BOULDER, Colo. Jim Davis, an integral part of the University of Colorado basketball team that won back-to-back Big Eight titles in the early 1960s, passed away Thursday (Dec. 27) from complications due to cancer. He was 77.
Davis had been hospitalized recently in Windsor, Ontario, and was surrounded by his family when he died. After his professional days in the National Basketball Association came to an end with the Detroit Pistons, he had remained in the area, eventually moving across the border to Canada.
A 2014 inductee into CU’s Athletic Hall of Dame, Davis was a three-year letterman under the legendary Sox Walseth, and just the third African-American player in Colorado basketball history. He earned first-team All-Big 8 honors from both the Associated Press and United Press international his junior (1962-63) and senior (1963-64) seasons. He averaged a “double-double” both seasons, 13.8 points and 12.7 rebounds his junior campaign and 18.5 and 12.7 (again), respectively, as a senior. He led the Big Eight in rebounding both years.
A 6-foot-9 center, Davis averaged 14.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per game over his career (77 games), and at the time of his graduation, he was CU’s all-time leading rebounder (836) and third all-time scorer (1,110 points). He made 411-of-841 field goal attempts for a 48.9 percentage, considered very good for the day.
One of Davis’ teammates on the ’63-64 team, Mike Frink, fondly recalled the man who was nicknamed “Spider.”
“Jim Davis was the gentlest 6-9 soul I had the privilege to know and play with,” Frink said. “He became a force on the court which all of his CU teammates respected and admired anytime we were with him – he was your best friend when you were around him.
“When I was an assistant (CU) coach in 2006, I had the honor to present him at the ceremony when his jersey was honored and hung in the rafters,” he added. “Because the way Jim made you feel, it felt like all our jerseys were being honored, too.”
CU was 53-24 in his career, winning two Big 8 titles (his sophomore and junior years), earning two trips to the NCAA Tournament. Both times, the Buffaloes reached the Elite Eight but lost to Cincinnati each year to be denied advancing to the Final Four. Colorado finished as the nation’s No. 9 team in Davis’ sophomore year and No. 10 his junior season.
Davis was a fourth round selection by Detroit in the 1964 NBA Draft, the 27th player selected overall in a nine-team league at the time. He was waived by the Pistons before the season started, but he persevered and eventually signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Hawks in 1967. He played for the Hawks, both in St. Louis and after they moved to Atlanta, and was traded to Houston for a month during the 1971 season and then finished up his career after being traded to Detroit.
He played eight seasons in the NBA in all, scoring 3,997 points with his best year coming in 1969-70 when he averaged 13.6 points and 9.7 rebounds for Atlanta, helping the Hawks to a 48-34 record and first place in the NBA West Division.
Bill Harris, a football letterman, was in the same freshman class as Davis and the two became roommates and lifelong friends.
“He was one of the first persons that I met when I got to CU in 1960, and we remained friends all of these years, Harris said. “We just enjoyed getting together and seeing one another throughout the years. A good guy, a wonderful man and a great friend.
“When I lived in Los Angeles for a time, I used to watch some of his games in the NBA, and one year, Detroit came in to play the Lakers and Spider always had to guard Wilt Chamberlain,” he added. “Wilt came in for a dunk and I thought he killed Spider … but he bounced right up and was okay. We joked about that through the years.”
In 2015, he was CU’s selection for induction into the Pac-12 Conference’s Hall of Honor, which recognizes significant impact to the tradition and heritage of the school and the conference.
A native of Muncie, Ind., Davis is survived by his wife, Edess, his son, Bill and a sister, Sylvia. He will be cremated and his request was for no formal funeral or memorial service.