Heyward Dotson, 71, Dies; Lifted Columbia to Basketball Glory

Heyward Dotson, who helped lift Columbia University’s basketball team to its only Ivy League title, in 1968, and who later attended the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, died on May 1 in the Bronx. He was 71.

His daughter, Kahlillah Dotson Mosley, said the cause was liver failure.

Dotson was a hard-nosed, 6-foot-4 point guard on a disciplined team, coached by Jack Rohan, that was known for its full-court pressing defense. On the 1967-68 team, Dotson averaged 13.7 points a game, third to Jim McMillian, and led the Lions in assists.

“When we went into big games, teams were not ready for how hard we played,” Dotson said in a 2018 interview posted on the Lions’ Twitter account. He added, “They called us the little Knickerbockers.”

After starting the season with 4-3 record, the Lions won 16 in a row; after losing their final regular season game to Princeton, they routed Princeton three days later, 92-74, to win the Ivy League championship. Dotson scored 19 while McMillian poured in 37. Columbia advanced to the N.C.A.A. tournament but was eliminated in the second round.

Before his junior season, Dotson told Columbia Daily Spectator, the student newspaper, that he was an “unstoppable” point guard who could diagnose on-court situations as well as anyone. He averaged slightly more than 18 points a game in the 1968-69 and 1969-70 seasons.

After graduating in 1970, he went on to study European history at Worcester College, Oxford, on the Rhodes Scholarship, the path taken in 1965 by Bill Bradley, a Princeton star who studied at Worcester for two years before playing for the Knicks.

Dotson played professionally in Europe for a time but did not succeed in the N.B.A. After being drafted in 1970 by the Phoenix Suns, he was traded to the Knicks, who soon cut him, as did the Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association. (McMillian had a productive N.B.A. career with four teams, primarily the Los Angeles Lakers and the Buffalo Braves.)

ImageMr. Dotson in 2018 with Peter Pilling,  Columbia’s athletic director, left, and Lee C. Bollinger, the university’s president.
Credit…Mike McLaughlin/Columbia Athletics

Heyward Harrell Dotson was born on July 12, 1948 in Lugoff, S.C., and raised on Staten Island by his parents, David and Ruth (Harrell) Dotson. He played center at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, one of the city’s elite public schools, before attending Columbia on a scholarship. He was inducted into the university’s athletics hall of fame in 2018.

“Basketball was a means to get him off Staten Island, but he always thought of himself as a scholar,” Ms. Mosley said.

After an N.B.A. career failed to materialize, Mr. Dotson graduated from Columbia Law School, worked at the Shea & Gould law firm and held government positions, including one with the New York State assemblyman Keith Wright and another with the New York City Comptroller’s Office.

“He ran my office” in the 1990s, Mr. Wright said by phone. “You name it, he did it: constituent services, policy, writing speeches.”

Mr. Dotson ran for the New York City Council in 2001, finishing last in the primaries. In recent years he held various jobs, including substitute teacher in Harlem, where he lived, Ms. Mosley said. He died at Calvary Hospital.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Dotson is survived by his mother; two sisters, Dorothy Benson and Eva Cooper; two brothers, David and Donald; and three grandchildren. His wife, Mildred (Singleton) Dotson, died in 1998.

Jonathan Schiller, a former teammate who co-founded the Boies Schiller Flexner international law firm, recalled Mr. Dotson as a determined player who “always rose to the occasion and played his best against the best teams.”

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