Obituaries

Heyward H. Dotson ’70, LAW’76, Lions Basketball Star

dotson

MIKE McLAUGHLIN / COLUMBIA ATHLETICS

Heyward H. Dotson ’70, LAW’76, one of Columbia’s finest basketball players who later became a Rhodes Scholar and a prominent attorney, died on May 1, 2020. He was 71 and lived in New York City. Dotson was twice inducted into the Columbia University Athletics Hall of Fame: in 2006 as a member of the 1967–68 Ivy League Champion basketball team and in 2018 as an individual. The 6-foot-4-inch Dotson was a capable scorer, solid ball-handler and outstanding defensive player who teamed with Jim McMillian ’70 and Dave Newmark ’68 to lead the 1967–68 team that compiled a 23–5 record and was ranked as high as sixth nationally.


The Lions won the prestigious Holiday Festival basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden, captured the Ivy League crown by beating Princeton 92–74 in a playoff game at St. John’s and reached the final 16 of the NCAA tournament. Dotson’s 32 points in an 83–69 first-round win over LaSalle is the record for a Columbia player in an NCAA tournament game.

That Columbia team, coached by Jack Rohan ’53, was known for its tenacious pressure defense, and no one played harder than Dotson. “When we went into big games, teams were not ready for how hard we played,” Dotson said in a 2018 interview. “Everybody knew their role and executed very, very well. They used to call us the little [New York] Knickerbockers [of the NBA], we were that good.”

Born on July 12, 1948, in Lugoff, S.C., Dotson was raised on Staten Island and graduated from Stuyvesant H.S., where he played center on the basketball team. When he came to Columbia he was converted to guard and thrived despite the transition, scor- ing 1,266 points on 54.2 percent shooting and averaging 16.7 ppg for his career. Dotson was a star in the classroom as well, earning Dean’s List honors six times. “Basketball was a means to get him off Staten Island, but he always thought of himself as a scholar,” his daughter, Kahlillah Dotson Mosley, told The New York Times.

After graduation, Dotson studied at Oxford University under a Rhodes Scholarship and played professional basketball in Europe, following a path paved by Princeton’s Bill Bradley several years earlier. He returned to the United States, and after an attempt to play in the NBA, graduated from the Law School and practiced with the firm of Shea & Gould. Dotson held several government positions, including one with the New York State assemblyman Keith Wright and another with New York City Comptroller’s Office, and ran for the New York City Council in 2001 but lost in the primaries.

“Heyward was one of the smartest, toughest individuals I have ever had the privilege of knowing. He always rose to the occasion and played his best against the best teams,” said Jonathan Schiller ’69, LAW’73, a member of the 1967–68 team and chair emeritus of Columbia’s Board of Trustees. “He was eloquent, proud and gracious for the opportunities he had earned and what he was able to accomplish as a result. We were fortunate to be with him in life.”

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

— Alex Sachare ’71

View an interview with Dotson and a collage of his Lions playing days, both made for his 2018 induction into the Columbia University Athletics Hall of Fame.