On Saturday, we all got the sad news that North Carolina Tar Heels men’s basketball legend Lennie Rosenbluth passed away at the age of 89.
A Tar Heel from 1954-57, Rosenbluth was the star of the 1957 national championship team, averaging 28 points per game as he led Carolina to an undefeated 32-0 record. He won both ACC and National Player of the Year awards for his efforts that season, which means his #10 will hang in the rafters forever as a retired number. Both his PPG averages from 1956-57 (28.0) and in his career (26.9) are school records that still stand to this day.
His performances in the Final Four that season are also the stuff of UNC lore, and have to go down as some of the greatest and most important in program history. On back-to-back days, he was the Tar Heels’ leading scoring in triple overtime wins against Michigan State and Kansas. He scored 31 of UNC’s 74 in the national semifinal against the Spartans. The next day, he followed that up with 20 to beat a Wilt Chamberlain led Jayhawks’ team, as Carolina outlasted Kansas to win the first of the program’s six NCAA Tournament championships.
As deftly argued by Adam Lucas, Rosenbluth’s efforts that year have to go down as one of, if not the singularly, most important in program history. The 1957 championship helped lay down the groundwork for what has become one of the preeminent programs in college basketball history. Maybe that still happens even if they don’t win, but it could just as easily not have.
After UNC, Rosenbluth played a couple seasons in the NBA for the Philadelphia Warriors. When his playing career ended, he spent many years as a high school teacher and coach. In his later years, he moved back to Chapel Hill and was often in attendance at Tar Heel games.
Both the era in which he played and the fact that he didn’t have the professional career highs as the likes of Michael Jordan means he’s not quite as well known in general basketball lore as others. However make no mistake, in UNC lore, Lennie Rosenbluth is surpassed by very few.