Tom McMillen

As you may have quickly surmised, the reason why this is my new favorite Larry Bird photo has absolutely nothing to do with Bird’s presence. The reason why I love this photo is Tom McMillen, the gray-haired gentleman attempting to shoot a J over Larry Legend in this game from the 1983-84 season between the Boston Celtics and Washington Bullets. If you can believe it, McMillen was 31 years old when this photo was taken.

This photo is pretty awesome in the standard format for the top of TBJ blog posts, but you really need to see the full McMillen to appreciate the true majesty of this snapshot of a different time in the National Basketball Association.

Tom McMillen

The vintage Bullets uniform, short shorts and old-school tube socks are undeniably great, but you’ll get that in any NBA photo from that era. It’s McMillen’s unathletic physique, his unwieldy elbow and knee pads, his double chin and chalky locks that really make this stand out from any photo I’ve seen from the modern (post-Magic/Bird) era. When I look at this photo, I see Mehmet Okur in an old-timers game 25 years from now. In 1984, this guy was playing 20 minutes per game for a Bullets squad that finished 35-47 and ended up losing a first round playoff series to the Celtics.

McMillen played in 11 NBA seasons and clearly wasn’t satisfied with merely competing against Larry Bird while looking like that guy at the Y who might drop dead from a heart attack at any point during your weekly pickup game. He went on to serve as a Congressman in Maryland’s 4th district from 1987 to 1993 and he is believed to be the tallest-ever member of Congress, at 6-foot-11.

If I had to guess the outcome of this play based on the photo, I would assume that Bird rejected McMillen’s shot attempt. What I would like to believe is that McMillen released a jump shot with a gorgeous rainbow arc over Bird’s outstretched hand that touched nothing but net upon its final destination. Then, he hustled back on defense with grim determination as his chunky thighs jiggled and he prepared to guard the most unguardable player of his era at the other end.

We will probably never again see the likes of Tom McMillen in the NBA. I hope you find it at least a smidgen as amusing as I do that somebody who looked like him was a rotation player in the league within the last 30 years.

Comments (19)

  1. Wow. Dude looks like Jay Leno.

  2. I didn’t know Newt Gingrich played basketball.

  3. After this photo was taken, Tom McMillan changed his name to Taylor Hicks and went on to win American Idol.

  4. what is taylor hicks doing playing basketball?

  5. Tom McMillen = Brian Cardinal without hair

  6. BTW: You might want to double-check that date. The Bullets lost 113-104 to the Celtics on January 4, 1984, but McMillen’s name isn’t in the box score. I didn’t see a second meeting between the two teams on basketball-reference.com.

  7. Is McMillan wearing a powdered wig?

  8. ACMESalesRep: The photo is from Getty Images and they list January 1, 1984 as the date it was taken. Based on your information, I’ve updated the post to make the timeline of the photo more vague.

  9. wow, arm sleeves were much shorter back then.
    and this is probably the first white mamba

  10. Check out those six inch verticals!

  11. Aaah nvm, head2head only goes back to 85-86

  12. So many good comments. Great job, everyone.

  13. God’s honest truth, my first thought when I saw that photo was someone had to photoshop him in there.

  14. He was also a Rhodes Scholar, in the Bill Bradley Oxford-NBA-Congress mold.

  15. Also, I got more of a John Kerry vibe from this picture.

  16. It’s Father Ted!

  17. orthopedic industry billboard

  18. “We will probably never see the likes of Tom McMillen again in the NBA.” What? Why? He was about 6-11, 240, not particularly “unathletic” as you say. Prematurely gray, yes, but he was an All-American at MD and once scored 50 points in the pros. He would have been just as effective in today’s game as he was in the 70s and 80s. Back then there were fewer teams and the league wasn’t as watered down. Centers are not as good now as they were 30 years ago.

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