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Michael Finley, NBA All-Star and Badger legend, will address graduates at winter commencement

October 30, 2023 By Doug Erickson

This year’s winter commencement speaker at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is a beloved member of the Badger community — just look to the rafters of the Kohl Center for proof.

Last year, the university retired Michael Finley’s No. 24 jersey, only the third basketball jersey in school history to be hung aloft at the Kohl Center. Finley, a two-time NBA All-Star, left UW as the all-time leading scorer in Wisconsin men’s basketball history. He’s also a high-ranking sports executive, a Hollywood film producer, and the founder of a nonprofit organization that helps children and families reach their full potential.

“It will be such an honor to welcome Michael Finley back to campus, a place where he brought so much joy to Badger fans and left such an impressive legacy,” says Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin. “Mr. Finley is one of our most accomplished alums, on and off the courts. I know he will have a lot to share with this year’s graduates.”

Michael Finley on Feb. 20, 2022, when his number was retired at halftime of the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Kohl Center in Madison. Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Finley will give the charge to graduates at UW–Madison’s 2023 winter commencement. The ceremony will be at 10 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 17 at the Kohl Center, 601 W. Dayton St., Madison. Commencement speakers are chosen by the senior class officers in consultation with the Chancellor’s Office.

Gracie Nelson, senior class president, says Finley’s story encompasses the essence of being a true Badger, illustrating the values of hard work, unwavering dedication, and perseverance.

“His accomplishments are not just inspiring but also relatable, as he once stood where our graduating class stands today,” Nelson says. “Michael Finley’s story is not just about athletic achievement, but it’s about the extraordinary potential that resides within each graduate, waiting to be unlocked. As we prepare to embark on our own unique journeys, his words will undoubtedly resonate deeply, inspiring us to strive for greatness, contribute to our communities, and overcome whatever challenges lie ahead.”

Born and raised in Maywood, Illinois, Finley played for the Badgers from 1991-95. He helped lead the Badgers to the 1994 NCAA tournament — the school’s first appearance in the “Big Dance” since 1947. At the time, he set UW–Madison’s all-time leading scoring record with 2,147 points and left UW as the 12th leading scorer in Big Ten history. (He is now second on UW–Madison’s list of all-time highest scorers, after Alando Tucker.)

Finley was selected in the first round of the 1995 NBA draft by the Phoenix Suns and was named to the First Team All-Rookie Team. The following year, he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, where he played from 1996-2005 and was a two-time All-Star (2000, 2001). Finley later played for the San Antonio Spurs — winning an NBA championship in 2007 —and the Boston Celtics. He played a total of 15 seasons in the NBA, retiring in 2010.

Due to the NBA draft, Finley left the university before finishing his studies. In 2014, he completed his bachelor’s degree from UW in agricultural and applied economics.

This fall, Finley began his 10th season in the Mavericks’ front office and his third as assistant general manager and vice president of basketball operations. In his current role, Finley assists owner Mark Cuban and general manager Nico Harrison with all aspects of basketball operations.

In 2003, Finley created the Texas-based Michael Finley Foundation, which works to inspire, develop and enhance the skills of young people and their families and to instill the confidence needed to achieve personal and professional goals.

“My experience at UW helped shape me,” Finley says. “It prepared me for a life as a productive human being trying to make a positive impact on the world.”

In 2009, Finley founded the film production company Follow Through Productions LLC. He is a financier and executive producer of several films, including “The Butler,” starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, and “American Made,” starring Tom Cruise.

Finley resides in Plano, Texas, with his wife and three children.

“My time at UW as a student-athlete was an amazing chapter in my book of life,” Finley says. “To be chosen as the keynote speaker is a tremendous honor that I’m truly grateful for. I’ll do my best to give a true Badger effort and make the class of 2023 proud of selecting me to be a part of this joyous occasion.”

Michael Finley in action during his Badger career, 1991-95:


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