Braves New World: Jim Garvin
(Budd Bailey and Greg D. Tranter have written a book called "Buffalo Braves From A to Z," published by St. Johann Press. Early in the writing process, they wrote good-sized biographies of all 71 men who played a regular-season game for the Braves during their time in Buffalo from 1970 to 1978. Publishers weren't so enthusiastic about all of that material, so most (59) of the biographies were shortened to about 500 words. However, the authors hated to waste all of that material ... so they are presenting it here. It will appear three times a week. A bibliography is available upon request.)
It’s not easy to play in the NBA, even for a few games. Ask Jim Garvin. He parlayed a solid high school basketball career into excellent play at Boston University, earning induction into the school’s Hall of Fame. Yet he only stepped on an NBA court for six games, suiting up for the Braves in the 1973-74 season.
James Garvin Jr. was born on February 5, 1950, in Hurt, Virginia. His parents were named James Sr. and Gladys. They also had a son, Bobby, who was living in Hurt when Gladys died while living in the Bronx in 2013. Hurt is located in in the south-central Piedmont of Virginia, about a four-hour drive southwest of Washington, DC. Garvin apparently moved to DC as a youngster as he grew up there and attended and played basketball at Phelps Vocational High School. The school closed in 2002 but was re-opened in 2008 after a major renovation. Today it is known as Phelps ACE High School; ACE stands for Architecture, Construction and Engineering. As a senior Garvin was named to the All D.C. Interhigh Sports All Star Team in 1968-69. That earned him an opportunity to pursue a college basketball career at Boston University.
Garvin was the second Boston University basketball player to play in the NBA and is one of only six all-time. The most well-known is probably Raja Bell, who had a 12-year NBA career. Jim played on the BU freshman team and averaged 14 points and 20 rebounds per game. He was touted as a sophomore to watch when he joined the varsity for the 1970-71 season. The Boston Globe reported, “As good a prospect as B.U. has had in a while. A classic leaper. Garvin will provide a good backbone to the B.U defense.” Terriers head coach Charlie Luce said, “It’s a pleasure to work with him at practice each day. He’s a great kid willing to learn.”
Garvin made his college debut on December 1, scoring 18 points in an 83-69 defeat at the hands of Harvard. BU had a tough season, finishing with a 7-18 record. However, Garvin made significant progress from a raw recruit to an excellent college player. He finished the season averaging 16.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, leading the team in both categories.
A couple of his highlights included a victory over Rochester with Garvin scoring 26 points and snaring 24 rebounds that ended the Terriers’ 10-game skid. “We knew before the season that the potential was there, but it was crude,” Luce said. “He had to find out that he couldn’t overpower people. But now he is starting to use that talent. He’s learning faster and faster and getting better and better.” Garvin had 29 points in a loss to Rutgers, and over a six-game stretch he averaged 22 points per game. The highlight of his season had to be the matchup with future Hall of Famer Julius Erving on January 21, 1971. Despite BU losing to UMass, 77-63, Garvin outscored Erving, 23 to 22. The Boston Globe reported, “Erving last night, was far off his form, too, and was actually upstaged by exciting Jim Garvin.” At the conclusion of the season Jim was named Boston’s MVP.
Between Garvin’s sophomore and junior seasons, Luce became assistant athletic director and was replaced as head coach by Ron Mitchell. The Terriers struggled through another tough season with a 7-16 overall record. Garvin’s scoring numbers declined but his rebounding improved – 11.8 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. Sophomore forward Ken Boyd picked up the scoring slack by averaging 23.4 points.
BU started strong with an upset 85-83 win over Boston College to start the season and then defeated Georgetown, 103-93, as Garvin hauled down 18 rebounds and blocked six shots. But the Terriers suffered through losing 10 of 11 as the team struggled with turnovers and could not consistently get the ball into Garvin and take advantage of his scoring skills.
Boston University joined the Yankee Conference for the 1972-73 season and competed against UMass, UConn, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont. Garvin, Boyd, and Kerry Walker led Boston University to its best season in nine years with a 15-10 record and third place finish in the conference at 7-4. Garvin was named team captain and really came into his own as a senior, increasing his scoring average to 17.2 points per game and snaring 13.7 rebounds per contest. He scored 19 or more points in 14 games and was the team’s leading scorer seven times.
His career high of 29 points came in a tough loss to Fairfield, 86-78. And in one of the best all-around games of his career he had 22 points, 22 rebounds and 10 blocked shots in a loss to Maine. When head coach Ron Mitchell was asked what had spurred the Terriers to their best season in nine years he said, “The biggest factor is James Garvin. He has really put it together. He is leading us in scoring and rebounding and is one of the top players in the East. A lot of pro scouts have indicated interest. But beyond that, he had made himself a student – he had a 4.0 last semester.”
Garvin was named to the first team Coaches All-Yankee Conference, and was also named second team All-New England. Jim received the Gordon "Mickey" Cochrane Award as the University's Outstanding Male Athlete in 1973. He also was named to the Outstanding College Athletes of America’s society. Garvin finished as the top rebounder in school history with 935 for a 12.8 per game average and was the school’s third best all-time scorer with 1,112 points at the time of his graduation.
Garvin was now onto considering a pro basketball career. The 6-foot-7, 200-pounder was selected in the 17th round, overall pick number 204, in the NBA draft on May 5 by the Buffalo Braves. No player taken after the first pick in the 11th round ever played in the NBA. Jim also was selected by the Kentucky Colonels in the second round of the ABA Supplemental Draft. Garvin became the second Terrier to be drafted by the NBA. He signed with the Braves on September 1. Garvin played well as he tried to make the team. Per the Braves media guide, Garvin “probably was the biggest surprise of the Braves’ rookie camp and then the fall training camp as he continually outleaped veterans and more famous foes.” It also described Garvin as “A tremendous leaper with an improving shooting touch. His quickness enables him to gain surprising rebound position over most foes.”
After the 17th round draft choice surprisingly made the opening day roster, head coach Jack Ramsey said, “He played well enough to stay on the squad, which means he had to beat out people like Bill Hewitt. He’s a tiger around the basket, and gives Garfield Heard fits on the boards in practice.”
Jim made his professional debut, wearing jersey No. 30, in the Brave’s fourth game of the season on October 16. He played three minutes in a 117-91 loss to the New York Knicks, and he contributed one rebound while missing one shot without scoring. In his next appearance on October 24 against the Milwaukee Bucks he scored his first NBA points on a field goal, and it would be his only career points in a 130-113 defeat. He played four more times with his final appearance against the Phoenix Suns on November 20. He was waived by the Braves on November 24. His final career stats were six games played, 11 minutes, five rebounds and two points.
Garvin kept his hand in the game, while hoping that another opportunity might present itself, by playing summers in the Roxbury Basketball Assn. for a few years. In addition, he played for the Quincy Chiefs in the Eastern Basketball Association during the 1977-78 season. The Chiefs finished in third place in the Eastern Division with a 12-16 record and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Wilkes Barre Barons, 2 games to 0. Garvin was among the league leaders in rebounds with an average of 15.4 per game. He also averaged 18.7 points and 2.3 assists in 28 games. When the Chiefs disbanded, he was selected by the Maine Lumberjacks of the new Continental Basketball League. There is no record that Garvin played for the Lumberjacks.
Away from the court, Garvin worked for the Boston school system until 1984. He supervised student discipline, taught health and physical education, and was an administrative assistant to the District Superintendent. He worked in Norristown, Pa., as a teacher from 1986 to 2005. Jim has been an associate minister at the Star of Hope Baptist Church of Warrington, Pa., (a little north of Philadelphia) since 1994. Garvin lives in that town with his wife, Sylvia.
He was enshrined in the Boston University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995.
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