goheen

Undergrad Team: Vanderbilt University (1985-1989)
Law School: Vanderbilt University

Called one of the most clutch college basketball players in NCAA history, Goheen’s famous last-second game-winning heroics include hitting two 3-point shots in the last 12 seconds to tie the game against Pitt in the second round of the NCAA 1988 tourney (video below). His baskets sent the game into overtime and produced a Vandy win. Goheen is now a partner at King & Spalding in Atlanta.

7. Richard Warren “Buzzy” Wilkinson

Undergrad Team: University of Virginia (1952-1955)
Law School: University of Virginia School of Law (1962)

Sports Illustrated once called Buzzy Wilkinson “the best unknown basketball player in America,” and he still holds the University of Virginia and ACC records with a career-scoring average of 28.6 points per game (2,233 total points). Wilkinson holds conference and school records for his scoring average (32.1 points per game during the 1954-55 season) and was selected by the Boston Celtics in the third round of the 1955 NBA Draft, but passed on the team’s offer to attend law school. Now in his late 70s, Wilkinson is currently the president and CEO of First Century Bank in Bluefield, West Virginia.

8. Glenn A. Fine

Undergrad Team: Harvard (1975-1979)
Law School: Harvard (1985)

Though only 5-foot-9, Fine was co-captain of the Harvard basketball team, racked up assists and was called in the tenth round of the 1979 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs.  He ultimately declined the Spurs to accept a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University.  Now living in D.C., Fine is currently the Inspector General of the United States Department of Justice.

9. Franklin D. Burgess

Undergrad Team: Gonzaga University
Law School: Gonzaga University School of Law (1966)

Burgess unfortunately died on March 26, 2010, but during his lifetime, he was nominated by President Clinton to a U.S. District judge seat in 1993 and led the nation in scoring at Gonzaga University in 1960-61.  Overall, Burgess scored what remains a school-best—2,196 points in three years.

10. Lou Silver

Undergrad Team: Harvard (1972-1975)
Law School: Tel Aviv University School of Law, LL.M. from NYU School of Law

A few years before Glenn Fine was Lou Silver. Co-captain and All Ivy League player his final year at Harvard, Silver earned his way into the Jewish Basketball Hall of Fame when he was drafted in the eighth round of the 1975 ABA Draft and won several titles playing for the Israeli National Team.  Silver later went on to practice corporate law for Stroock & Stroock & Lavan in New York.

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  • Anonymous

    Guess you’ll just have to go to another website, Alma.  Bye.

  • Charlie Rose

    You’re a moron. You say you come here every morning and you’ve never heard of these guys except Walton. But both Bilas and Elmore were actually interviewed here, and if you actually watched college hoops you’d know them. Silencio, Alma!

  • Big JIm

    Nice one, lads.  Big Bilas fan.  Quinn Snyder had game—and lots of lettuce.  Thought he was going to be the next big thing, but he apparently he screwed up at Mizzou.

  • R

    How about Andy Owens a current circuit court judge in Sarasota Florida? Played at University Of Florida and still holds the record for top scoring average. Drafted in the NBA and then went to law school at UF

  • Fappiano

    You need to return to the library for more research.
    Certainly, you need to add Jack Marin. He was a first round draft pick out of Duke. He played 11 very good years in the NBA where he averaged nearly 15 points a game. He is now a partner at Williams Mullen in North Carolina.
    Another first round NBA draft pick was Barry Kramer out of NYU. He was described as the “best college basketball player in the U.S.” by Sports Illustrated. He played one year in the NBA for San Francisco and the Knicks. He graduated second in his class at Albany Law School and is now a State Supreme Court justice in Schenectady.
    Finally on the dark side, there is Jack Molinas. He was a star at Columbia, a first round NBA draft pick, an attorney and, unfortunately a world class fixer of college basketball games.

  • nn

    Bill Walton shouldn’t be on this list.  The list is called “Top Five LAWYERS Who Were Great College Hoopsters.” Walton’s not a lawyer if he didn’t even graduate from law school.

  • Cheryl

    Nice adds, Fappiano!

  • Chris

    The 1986 Duke team did not win the NCAA Championship. The Blue Devils lost to Louisville in the title game.

  • Friend

    Lets cheer for Butler tonight!

  • Daniel K.

    Love this. Those Snyder bombs are awesome.

  • Guano Dubango

    I have only heard of Len Elmore.

    In my country, we did not play basketball in the 1980s, but we did have access to satellite tv. It was at a secondary school event where I first saw this man Elmore on satellite while a local woman was busy providing me with sexual release.

    I will never forget how Len Elmore went right for the basket and dunked at the same time as I did. I do not know what happened to Len Elmore and by the same token, I do not know what happened to that woman who provided me with pleasure either.