One of the breakout stars of this season’s NBA Finals has been Denver Nuggets guard Christian Braun. Braun’s role increased as the Finals went on — his 24 minutes logged in Denver’s decisive Game 5 win were the most he played in any postseason game. The rookie gained plaudits for his energetic play off the bench, including a 15-point outburst to help the Nuggets take home Game 4 on the road.
With the win, Braun, joined an exclusive club. Only four other players have won an NCAA and NBA title in back-to-back years, a feat Braun achieved after winning the 2022 NCAA tournament with the Kansas Jayhawks. Here’s a look at those four players and their resumes:
Russell entered the league on the back of a dominant run of back-to-back titles with San Francisco (including being named the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player in 1955 and UPI college basketball Player of the Year in 1956). Russell was all but unstoppable, averaging over 20 points and 20 rebounds in his two championship seasons with the Dons. Drafted by the Celtics as part of a legendary 1956 draft class for Boston, Russell didn’t take long establishing himself in the league. Russell averaged a remarkable 24.4 rebounds for the Celtics in the 1957 postseason, as Boston dispatched the St. Louis Hawks in seven games.
Bibby entered on the back of three consecutive titles with UCLA. Helping lead a stacked Bruins squad, Bibby started the first 45 games of what would eventually become an 88-game win streak. Drafted in the fourth round by the Knicks, Bibby didn’t have an outsized role on New York’s 1973 championship team, but he did work his way onto the floor for spot minutes as a reserve. The rookie guard averaged 4.4 points in his first campaign before eventually blossoming into a solid career role-player and later a three-year starter for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Widely regarded as one of the best point guards ever, Johnson’s title streak was filled with impressive individual accolades. Leading the way for the Spartans, Johnson’s 24 points in the title game helped lead Michigan State over Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores. That final performance, combined with his triple-double in the semifinals against Penn, earned him 1979 Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors. Johnson’s impact didn’t slow in his first season in Los Angeles either. Wasting no time establishing himself as a crucial starter, Johnson averaged over nine assists in the postseason to help the Lakers overcome the 76ers in six games.
Louisville Cardinals 1986, Los Angeles Lakers 1987
Thompson did a bit of everything for Louisville in its title-winning year. The senior forward led the Cardinals on a 17-game win streak en route to the national championship, turning on the heat late after a solid, but unspectacular, 11-6 start to the season (including a 2-5 record against ranked opposition). Averaging just under 15 points, Thompson finished the season as Louisville’s per-game leader in points and rebounds, and second in assists. In the NBA, Thompson struggled to catch on long term, serving as a reserve on back-to-back title-winning Lakers squads before moving to the expansion Miami Heat.