This morning, former NBA player Jim McMillian passed away at the age of 68. Born on March 11, 1948 in Raeford, North Carolina, McMillian attended college at Columbia, where he had an All-American career. In 1970, he was drafted into the NBA by the Los Angeles Lakers, and made an immediate impact, helping them win their first championship in LA in 1972, averaging 19.1 points and 5.7 rebounds a game during the Playoffs after replacing the injured and retired Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor in the starting lineup. After three years with the Lakers, he was traded to the Buffalo Braves, where he continued his solid play. The Braves made the Playoffs every season he played for them, and after three years, he was sold to the New York Knicks. With the Knicks, his numbers dwindled, spending just two seasons there. After that, he signed as a free agent by the Portland Trail Blazers. However, he only appeared in 23 games, and it ended up being the last time he’d play in the NBA.
McMillian is most remembered for his time with the Lakers and Braves. From 1971-1976 he averaged 17.5 points and 6.2 rebounds a game for those two teams. In 1972, he not only helped the Lakers win the championship, but he was a part of their record setting 33 game winning streak that year. Despite that great stretch, he was never an All-Star, and he just might be one of the most underrated players of his time.
Although he is not particularly well known these days, and his career was brief, he is fondly remembered. His great contributions to the legendary 1972 Lakers and those successful Braves teams has ensured that his memory will live on with those who got to see him first hand, and people like me who are too young to have seen him in action, but care way too much about basketball history. Rest in peace.