Skip To Content

Lennie Rosenbluth, forefather to North Carolina hoops legends, dead at 89

He went toe-to-toe with Wilt Chamberlain and came away with the Tar Heels’ first national championship

Before there was Worthy, Vince or even Michael, there was Lennie, a rangy Jewish kid from the Bronx. 

Behind Lennie Rosenbluth, who died last week on June 18 at 89, the University of North Carolina stampeded through college basketball. When the Tar Heels ran the table to their first NCAA Championship in 1957, it was Rosenbluth, a 6’4” small forward, who took home Player of the Year honors as their leading scorer — beating out a Kansas colossus named Wilt Chamberlain for both the national title and the individual award.

After 1957 got them over the championship hump, North Carolina went on to become one of the most iconic teams in all of sports, its stars among the most recognizable and beloved to ever pick up a basketball. 

“Bar none, it all began there,” Rosenbluth told The Charlotte Observer in 2020.

Members of the 1957 North Carolina Tar Heels championship team, including Lennie Rosenbluth, center, during a game against the Michigan Wolverines on November 29, 2017 at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Photo by Peyton Williams/UNC/Getty Images

His 28.0 points-per-game scoring average that season has never been matched at Carolina — not even by future NBA legends like Vince Carter, James Worthy, and Michael Jordan. When the jerseys of Worthy, and Jordan were lifted to the rafters, they joined Rosenbluth’s retired No. 10.

Following a two-year stint with the Philadelphia Warriors, where he wore No. 18, the number signifying life in Jewish tradition, Rosenbluth retired from pro basketball and became a high school teacher and a basketball coach.

Striking black-and-white photos from The Raleigh News & Observer’s archive from Rosenbluth’s playing days can be viewed here.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.