By Justin Feil
In honor of the first men’s basketball home game tonight, we pay homage to one of the Tiger court’s greatest. It was big news when Brian Taylor ‘84 (originally Class of 1973) chose to play basketball for Princeton University. It was bigger news when he became the first Princeton player, and one of the first college players ever, to leave early for the pros three years later.
Criticized heavily for the move, the 6-foot-3 guard went on to play 10 years in the American Basketball Association and National Basketball Association before returning to Princeton to finish his degree. He then started working in business before moving into education as a teacher and administrator.
Entering Princeton in the Fall of 1969, Taylor didn’t fit the profile of many of his teammates or classmates. Less than 1 percent of the student body then was black, and Taylor was the only black player on the Princeton team during his career. He had grown up in a public housing project in Perth Amboy, 30 miles away from Princeton, and his older brother Bruce (Boston University, Class of 1970) would be the first in his family to graduate from college . Taylor valued education but dreamed of playing professional basketball.
Taylor drew interest from more than 400 colleges after leading the Perth Amboy High School boys basketball team to a state title his junior year and scored 84 points in a game. The high school All-American closed his scholastic career in 1969 as the second-leading scorer in New Jersey history with 2,495 points and nearly every Top 20 college in the nation wanted him, but he came to Princeton.
“It’s almost too good to be true,” said Princeton head coach Pete Carril then.
Freshmen still weren’t eligible to play varsity sports when Taylor arrived at Princeton, but the Tigers’ freshman team gave fans a look at their rising star. Taylor averaged 28.6 points per game and led the freshmen to a 17-0 record.
As a sophomore, Taylor burst onto the Ivy League scene with 563 points for a 23.5 points per game average. He earned the Ivy League Rookie of the Year and first-team All-Ivy League honors. Before his junior season, Taylor was a starter and high scorer for the U.S. team that won the gold medal at the 1971 Pan-American Games in Cali, Colombia.
Taylor amassed another 676 points for a 25.0 points per game average as a junior and was named first-team All-Ivy again along with All-America accolades in 1972 from the National Association of Basketball Coaches, the Associated Press, and United Press International after leading the Tigers into the National Invitational Tournament.
After just two seasons, his 1,239 career points stood second all-time at Princeton behind Bill Bradley ’65.
Taylor did not score another point for Princeton after making a difficult decision to turn professional early. He received hate mail for his decision and his abilities were questioned, but his decision was made with his family in mind. He bought them a house in Edison, NJ, with his first contract.
“Losing him hurt,” Carril told the Princeton Alumni Weekly, “but Brian had no obligation to play four years for me. He had an obligation to his family.”
Taylor applied for the NBA draft as a hardship case, the only way at the time to leave for the pros before senior year. He was the subject of a bidding war between the ABA and NBA. The ABA’s Carolina Cougars drafted him in the second round, but traded him to the New York Nets. The Nets won the battle for Taylor over the Seattle Supersonics, who had chosen Taylor in the second round of the NBA draft.
Taylor had heard doubters that he was good enough for the pros, but silenced them as 1973 ABA Rookie of the Year. He led the ABA in steals in 1974-75. Playing alongside Julius (“Dr. J.”) Erving, he helped the Nets win ABA titles in 1974 and 1976 before the league merged with the NBA.
He averaged a career-high 17 points per game in his first season in the NBA with the Kansas City Kings. He played the next year for the Denver Nuggets, and he played his final four seasons for the San Diego Clippers and thrived as a top defender and 3-point specialist. In 1980 when the 3-point shot was adopted by the NBA, Taylor made 90, more than 19 of the 22 NBA teams at the time. Taylor retired in 1982 after an Achilles injury. He scored 7,868 points as a professional and was a three-time all-defensive team honoree and made two All-Star Game appearances.
Taylor returned to Princeton and earned his political science degree with a certificate in African-American studies in 1984. After five years in business and computers, Taylor followed his passion for education. He served 10 years at Harvard-Westlake (Calif.) School before becoming a founding board member of the Inner City Education Foundation that grew to 15 charter schools in Los Angeles. He became headmaster and executive director of Teleos Preparatory Academy in Phoenix in 2012. In 2016, Taylor returned to Princeton University as director of new mentorship programs between on-campus groups and students in neighboring New Jersey towns.
Justin Feil is a freelance writer who covered Princeton University athletics for 15 years for the Princeton Packet. He can be reached at justinfeil4 AT gmail.com.
Athletic Programs Collection (AC042)
Taylor, Brian. “The Economic Mainstream and Black America: An Illusion or Reality.”
Undergraduate Alumni Records (AC199)