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Remembering Jim McMillian

May 20, 2016

It is Friday night and in remembering the truly good basketball player, Jim McMillian, whose too early death at age 68 this past Monday, frankly received far too little coverage, I choose three such nights to make memories of “Jim Mac,” come back.

Before playing on my favorite team the 1971-1972 NBA champion, Los Angeles Lakers, McMillian played for Columbia University and in the 1967-1968 season they were in the NCAA Tournament playing Davidson, coached by Charles “Lefty” Driesell , whose team prevailed in overtime on a Friday night.

On a Friday night in November of 1971, Lakers’ coach Bill Sharman inserted McMillian into the Lakers’ lineup at forward replacing the great, but past his prime, Elgin Baylor.

Mr. Baylor had so many great basketball moves. Lakers’ broadcaster Chick Hearn said he “had more “hang time” than there was in Dodge City,” but no move by Elgin was better than retiring, to allow Jim McMillian to start at forward for the Lakers.

On that Friday night, the Lakers won vs the Baltimore Bullets, to begin what still stands as a major North American sports’ league record 33 straight wins.

One more Friday night: The Lakers still seeking their first Los Angeles based title, take one more frustrating blow. After Jerry West hits a shot to put the Lakers ahead by 2 points very late in game 4 at New York’s Madison Square Garden vs the New York Knicks, somehow Walt Frazier gets a “tap in” basket to force overtime.

However, this time after all the frustration at the hands of great Boston Celtics and one great New York Knicks’ team in NBA finals, the Lakers respond and it is Jim McMillian, who leads them. He scored three baskets over and despite Bill Bradley’s defense and the Lakers win to take a commanding 3 games to 1 series lead. Two nights later they win the title at the Forum in Los Angeles.

So much and so many are gone, this first Friday night after Jim McMillian’s death, including 4 other 1972 Lakers’ players, (Wilt Chamberlain, Happy Hairston, LeRoy Ellis and Flynn Robinson), coach Sharman and broadcaster Hearn, but somehow the memories of Jim McMillian and that great team do “come back.”

 

McMillian-Feature

Jim McMillian pictured above.

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