Boston Celtics and NBA legend Sam Jones passed on Friday, December 31. Jones died of natural causes, per a Celtics team spokesperson.
Jones played in the NBA for 12 years, all with the Celtics. In those 12 years, Jones was a part of 10 championship teams. Jones also made five All-Star teams. Jones 10 titles are second-most in NBA history, behind Boston teammate Bill Russell’s 11 championships.
The Celtics drafted Jones with the eighth overall pick at the 1957 NBA Draft. Celtics coach Red Auerbach drafted Jones, despite never having seen him play. While on a scouting trip to North Carolina, Auerbach was told “You can visit Chapel Hill (home of the University of North Carolina), but the best player in the state is a few miles away.”
Jones was a four-year letterman for North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University). Jones is the second-leading scorer in school history, and his #41 jersey was retired by the team.
With the Celtics, Jones teamed with several legends in the backcourt. Jones played alongside Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman and K.C. Jones in Boston’s guard rotation. The presence of those guards allowed Auerbach to move Frank Ramsey to a swing role that helped usher in the small forward position in the NBA.
For his career, Jones averaged 17.7 points per game. He earned the moniker “Mr Clutch” for stepping up his play in the postseason. In 154 playoff games, Jones averaged 18.9 points per game. For seven straight postseasons, Jones scored 20.5 or more points per game.
Jones was known as an excellent two-way player. Auerbach was known to unleash the “Jones Boys”, Sam and K.C., on teams when Boston needed to create havoc defensively. Jones was also a good rebounder for his position and a solid passer.
Jones was known to have perfect form on his jumper. He also excelled at the bank-shot, regularly putting in shots off the glass. And in a time before the thee-pointer, Jones had excellent range, often shooting from further outside than many other players.
After his retirement following winning the 1969 NBA Finals, Jones became a college coach. He also spent one season as an NBA assistant coach.
Because he was such an integral part of the team, Jones #24 jersey was retired by the Celtics before he even played his final game. At a ceremony honoring Jones, Auerbach paid Jones the ultimate compliment by saying, “I want to thank you for making me a helluva coach.”
Jones was inducted into the NAIA Basketball Hall of Fame in 1962, while still an active NBA player. He was then inducted in the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1969, becoming the first African-American athlete to be so honored.
In 1984, Jones was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was also one of a handful of players named to the NBA’s 25th, 50th and 75th anniversary teams.