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Great Bullets of yesteryear: Jim McIlvaine

On the heels of Truthaboutit's splended profile of Robert Pack, I present hotplate's report of another member of that 1995/96 team, Jim McIlvaine.

As a reminder, keep signing up for players in the comments section of this post.  Tons of names still remain. -PM


Seeing Jim McIlvaine’s name on the Bullets Forever list triggered a memory for me and inspired me to sign up to do his report.


I moved to Bowie, MD in 1995. At the time, the Bullets held their practices at Bowie State University just 5 minutes up the road. Following training camp that year, they held a scrimmage that was open to the public. So I went to get a preview of how the ‘95-96 Bullets were going to look. The Bullets were split into 2 teams and played a scrimmage game complete with referees. Sometime during that game, Chris Webber had a breakaway layup with only Jim McIlvaine back on defense. Webber took the ball to the basket. McIlvaine blocked it. The ball bounced back to Webber. McIlvaine blocked it again. The ball bounced around some and ended up back in Webber’s hands. By this time, McIlvaine was out of position so Webber had an easy dunk. So as McIlvaine takes the ball from the basket and gets set to inbound the ball, Webber gives him the stare-down.

Now, I didn’t immediately conclude that Webber was a jerk, but I thought that particular action was kind of jerky. Its bad enough to show up your own teammate, but to do it when he got the best of you is just stupid. McIlvaine just gave him a puzzled look and said something like "Dude, what are you doing?" and played on. Excellent sequence for Mac though.

Later, after an eventful season and a tulmutuous summer, I heard Webber being interviewed on sports radio. They asked about the offseason player turnover and mentioned that McIlvaine had signed a 6 year, $27 million deal with Seattle. Webber simply said, "Jim McIlvaine is not a starting center."

It's rare to hear a player not named Gilbert Arenas speak so bluntly. But Webber was 100% right in that assessment. Jim MciIlvaine was not a starting center. Chris Webber could tell. I could tell. Why couldn't the NBA general managers? It was just good timing on McIlvaine's part. He had had a pretty good season by his standards. Plus, he was the best free agent center available. Of course, he was also the only free agent center available. As such, he got overpaid.

Jim McIlvaine wasn’t a starting center, but he was a mighty fine back up center. 

I've been attending Bullets/Wizards games since 1983. Three seasons really stand out as great for me. These were 1988-1989 when after letting Moses Malone go to free agency the Bullets actually improved and nearly made the playoffs with a 40-42 record including 31-10 at home. Also, there was the wonderful 2004-2005 season where Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas, and Larry Hughes led the Wizards to 45 wins and the second round of the playoffs. The third favorite season was 1995-1996 when Juwan Howard led an injury riddled Bullets team to an 18 win improvement over the previous season nearly making the playoffs again.

These teams all had 2 things in common. First, they performed much higher than expectations. Secondly, they all had good second units. McIlvaine was the defensive anchor of the 95-96 second unit and his blocked shots ignited many fast breaks for the team. The second unit of the Bullets that year included Tim Legler (shooting 52% from three point range),  a rejuvenated Ledell Eackles, and Jimmy Mac.The team lost original starting point guard Mark Price, replacement starting point guard Robert Pack and Webber to injuries that year. They were left with Brent Price at point guard. Juwan though was great and the remaining players played inspired ball. McIlvaine was a great backup to Gheorghe and the second team often got the team back in a game after the starters had faltered.

McIlvaine was good at one thing only. Looking at his statistics, its easy to figure out:
2.3 points per game,  2.9 reounds,  0.1 assists,  2.1 blocks. His blocks ignited the team, ignited the crowd, and deflated the opponents. He was really good at it.  Other than that, he had no offensive game to speak of, but in his limited minutes and coupled with teammates who led the league in 3 point shooting that year, he didn’t need to. It was a great year. Juwan was a stud. Brent Price had a career year and even managed to score 30 against MJ and the Bulls. Legler came out of nowhere to average 9.4 off of the bench and lead the league in 3-point shooting. McIlvaine played his role perfectly. I loved attending games that year.

Alas the good feelings wore off that summer. Juwan signed a 100 million dollar deal with Miami, then was reassigned back to the Bullets. He would never be as good again. Brent Price and Jim McIlvaine took advantage of a weak free agency pool and signed huge deals with Houston and Seattle respectively. McIlvaine went to Seatlle and for 2 seasons put up pretty much the same numbers that he had for the Bullets. For some reason, the fans weren’t happy with him there. Guess they wanted more than 3.8 points a game from their big money starting center.

Hey Seattle, ask Chris Webber. He’ll tell you. Jim McIlvaine wasn't a starting center. Oh well.

The Sonics managed to dump McIlvaine’s contract to the Nets, but injuries became an issue. In 3 seasons there, he played a total of 106 games before retiring after the 2001 season. Lesson to be learned: don’t count on a 2.3 ppg scorer to become a 15 point a game player.

Lastly, I found this at the blog Drive and Diss. I think its a must for any serious Bullets fan:


Where is he now?

Most mentions of McIlvaine are posts from bitter Sonics fans lamenting his contract, but it looks like McIlvaine is into the cars. A Google search led to this:

The Poison Dart, owned by Richard "The Bird" Wies and built by Imagine Motorsports was photographed last week by enthusiast magazine Popular Hot Rodding, a Primedia publication.  Noted automotive photographer and former NBA star Jim McIlvane came to Milwaukee with the specific task of capturing the Poison Dart for the readers of Popular Hot Rodding.