Jim McMillian, who helped the Los Angeles Lakers to a 33-game winning streak and the 1972 National Basketball Association championship as a second-year pro playing with Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West, died May 16 at a hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. He was 68.
The cause was a heart ailment, after months of failing health, said a sister-in-law, Denise Sheridan.
The Lakers made the 6-foot-5 Mr. McMillian, out of Columbia University, the 13th overall pick in the first round of the 1970 draft. He was also drafted in the first round by the New York Nets of the ABA but chose the Lakers. He averaged 15.3 points during three seasons in Los Angeles.
He was a key member of the Lakers’ first championship team after the team moved from Minneapolis. He averaged 19.1 points in replacing retired Elgin Baylor at forward, a move that coincided with the start of the team’s 33-game winning streak, an NBA record. The team finished 69-13, a regular-season record that stood for 24 years.
Despite his relative youth, Mr. McMillian fit in seamlessly with his veteran teammates, who included Chamberlain, West, Gail Goodrich, Happy Hairston, Keith Erickson and Pat Riley. They were coached by Bill Sharman.
“He had a great 15-foot jump shot,” Erickson said. “Jim was young and eager. He was a perfect complement on our team.”
After one more year in Los Angeles, Mr. McMillian was traded from the Lakers to the Buffalo Braves for Elmore Smith.
Mr. McMillian later played for the New York Knicks and Portland Trail Blazers during his nine-year NBA career. After leaving the league, he moved to Italy and played two years for a team in Bologna. After his return to the United States, he started a clothing business. He later worked for a clothing manufacturing company.
Mr. McMillian attended occasional reunions of the ’72 team.
James M. McMillian was born March 11, 1948, in Raeford, N.C., and grew up in Brooklyn. As a college player, he led the Columbia Lions to a 63-14 record during three seasons, including an NCAA Tournament appearance in 1968, when he was a sophomore. He is ranked second on the school’s career scoring list, at 22.9 points per game, and he still holds the team marks for field goals in a season (253) and career (677).
Mr. McMillian was an All-Ivy League player and was named to All-America teams.
Erickson recalled that Mr. McMillian carried a book with him everywhere. “He was quiet,” he said. “He read a lot, very thoughtful.”
Survivors include his wife of 43 years, Alexis McMillian; three children; and seven grandchildren.
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