Sam Jones, Champion and Class Act, Passes at 88

Anyone else remember the Celts’ old “Ohio” play?

Back when the Russell Reign was winding down and Dave Cowens was launching his Hall of Fame career, it was the Celtics’ need-a-hoop-in-crunch-time offensive maneuver of choice. A sharp-shooter would run his defensive man into a double-screen along the baseline to create an open 15’-18’ look.

Quite often that shooter became the guy Johnny Most would call “The Bouncin’ Buckeye from Ohio State,” but it had been introduced to Boston’s repertoire by John Havlicek’s college teammate, Larry Siegfried … and the initial designated “Shooter” was the inimitable Sam Jones, who succumbed to failing health Thursday at the age of 88.

In the waning seconds of Game 4 in the 1969 Finals, the Celtics were trailing 88 – 87 and in danger of going down 3 – 1 to LA when

Ironic that Sam’s swan-song (along with six other Final Round victories) came at the expense of the Lakers, who’d made him a late-round selection in the 1956 NBA Draft. Sam, however, chose to return to school and complete his degree.

A year later Boston scooped up Jones with the eighth overall pick. Red Auerbach’s up-tempo defending champions were a perfect fit for the athletic 6’4” guard who’d been schooled at North Carolina Central by the legendary John McLendon (inventor of the Fast Break?) and would be mentored by the reigning MVP, known colloquially as Mr. Basketball.

Sam and the soon-to-be-acquired KC Jones would seamlessly slide into place as Red’s Hall-of-Fame backcourt of Cousy and Sharman eased into retirement … and the team rolled to eight consecutive championships, 10 in Sam’s 12 years.

In the opening contest of the 1958 Finals, rookie Sam Jones never entered the game … but he would actively participate in Boston’s next 151 playoff tilts, straight through Game 7 of those ’69 Finals – hell, was it not ol’ Sam whose keen eye that day happened upon a copy of the Lakers’ post-game party plans, providing Coach Russell’s old geezers with a little added incentive?

The Junior High School version of Yours Truly was up in the old Garden’s Second Balcony with a few neighborhood pals for Sam Jones Day, a Sunday afternoon game. I have essentially no memory of the game itself, but a few vague ones from the halftime ceremony: Sam’s family in attendance, Most playing host, Red offering praise.

My most vivid recollection is the genial Jones plopping down in this big wooden rocking chair that was among the honoraria.

Jones enjoys playing golf, like he did with his tournament group — Ernie Garcia, Mark Breuer, Andrew Grady and Mark Lonstein, an orthopedic and spine specialist whose practice is in Sarasota.

“I grew up with the Celtics. I love playing with him and reminiscing,” said Lonstein, a Worcester, Massachusetts, native. “I was at Sam Jones Day at Boston Garden, March 9, 1969. He missed his first shot then he hit about 11 in a row and they took him out to a standing ovation.

“He’s the nicest, most humble gentleman, you’d ever meet,” Lonstein said.

Well, perhaps not quite always, Doc.

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