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Jim McMillian, forward on ’72 Lakers title team, dead at 68

Los Angeles Lakers v New York Knicks

NEW YORK - CIRCA 1973: Jim McMillian #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers backs in on Dave DeBusschere #22 of the New York Knicks during an NBA basketball game circa 1973 at Madison Square Garden in the Manhattan borough of New York City. McMillian played for the Lakers from 1970-73. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

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LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Jim McMillian, who helped the Los Angeles Lakers to a 33-game winning streak and the 1972 NBA championship, died Monday. He was 68.

He died from complications of heart failure at a hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, according to his sister-in-law Denise Sheridan.

The Lakers made McMillian the 13th overall pick in the first round of the 1970 draft out of Columbia University. He averaged 15.3 points during three seasons in Los Angeles.

He was a key member of the Lakers’ first championship team in the city. He averaged 19.1 points on that 1972 title team. McMillian was in his second season that year and replaced retired Elgin Baylor at forward, a move that coincided with the start of the team’s 33-game winning streak. McMillian’s teammates on that team included Wilt Chamberlain, Keith Erickson, Gail Goodrich, Pat Riley and Jerry West.

After one more year in Los Angeles, the Lakers traded the 6-foot-5 forward to the Buffalo Braves for Elmore Smith.

McMillian later played for the New York Knicks and Portland Trail Blazers during his NBA career. After leaving the league, he moved to Italy and played two years for a team in Bologna. He returned home to work in a wholesale retail business before founding his own clothing business. He later worked for a clothing manufacturing company.

Born March 11, 1948, in Raeford, North Carolina, McMillian was raised in Brooklyn, where he starred at Thomas Jefferson High School before going on to Columbia. He led the Lions to a 63-14 record during three seasons and their last NCAA Tournament appearance in 1968, as a sophomore. They lost to Davidson in overtime of the East Regional semifinal before beating St. Bonaventure in the consolation game. McMillian is second on the school’s career scoring list with 22.9 points and still holds the season marks for field goals in a season (253) and career (677).

Nicknamed “Jimmy Mac,” he was a three-time All-America and All-Ivy League player.

He is survived by his wife of 43 years, Alexis, son Aron, daughters Erica and Emon, and seven grandchildren.