Memories of JoJo White from Mark C. Bodanza's book, Make it Count

The late JoJo White has always been one of my favorite all-time Celtics, and I don't entirely know why. What I do know is that above all he was a true gentleman who also happened to be one hell of a basketball player.

All of the following blockquotes are via Mark C. Bodanza's fine biography of JoJo White, Make it Count. My first clear recollection of JoJo came during the 1968 Olympics when White, then a member of the Kansas Jayhawks, teamed with center Spencer Heywood and guard Charlie Scott during turbulent times to take the gold medal.

JoJo White was not conflicted by polititcs or race relations. The young man from St. Louis came to play the game he loved. To play for his country was an honor and not an exercise in analyzing the social or racial structure, as flawed as it might be, of the United States.

Many Celtics fans may forget that drafting White with the 9th pick in the 1969 NBA draft was another of many coups by Boston mastermind, Red Auerbach. JoJo was slated by many to go as high as #2 but drifted to the 9th spot after being drafted by the US Army. The other NBA teams simply did not want to wait two years for White's services.

Sitting coyly with the ninth pick in the first round of the NBA's 1969 draft was the cigar-chomping, cards-close-to-the-vest Celtics General Manager, Red Auerbach. Red could hardly contain demonstrable signs of good fortune - but characteristically, he did.

It turns out that even though he had been drafted by the Army, he never served in that branch of the military. Instead, he enlisted as a reserve in the Marines and was ready to take to the parquet in November of 1969. How did this all happen? Trust me, it is extremely involved, but White gave us a condensed version, simply stating, "Red was very powerful." It came down to politics at the highest level, and Red Auerbach, as usual, won. It is worth buying Bodanza's book just for the few pages focused on the mechanics of JoJo's path from an Army draftee to Boston Garden.

JoJo White with Lisa Lane McCarty at Make it Count book signing

White had a fine rookie season but his team went through some tough times. That changed with the drafting of center Dave Cowens with the fourth pick in the 1970 NBA draft. The trio of White, Cowens and John Havlicek would bring the Celtics two Championships in the 1970's. I have written in the past of JoJo's cock-his-arm-like-the-hammer-on-a-gun jump shot. Big Red noticed that and worked on rebounding any shots that White might miss.

Dave Cowens remembers rebounding for JoJo at practice when Cowens was a Celtics Rookie. JoJo had a low shot without a great deal of arc, and Cowens became a student of where the ball would bounce if JoJo missed his shot.

One of White's great performances came in what many call "the greatest game ever played" when he led the team to victory in the 3-overtime game of the NBA Finals versus the Phoenix Suns. I will never forget that game.

I have my copy of Make it Count in front of me as I write this, signed by both Mark and JoJo. I highly recommend it to any NBA fan out there. I thank Mark for his support as I became a writer for CelticsLife almost exactly one year ago.

JoJo died on January 16, 2018 from pneumonia after a battle with dementia. Tommy Heinsohn called White "The forgotten Celtic". I won't be forgetting him. To me, he is the true gentleman who just happened to be a great basketball player. Quite a man.

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Photo via Dick Raphael/NBAE/Getty Images