21 NBA Players with College Degrees: Celebrating Academic Success on the Court

Balancing academics and a professional basketball career is no easy task, but these players have proved it is possible. This list illustrates that education is vital for personal growth and success, even within the world of professional sports.

Fun Fact: The percentage of college basketball players who make it pro is approximately one percent!

The Importance of Education in the NBA

While many NBA players are known for their on-court prowess, they also value education and the opportunities it can provide for life after basketball. The path of earning a college degree, even after turning pro, demonstrates that education plays a significant role in the lives of these athletes.

21 Top NBA Players with College Degrees

Here are 21 NBA players who obtained college degrees, showcasing their accomplishments both on and off the court.

1. Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry earned his degree from Davidson College. Curry, a four-time NBA champion with the Golden State Warriors, is known for his incredible shooting skills and has changed the way basketball is played.

2. Chris Paul

Chris Paul graduated from Wake Forest University with a degree in communication. As a point guard, Paul has had an esteemed career in the NBA, playing for teams such as the New Orleans Hornets, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, and currently the Phoenix Suns.

3. Pau Gasol

Pau Gasol attended the University of Barcelona Medical School before joining the NBA. Although he didn’t complete his degree during his playing career, Gasol is now finishing his medical studies after retiring from professional basketball in 2021. He is a two-time NBA champion, having played for the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, and Milwaukee Bucks.

4. Shane Battier

Shane Battier graduated from Duke University in 2001 with a degree in religion. Battier, a two-time NBA champion with the Miami Heat, is known for his intelligent defensive play and leadership on the court. He has also played for the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets throughout his career.

5. Grant Hill

Grant Hill completed his degree in history and political science at Duke University. A seven-time NBA All-Star, Hill played for the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, and Los Angeles Clippers during his career.

6. Dikembe Mutombo

Dikembe Mutombo obtained his dual degree in diplomacy and linguistics from Georgetown University. Known for his shot-blocking abilities, Mutombo played for several NBA teams, including the Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, and Houston Rockets during his Hall of Fame career.

7. Tim Duncan

Tim Duncan
Image credit: Keith Allison from Owings Mills, USA / CC BY-SA 2.0

Tim Duncan earned his degree in psychology from Wake Forest University. Duncan, a five-time NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs, is widely regarded as one of the best power forwards in NBA history.

8. David Robinson

David Robinson
Credit: Ken Hackman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

David Robinson graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a degree in mathematics in 1987. Also known as “The Admiral,” Robinson is a two-time NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs and is considered one of the greatest centers in the history of the league.

9. Shaquille O’Neal (Shaq)

Former NBA center, actor, and musician Shaquille O’Neal is one highly educated basketball giant! Shaquille O’Neal completed his bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University after joining the NBA. O’Neal, a four-time NBA champion, played for the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Boston Celtics during his career.

O’Neal was selected by the Orlando Magic in the 1992 NBA Draft and declared Rookie of the Year for the 1992-93 season. He continued to play for the Orlando Magic until the end of the 1995-96 season, after which he joined the Los Angeles Lakers until 2004. From 2004 through the 2007-08 season, O’Neal held a spot on the Miami Heat, then spending a year with the Phoenix Suns. After that year, he spent one year with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He spent his last year in the NBA with the Boston Celtics.

He has a bachelors in business administration from Louisiana State University (1992), an M.B.A. in Business Administration and Management from the University of Phoenix (2006), and a Ph.D. in Education from Barry University (2012) in Miami, Florida.

10. Vince Carter

Vince Carter graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in African-American studies in 2000. Known for his high-flying dunks, Carter has had a successful NBA career playing for eight different teams, including the Toronto Raptors, New Jersey Nets, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, and Atlanta Hawks.

11. Jeremy Lin

Jeremy Lin is a Harvard graduate who holds a degree in economics in 2010. Known as the face of “Linsanity,” Lin played for various NBA teams, including the Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Brooklyn Nets, before retiring from the NBA, and he now plays in the Chinese Basketball Association.

12. Emeka Okafor

Emeka Okafor
Mike, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Emeka Okafor is a graduate of the University of Connecticut with a degree in finance. The skilled center played for the Charlotte Bobcats, New Orleans Hornets, and Washington Wizards in the NBA.

13. Bill Bradley

Bill Bradley
Image Credit: OLYCOM / CESARE GALIMBERTI, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bill Bradley graduated from Princeton University with a degree in American History. He played for the New York Knicks, winning two NBA championships, and was later inducted into the Hall of Fame.

14. Chris Dudley

Chris Dudley
Image Credit: The Eloquent Peasant, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Chris Dudley has a degree in economics and political science from Yale University. Dudley played center for various NBA teams, including the Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks, and Portland Trail Blazers.

15. Adonal Foyle

Adonal Foyle is a magna cum laude graduate of Colgate University with a degree in history. The shot-blocking specialist played for the Golden State Warriors, Orlando Magic, and Memphis Grizzlies throughout his NBA career.

16. Vincent Yarbrough

Vincent Yarbrough is a University of Tennessee graduate who majored in public relations. The talented forward played one season in the NBA for the Denver Nuggets before continuing his career overseas.

17. Steve Nash

Steve Nash is a two-time NBA MVP who earned his degree in sociology from Santa Clara University. As a player, he spent the majority of his career with the Phoenix Suns and later with the Los Angeles Lakers.

18. Mason Plumlee

Mason Plumlee
Image Credit: All-Pro Reels, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Mason Plumlee graduated from Duke University with a degree in psychology. He then went on to have a successful career as a professional basketball player in the NBA, playing for several teams including the Denver Nuggets and the Detroit Pistons.

19. Jamaal Wilkes

Jamaal Wilkes
Credit: Jamaal Wilkes public domain image via wikimedia commons

Starting forward NBA player Jamaal Wilkes earned a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1974.

Wilkes started out his NBA career drafted by the Golden State Warriors in the 1974 NBA Draft. He was named NBA Rookie of the Year in 1975 and remained with the Warriors through the 1976-77 season, going to the Los Angeles Lakers from 1977 through the 1984-85 season. In 1985, he joined the Los Angeles Clippers. During his time in the NBA, Wilkes was a four-time NBA champion and three-time all-star.

After his NBA career, Jamaal Wilkes spent seven years as a real estate and mortgage consultant. In 2003, he formed the Jamaal Wilkes Financial Advisors, LLC, an organization that provides consultation services for those struggling personally with their finances.

20. Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan
Image Credit: AP Photo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In addition to his star NBA career, Michael Jordan has a bachelors degree in geography that he earned in 1985 from the University of North Carolina. In 1982, he was named ACC Freshman Player of the Year for his basketball achievements; and during his junior year, he played on the US Olympic team, winning the gold medal.

It was also during his junior year when Jordan was chosen by the Chicago Bulls during the 1984 NBA Draft. He played for the Bulls from 1984 to 1993, then again from 1995 to 1998. He later played for the Washington Wizards from 2001 to 2003.

After retiring from basketball upon his father’s death, Jordan chose to participate in minor league baseball as an outfielder for the Birmingham Barons for one year.

21. Royal Ivey

Royal Ivey
Image Credit: Keith Allison, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Playing for the Texas Longhorns from 2000 to 2004 at the University of Texas, Royal Ivey did not finish his senior year due to his desire to best prepare himself for the NBA drafts that year. However, he did return to the University of Texas later to earn his degree in applied learning and development in 2001.

Originally drafted by the Atlanta Hawks as a point guard, Ivey played with them until 2007 when he joined the Milwaukee Bucks for a year. After that, Ivey spent a few years with the Philadelphia 76ers. He also played for Oklahoma City Thunder.

After earning his degree in 2011, Ivey mentioned in an interview that he has a passion for coaching and hopes to pursue it one day. Turns out his playing paid off – he became an assistant coach in the NBA D-League.

There you have it!

These 21 players demonstrate that higher education can go hand in hand with successful sports careers and contribute positively to the global community.

It’s never too late to chase your dream, whether it’s playing basketball or earning a doctorate degree or another life-changing goal. You’ll get sidetracked, you’ll get discouraged by many factors, but don’t give up on believing you can reach for the stars.

Who knows? Maybe you’re like Shaq and tall enough to reach those stars!