Basketball legend Sam Jones turned 86 this week.
On Monday, to be precise.
This remarkable player was an irreplaceable part of the Boston Celtics dynasty during the 1950s and ’60s.
It’s as good a time as any to recap his success story.
The 6-foot-4 shooting guard turned pro in 1957 and retired in 1969. In between, the No. 8 overall pick in the 1957 Draft starred on 10 NBA championship teams in his 12-season pro career.
The Celtics claimed titles in 1959-66 — missed the finals in ’67 — then won it again in 1968 and ’69 to cap Jones’ fantastic career.
To this day, he is the second-most winningest player in NBA history, trailing only his teammate Bill Russell, who served as player-coach for the last of those two aforementioned titles. Russell won 11 titles.
In a 2009 interview, Celtics Hall of Fame guard Bob Cousy was asked how Sam Jones would fare in the modern NBA. His answer revealed absolute trust in Jones’ skills to compete in the current era.
“When you are talking about Hall of Famers, Sam could easily play in today’s game and give Kobe (Bryant), (Tracy) McGrady and whoever all they could handle,” Cousy was quoted as saying by 20secondtimeout. “When you are talking about McGrady, Kobe, Sam Jones — I mean, nobody could stop those guys. They have so many offensive weapons, unless you commit two or even three people to them you are not going to slow them down a lot.”
Clutch playoff performer
Jones, who attended North Carolina Central, averaged 17.7 points during his pro career. He posted four 20-plus ppg campaigns. That figure rose to 20-plus ppg seven times in the playoffs, including 28.6 in 1965. All told, Jones averaged 18.9 ppg in the postseason.
What’s more, in seven of those seasons (1962-67, ’69), Jones poured in more points per game in the playoffs than he did in the regular season, including 28.6 in 1965.
Primarily, he starred at shooting guard for the powerhouse Celtics teams, but also contributed as a point guard and small forward when called upon to do so by head coach Red Auerbach and his successor, Bill Russell.
Sam Jones, a five-time All-Star, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984.
He found his niche as a starter, but it didn’t occur right away, as he recalled in this interview with SLAM magazine. That didn’t happen full time until 1961.
“I’m a team player, and I was trying to find my role,” Jones told SLAM. “I didn’t like starting at first; I liked coming off the bench. The reason was that I could come in fresh and run and shoot and get out on the fastbreak. I had an advantage. When I started, I didn’t have that advantage.”
It worked out fine in the end. Boy, did it ever for Sam Jones and the Boston Celtics.
As Basketball Digest once observed, “Jones’ Celtics went 9-0 in game sevens, four of them in the NBA Finals. Jones averaged 27.1 ppg in those games, with a high game of 47 (against Oscar Robertson’s Cincinnati Royals) and a low of 18.”
In a 1987 interview with The New York Times, Jones admitted that he believed in his abilities as a shooter, and it paid off throughout his legendary career.
”I was a good shot,” he told The Times, “and I never thought about missing. I thought about the ball going in the basket.”
Which is why “Mr. Clutch” was the perfect nickname for Sam Jones.