P.J. Hairston begins professional career with Texas Legends in NBA D-League

Former North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston will play with the Texas Legends in the NBA Developmental League.
Former North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston will play with the Texas Legends in the NBA Developmental League. Robert Willett - rwillett@newsobserver.com

P.J. Hairston, whose playing days ended at North Carolina amid suspicion that he received impermissible benefits, will begin his professional basketball career with the Texas Legends of the NBA Developmental League, the team announced on Tuesday.

Hairston returned to UNC in part to raise his stock for the NBA draft. Now he’ll attempt to do the same thing in the NBA’s minor league. Hairston isn’t eligible to be called up to the NBA, and his entry into the NBADL automatically makes him eligible for the NBA draft, which is in June.

“I’m extremely grateful that the Texas Legends organization believes in my abilities, and thank them for signing me to their team” Hairston said in a statement the Legends released. “I intend to take full advantage of this opportunity. This is another positive step towards accomplishing the goals I set out for myself. This is an exciting time.”

Hairston led the Tar Heels in scoring last year during his sophomore season. Entering his junior season, he was expected to carry an even larger role. Yet a summer of trouble derailed Hairston, who was on two occasions caught driving rental cars tied to Haydn “Fats” Thomas, a Durham resident and convicted felon.

Hairston received a speeding ticket in May while driving a rented 2012 Chevrolet Camaro that had been paid for by a woman who shares an address with Thomas. In early June, Durham police charged Hairston with misdemeanor marijuana possession and driving without license – charges that were later dropped – after he stopped at a checkpoint while driving a rented 2013 GMC Yukon that Thomas had paid for.

Hairston sat out UNC’s first 10 games of the season before the university announced that it would not seek his reinstatement from the NCAA. UNC has declined to release records related to its investigation into Hairston’s use of rental cars, but the use of those cars was likely an impermissible benefit prohibited by the NCAA.

UNC’s announcement that it would not seek Hairston’s reinstatement came days after the NCAA cleared Leslie McDonald, UNC’s senior guard. Like Hairston, McDonald drove luxury rental cars tied to Thomas. UNC and the NCAA determined the value of McDonald’s use of the cars to be more than $1,500.

The value of Hairston’s use of cars is unclear. Given UNC’s decision not to seek his reinstatement, though, the value of Hairston’s impermissible benefits was likely far greater than $1,500. After UNC announced its decision not to seek Hairston’s reinstatement, his family released a statement in which it expressed its disappointment.

“We are displeased with the University of North Carolina’s decision not to submit the necessary paperwork to the NCAA requesting to have P.J. reinstated,” the family said. “This process has been long, and for to end without having a final decision from the governing body is a shame.”

Hairston in recent weeks had been deciding his next step. He filed his paperwork to enter the NBADL late last week and the Legends, who reportedly had the top waiver priority, claimed Hairston earlier this week. Hairston is expected to begin playing with the team later this week.