Following our countdown of the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s men’s basketball history this summer, Ivy Hoops Online is delighted to continue celebrating the 60th anniversary of modern Ivy League basketball by honoring the top 60 players in Ivy hoops history throughout the season (in no particular order):
Jim McMillian was a McDonald’s-level All-American who played for Brooklyn’s Thomas Jefferson High School. In college, much as Bill Bradley had done for Princeton, McMillian catapulted the Columbia basketball program from obscurity to national prominence by his sophomore year (with the able assistance of Dave Newmark, Heyward Dotson, Roger Walaszak and Washington Redskins Super Bowl lineman George Starke).
He led Columbia to a No. 6 national ranking in 1968 and a No. 14 national ranking in 1969. Jim was an unselfish team player who could have easily padded his statistics to the possible detriment of his team, but he chose not to.
It is not surprising then that, again like Bradley, championship success seemed to be hardwired in McMillian at both the NCAA and NBA levels. In addition to being one of the top five players in Ivy League history, he went on to have a stellar and historic NBA career. He was the Los Angeles Lakers first-round draft choice in 1970. Both Bradley and McMillian were the third-leading scorers on their respective championship teams. Bradley’s Knicks won the 1970 and 1973 NBA Championships, while McMillian’s Lakers won the 1972 championship. Not only did the ’72 Lakers win 33 games in a row, but the winning streak surreally began the day that McMillian replaced retiring Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor in the starting lineup. (Baylor said in his retirement speech that he felt he was “depriving Jim McMillian of playing time.”) So yes, at one point, McMillian was an unbelievable 33-0 as an NBA starter!
Bradley played 10 years of unselfish, team-oriented basketball averaging 12.4 points per game. McMillian played nine years of unselfish, team-oriented basketball averaging 13.8 points per contest. Fittingly, two of the Ivy League’s all-time greats became world champions at the NBA level. This was not only a testament to their basketball prowess but also to the fact that their sterling character promoted team cohesion and success.