K.C. Jones

 

 

 

http://www.celtic-nation.com/interviews/kc_jones/kc_jones_page1.htm

A CLASS ACT

Michael D. McClellan

 

My most vivid recollection of K.C. Jones is as coach of the Boston Celtics, two decades removed from a hall of fame career with the same team.  This was in the mid-eighties, when he was selected by Red Auerbach to replace Bill Fitch.  Jones had served as an assistant to Fitch, and was right there when the Celtics won the  championship in 1981.  Following the '83 playoffs Auerbach decided that it was time to make and change, and Jones was promoted to the position of head coach.  I remember seeing a clip of the K.C. Jones hiring on TV, and was struck by the dignity with which he carried himself.  He was a true gentleman, a throwback to a different era when sports stars – and, as a member of eight NBA Champions with the Celtics in the 1960s, K.C. Jones was every bit the certifiable sports star – weren’t the untouchable mega-conglomerates that they are today.

 

After seeing that press conference, my respect for K.C. Jones seemingly grew by the day.  He was the antithesis of Bobby Knight, who, as we know, would spew a profanity-laced diatribe at a nun if she dared question his authority.  K.C. Jones was a quiet man with tremendous self-confidence borne, in part, from winning back-to-back NCAA championships, Olympic gold, eight NBA titles as a player, and (up to that point) two more NBA titles as an assistant coach.  Intimidation wasn’t his modus operandi.  He respected his players, and they in turn respected him.

As that 1984 season unfolded, it was quickly apparent that Red had made another wise choice.  By promoting Jones from assistant to head coach, he was able to maintain continuity and provide the players a solid foundation on which to build.  Bird clearly respected Jones.  He appreciated the historical significance of this man and what he had meant to the Boston Celtics.  Jones recognized Bird not only as a great player, which he clearly was, but also as an extension of his own coaching arm on the basketball court.

 

Flash-forward to the 1984 NBA Finals.  Lakers vs. Celtics.  Magic vs. Bird.  The most anticipated NBA Finals in league history.  This was Bird’s shot at redemption, his chance to deliver a payback blow to Magic for that bitter defeat in the 1979 NCAA title game.  Jones’ low-key approach was the perfect fit for this pressure-cooker of a series.  He let his players play, which some have used as a point of criticism against his coaching style.  These so-called experts have said that anyone could have won with Larry, Kevin and Robert on the frontline.  Just roll the ball out there and let greatness take its course.  Jones himself alluded to these criticisms during our conversation.  The critics, he pointed out, were dead wrong.  I couldn’t agree more.  With the notable exception of Dennis Johnson, the 1982-83 Boston Celtics were essentially the same team that lost 4-0 to the Milwaukee Bucks on the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  Jones takes over, and the Celtics win one of the most thrilling NBA Finals ever.

 

The Celtics would go to the NBA Finals four consecutive years under Jones, winning two.  He won with grace and dignity, and he lost the same way.  He was always the gentleman and, to me, larger than life because of it.  Imagine then, my trepidation as I sat down and prepared to interview this hall-of-fame legend.  Would I be disappointed?  Would he be different in person?  Would he be a gruff, arrogant man bloated by all of the fame and championships and glory?

 

For two days I sat, spellbound, as K.C. Jones proved to be even better in person than he had ever appeared on TV.  He was gracious and thoughtful – a class act.  He did not rush his answers or try to shorten the interview.  He welcomed my questions and he answered them at length.  He stopped what he was doing – barbecuing ribs at a friend’s house on Cape Cod – long enough discuss his college career at the University of San Francisco.  He asked me what I did for a living.  He asked about my writing career and about my family.  He was larger than life and so very human at the same time.

 

Professional athletes today should take a long look at K.C. Jones, because there is much to be learned from him.  My hope is that this interview will provide some insight into this truly great man.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
Like many of your former Celtics teammates, you were born during the decade of The Great Depression – the same year, in fact, that Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean (1932).  What stands out most in your mind about growing up during this period of nationwide economic hardship, and how did it shape you as a person?

K.C. JONES
Times were tough in the ‘30s, and we moved around a lot.  My father moved from job-to-job when I was growing up, so we were never in one place for very long.  I was born in Taylor, Texas, and then from there we moved to Austin.  We moved to Corpus Christi when I was three, Dallas when I was five, McGregor when I was eight, and San Francisco when I was nine.

My father served three years in the U.S. Navy.  That’s why we moved from Corpus Christi to Dallas, and that’s how we ended up in San Francisco.

I played a lot of softball in Texas, and some soccer in junior high.  That’s when I started playing basketball, at the recreation center in San Francisco.

Everything was segregated back then.  I remember having to read the signs that would tell you where to sit.  On buses it was always in the back.  In the movie houses it was the so-called crow’s nest, which was the balcony area of the theater.  Those are some of the things that I remember.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Who had the most influence on you during those early years?

K.C. JONES
Jackie Robinson had a tremendous influence on me.  Joe Louis also left a lasting impression.  There were no TVs, but we had a radio.  I remember listening to his bouts, the big ones against Max Schmeling and Billy Conn.  Those things really stood out in my mind and left a big impression on me.

 

CELTIC-NATION
You’re a graduate of the now-closed Commerce High School of San Francisco.  At what point did you realize that you could play collegiate basketball?

K.C. JONES
I liked playing basketball, but I wasn’t recruited.  Mildred Smith, my history teacher at Commerce, was lobbying for me at the local college – the University of San Francisco.  I didn’t know this at the time, and only found out five years later.  She was calling Phil Woolpert, the head coach, and meeting with him on a consistent basis.  With her support, and that of a local sportswriter who was always in my court, USF offered me a scholarship - the only school to do so.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Do you know who Bill Russell was at that point in time?

K.C. JONES
No, I didn’t know anything about Bill.

 
 
 
 
 
  

CELTIC-NATION
Let’s talk about the 1953-54 season.  On a December night in 1953, the University of San Francisco – unranked at the time – played the tenth-ranked California Bears.  Cal boasted a veteran lineup featuring second team All-American center Bob McKeen and sensational playmaker Bob Matheny.  On paper the game looked like a mismatch, but Coach Woolpert had answers for both McKeen and Matheny – healthy doses of Bill Russell and K.C. Jones.  Russell would score 23 points and block 13 shots, and you would display the trademark defense that made you famous.  The result was a 51-33 victory that put USF on the map.  What do you remember most about that game?

K.C. JONES
Our team was very close.  We played together as a unit, and we got along very well, both on and off the court.  We were convinced that we could beat Cal, and we grew more confident as the game went on.  Bill blocked a lot of shots that game, and Bill never blocked them out-of-bounds.  He always blocked the shots in the direction of a teammate, and this made it easier to start the transition to offense.  We did a good job of shutting down McKeen and Matheny, and these two guys were Cal’s primary threats.

 CELTIC-NATION
After the Cal victory there was much optimism surrounding the ‘53-‘54 Dons.  Then came the second game of the season at Fresno State.  Would you please share what happened to you before that game, and how it impacted the team’s season?

K.C. JONES
I started to experience stomach pain after the game against Cal.  It got progressively worse as we approached the game against Fresno, which was scheduled around the Thanksgiving holiday.  At first I thought that maybe I’d celebrated Thanksgiving a little too much, that I’d eaten too much.  [Laughs.]  It got worse, and the doctor diagnosed it as a mild form of appendicitis.  Well, on the bus ride to Fresno the pain became unbearable.  I was turning flips it hurt so bad.  We were in the locker room before the game, I was doubled over in pain, and the coaches were going over the scouting report with me.  [Laughs.]  I remember that the pain was just tremendous.  My appendix burst, and that was the end of my season.

 

CELTIC-NATION
You returned for the ’54-’55 season and the Dons roared past Chico State in the opener.  The next couple of games were lackluster to say the least, prompting Coach Woolpert to make an historic decision.  When Woolpert inserted Hal Perry into the starting lineup, he broke a significant color barrier.  For the first time ever, three of the five starters on a major college basketball team that would go on to win the nation title would be African-American.  Were you aware of this event’s significance at the time?

K.C. JONES
We were a close-knit team, and we just played basketball.  It was no big deal to us, because we didn’t look at our team as being made up of black players and white players.  We were just players.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
A week after losing to UCLA in Los Angeles, USF hosted UCLA – then ranked sixth in the nation – in a rematch at the Cow Palace.  The final score, 56-44, was hardly indicative of USF’s dominance that night.  At this point in the season were you entertaining thoughts of a national championship?

K.C. JONES
The games that you mentioned in your previous question were against Loyola, which we won, and against UCLA, which beat us by seven points.  And although we lost to UCLA we came away from that game with a great deal of confidence.  We were all shaking in our boots before the game [laughs], but after it was over we knew that we could beat these guys.  We’d only lost by seven points in their gym.  We’d beaten Santa Clara  by something like 75-35.  So when we played them in the Cow Palace we were ready for them, and we knew that we could play with anybody.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
A week later you hit the road for the All-College Tournament in Oklahoma City.  Upon arriving at the tournament site, you learned that black players were going to be denied access to hotel rooms.  What was the team’s solution to this problem, and did it help the team grow in terms of handling adversity?

K.C. JONES
We camped out in a college dorm closed for the holidays, and we practiced wherever we could.  I remember practicing on a stage, and people coming to watch.  They called us the Harlem Globetrotters, and they threw pennies and quarters on the stage.  A few of us got really angry at this, but not Bill (Russell).  Bill just smiled and laughed at them and picked up the money, and turned the situation around on them.  He wanted to prove that he was bigger than the taunting, and he was basically mocking their actions.  He wasn’t going to let them get the best of him, and he handled that situation appropriately, I thought.

 

CELTIC-NATION
These incidents seemed to inspire you and your teammates.  USF thrashed Wichita 94-75, Oklahoma City University 75-51, and George Washington 73-57.  Did you feel that this was the start of something good?

K.C. JONES
There were eight teams in this tournament, and we were seeded eighth.  We knew we were better than that, and we were motivated.  We got out on Wichita 25-3 and never looked back.

CELTIC-NATION
That’s a great lead-in to my next question.  At this tournament USF earned a reputation for blitzing opponents, going on scoring binges of anywhere from 10 to 20 unanswered points.  Examples of this include the 31-12 start against offensive powerhouse Stanford and the 20-0 start against Cal.  Tell me about those outbursts.

K.C. JONES
We played great team defense, and that in turn led to our offensive outbursts.  We were all hustlers.  We scrambled out there.  We did whatever we could to make the other team stumble, and when we did we really tried to pour it on.  Defense was our signature.  We had some good offensive weapons, too, like Mike Farmer, but defense was our greatest strength.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Let’s talk about the ’55 NCAA Tournament.  The preliminary round is best remembered for two things:  Utah Coach Jack Gardner complaining that USF had an unfair advantage over West Texas because the game was played at the Cow Palace, and the rough play of the West Texas team – especially against Bill Russell.  The final score was 89-66.  Did Gardner’s distraction and West Texas’ tactics only serve to fire up the Dons?

K.C. JONES
I don’t know what Gardner was trying to do, especially when we had to turn right around and face Oregon State on their home court.  We didn’t have a gym on campus.  We played our games at the Cow Palace and at Kezar (Pavilion), so Gardner’s argument seemed strange to us.

West Texas tried to tackle Bill.  It was rough out there.  What they were trying to do with the physical style of play backfired, because it angered us and made us play harder.  We didn’t let it take us out of the game and we won big against West Texas.

 

CELTIC-NATION
USF vs. Utah in the Western Regional.  Number 1 vs. Number 4.  Bill Russell, fighting a heavy cold, is ruled unfit to play at halftime by the Oregon State doctor on duty.  With Russell out Utah began to make its move, closing a 41-20 halftime deficit to an 8 point spread.  Are you glad Bill got a second opinion (from Dr. Ed Duggan, a USF alum, no less) and was able to come back out?

K.C. JONES
We weren’t concerned.  Our focus was on winning the game, and we were prepared to win it without Bill if that were the case.  It was a great bonus to get him back, and we ended up winning the game by a comfortable margin (78-59).


 

CELTIC-NATION
USF vs. Oregon State.  Bill Russell vs. Oregon State’s 7’-3” mammoth center, Swede Halbrook.  John Wooden has been quoted as saying:  “Russell’s the greatest defensive man I’ve ever seen, but I don’t see how he can cope with Swede Halbrook…I don’t believe that Russell will be able to block Halbrook’s shots or control him like he does smaller men.”  Wooden’s quote brings to mind all those great battles with Wilt Chamberlain.  Were you concerned that Bill would have trouble with Halbrook?

K.C. JONES
When the game started it was easy to see Oregon State’s strategy, which was to sag its defense around Russell.  By collapsing on Bill their goal was to take him out of the game, and to force other players to beat them.  So Phil (Woolpert) calls a timeout, and during the timeout he tells Stan Buchanan to shoot the ball.  Stan’s defender, Phil Shadoin, was the player sagging on Russell, which was leaving Stan wide open.

Well, Stan missed his first two shots after the timeout, and everyone was screaming at him to continue shooting.  We didn’t care if he made the shots or missed them, we needed him to take the shots and force Shadoin away from Bill.  And after missing those first two shots Stan made the next two.  From that point on Shadoin had to play honest defense.

 

CELTIC-NATION
There were other concerns.  The game was being played on Oregon State’s home court.  Oregon State, playing without Halbrook, had been routed 60-34 by USF earlier in the season and were looking for the payback.  Bill Russell still not at 100%.   And  to make matters worse, USF captain Jerry Mullen sprains his ankle very early in the game.  Did USF, like your Celtics, play better with its back against the wall?

K.C. JONES
We were completely focused on winning the game, which we did.

 CELTIC-NATION
But not without a scare.  USF was up by eight points with less than two minutes to go in the game, but with 13 seconds remaining the score had been cut to 57-55.  At this point you were involved in a controversial play that could have cost USF the game and turned you into a scapegoat.  Could you describe what happened during that timeout, and also how you responded to the adversity?

K.C. JONES
I was called for a technical foul.  The foul was called during a timeout, while I was running onto the court.  The referee said that I shoved an Oregon State player, when all I was just trying to do was get him out of the way [laughs].  Since the foul occurred during a timeout, the referee assessed it as a technical, which meant one shot and possession of the ball.  There were a number of questionable calls in that game – did I mention that the game was being played on Oregon State’s home court?  [Laughs.]

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
The technical foul gave Oregon State a foul shot and possession of the basketball.  They make the shot.  When play resumes, Ron Robins misses a corner shot and Halbrook rebounds the miss.  You strip Halbrook from behind with seven seconds left, but the theft is ruled a jump ball.  You have to jump against the 7’-3” center on Oregon State’s end of the court.  How did those final few seconds play out?

K.C. JONES
It was a very rough game, rough from the start.  Robins missed the corner shot and then the next thing you know it was a jump ball.  I had to jump against Halbrook in the free throw circle nearest the Oregon State basket.  I jumped as high as I could and deflected the ball as Halbrook tipped it.  The ball flew into the Hal Perry’s hands.  Hal got bumped and knocked around a lot during those final seconds, but he held onto the ball and we won the game.

 

CELTIC-NATION
The NCAA Final against La Salle was billed as “Gola the Great” against “Russell the Remarkable”.  You were huge in that game, playing bedrock defense against a taller Tom Gola, and holding the star marksman to 9 points in the first half and 7 in the second.  You also scored 24 points to lead all scorers.  Was that the most complete collegiate game you’d ever played?

K.C. JONES
I had a touch of panic before that game, but once the game started I didn’t hear much of anything.  Everything just seemed to go away.  Phil didn’t want Russell guarding Gola, because he was a smaller man than Bill, and also more of a perimeter player.  It wouldn’t have been a smart move, and Phil recognized that it was better to have Russell blocking shots under the basket
.

In our pre-game meeting Phil told me that I was getting the Gola assignment, even though Gola was a much taller player.  I was focused on playing solid defense, and was able to slow Gola down.  It was also one of those games where I clicked offensively.

 

CELTIC-NATION
USF repeated as national champions the following year, but you knew going into the season that you couldn’t participate in the tournament.  Why weren’t you eligible, and how hard was it to watch your teammates win a second title without you?

K.C. JONES
It goes back to what happened with my appendix.  The NCAA ruled that I could play the regular season in ’55-’56, but that I wouldn’t be eligible for the tournament.  Still, it wasn’t hard at all.  I was able to contribute throughout the season, and I had a great deal of confidence that the team could repeat.  I was able to go to the tournament games even though I was ineligible to play, so I still felt like a part of the team.

 

CELTIC-NATION
What did it feel like to be selected to represent the US in the Olympics?  What did it feel like to win the gold medal and hear the national anthem played in your honor?

K.C. JONES
I learned that I’d been selected after the college all-star game.  It was a great honor to be selected.  Playing for your country is bigger than playing for your college or for your pro team in the NBA.  It was the most important title that I’ve ever won.

One could say that Red Auerbach did pretty good for himself during the 1956 NBA draft.  He selected three hall of fame players in Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn, and K.C. Jones, and in the process laid the foundation for one of sports greatest dynasties.  K.C. Jones did not immediately join USF teammate Bill Russell in Boston.  Instead, he spent two years in the U.S. Army and then tried his hand at football with the Los Angeles Rams.  But once reunited with Russell, the Celtics launched an unbelievable run of eight consecutive NBA Championships.

I resumed my interview with K.C. on a Monday, the day after discussing his collegiate and Olympic careers.  He was two days into his work at the annual All-Cape Hoop Camp, and clearly invigorated by working with the youth.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
The first question is the most important:  How were the ribs yesterday?

K.C. JONES
They were great , of course - I made them.  [Laughs.]

 

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
Did anyone go back for seconds?

K.C. JONES
My son.  He went back for seconds – and thirds.  I quit counting.  [Laughs.]

 

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
What are the ages of your oldest and youngest children?

K.C. JONES
The oldest is forty-one.  The youngest of six is eighteen.

 

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
Before we get started, how is the All-Cape Hoop Camp going?

K.C. JONES
It’s going very well.  We’ve got some good kids at the camp, which always makes it nice.  There aren’t any Michael Jordans out there, but we’ve got some kids who are very skilled.

 


 

CELTIC-NATION
Let’s talk  about life after USF.  You served two years in the military following graduation.  Please tell me about this period in your life.

K.C. JONES
I graduated from USF in 1956.  I wasn’t real sure about the war, but I was pretty sure I was going to get drafted – I just didn’t know when they would call.  So rather than wait, I decided to be proactive and take control of the situation.  I volunteered in September of 1956, and then went to the Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, with Bill [Russell], where we won the gold medal.  Because the seasons are reversed in Australia, the 1956 summer Olympics were actually held during the USA's winter time.  I served two years in the U.S. Army.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Did you keep in contact with Bill Russell during your stay in the military?

K.C. JONES

No, not really.  I was aware of what he was accomplishing in Boston, and I knew that the Celtics won the championship with him after the 1956-57 season, but we really didn’t keep in close contact at this time.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
Following your stint in the army, you had a brief tryout with the Los Angeles Rams.  Were you serious about playing football for the Rams?

K.C. JONES

Pete Rozelle drafted me while I was still at USF.  He had been named general manager in 1957 and projected me as either a receiver or a cornerback.  Red (Auerbach) had drafted me to play basketball for the Celtics, but all of the scouts were saying that I was too short to be successful in the NBA.  They were also saying that I couldn’t shoot the ball well enough to play in the pros, so I thought my best chance for success rested with the Rams.


 

CELTIC-NATION
How did it go?

K.C. JONES

I was a starting cornerback for four exhibition games.  I played against players like Frank Gifford.  It was going well until I suffered an injury, and that was the end of my football career.  I was really upset about the injury, very angry.  That’s when I decided to call Red (about playing for the Celtics).

CELTIC-NATION
Walter Brown founded the Boston Celtics.  He also helped found the Basketball Association of American (BAA) and later merge it with the National Basketball League to form the NBA.  He was also a hockey man, and is the only person to be enshrined in both the hockey and basketball halls of fame.  What can you tell me about Mr. Brown?

K.C. JONES
Walter Brown was a great person.  He was a well-respected man who always made it a point to speak.  We weren’t close – our relationship mostly consisted of small talk, but he was always very cordial to all of the players.


 

CELTIC-NATION
You played for two hall of fame coaches, Phil Woolpert and Red Auerbach.  How were they alike, and how were they different?

K.C. JONES
Phil was highly intellectual.  Very bright.  Very well read.  He was also very communicative with his players.

Red was highly intelligent as well, and arrogant.  I mean this in a positive way, because with Red it was a good combination of intelligence and arrogance.  His record and his accomplishments stand as a testament to that fact.  Red Auerbach was a genius.


 

CELTIC-NATION
When you arrived in Boston, you were primarily utilized as a reserve.  On the bench with you were Sam Jones and Frank Ramsey.  That’s three hall-of-famers coming off the bench for the Celtics.  I’m sure that other teams would have given a king’s ransom for the talent sitting on the Boston bench.

K.C. JONES
Other teams may have paid a high price for Sam and Frank, but that wasn’t the case with me.  Other teams weren’t sitting there drooling over me.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
But when you look at those eight consecutive championships, there were four constants:  Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Sam Jones and K.C. Jones.

K.C. JONES
But don’t forget the other important pieces to the puzzle.  Bob Cousy was a great, great player.  Tommy Heinsohn.  John Havlicek.  Those guys were special.

 

 

At this point in the interview, news of Chick Hearn’s life-threatening condition appears on ESPN.  Hearn was the legendary play-by-play man for the Los Angeles Lakers.  Hearn’s condition clearly touches Jones, and after listening to the details we spend several minutes talking about Hearn and Johnny Most, the legendary radio voice of the Boston Celtics.  It was Most who called John Havlicek’s steal of Hal Greer’s inbound pass that propelled the Celtics over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Division Finals.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Tell me about Bob Cousy.

K.C. JONES
Cousy had a tremendous amount of confidence in himself.  Red didn’t want Cousy, and many people tend to forget that.  Didn’t want him at all.  Bypassed him in the 1950 draft, then got him when Cousy’s NBA team (Chicago Stags) folded.  They (Stags) had three players everybody wanted, and the three names were put into a hat.  The Celtics drew last, and Cousy’s name was the last name to come out of the hat.

Bob Cousy had a great intellect.  He was a voracious reader.  On the court he quickly became famous for those behind-the-back passes and the fancy dribbling.  Red called the fancy stuff ‘French pastries’, but Cousy was very successful with it.  He always had a high number of assists, and he had that on-the-run, one-foot shot.  That was one of his trademarks.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Following Cousy’s retirement, you were named the starting point guard.  How did you handle the situation, and how did the fans respond to you in those early days as a starter?

K.C. JONES
The fans responded by not coming to the games in the same numbers.  Attendance went down after Cousy retired.  Cousy was legend, a great player, so I can understand the reason for the drop.

But these things didn’t bother me at all.  There was no nervousness when I stepped in and became a starter.  I’d been a part of two NCAA championships with USF, a part of those 55 consecutive victories.  I’d won an Olympic gold medal.  I knew what it was like to be down by 16 to Holy Cross and come back, and I knew what it took to become a successful starter.

I was very confident in my abilities as a defender.  If you were a master of defense, then I was convinced that you could match the offensive player at any level.  And the fear factor disappeared because of this confidence.

 CELTIC-NATION
The ’63-’64 Celtics have been called one of the greatest defensive teams of all time – not coincidentally, your first year as a starter.  If Cousy was the offensive genius in the Celtics’ backcourt, then your were his answer on the defensive end.  How did your defensive greatness alter Red’s approach to attacking opponent’s?

K.C. JONES
Red was a genius.  He knew his personnel, and he knew what it took to win.  I’d played 5 minutes a game for five years (as a reserve), but he knew how to handle the situation when Cousy retired.  In Red’s mind it was either myself or John Havlicek, and it could have gone either way.  He selected me as the starting point guard.  I knew that I’d have to go out and play good, solid basketball.  I had to go out there and prove myself worthy of the job.  I had to work for it.

 
 

CELTIC-NATION
Walter Brown passed away in the middle of the Celtics’ great title run.  Were you at the ceremony when the honorary Number 1 was raised to the rafters?  If so, what were your emotions at the time, and what do you remember most?

K.C. JONES
It was a sad occasion.  There was a lot of sadness and sorrow at the time.  Walter Brown was a person who always smiled and cared, so his passing was difficult.  And naturally, it was also hard on his wife.  The ceremony itself was a very emotional experience.


 

CELTIC-NATION
You were there as a player when Havlicek made his famous steal against Philadelphia, and you were there as a coach for Larry’s unbelievable theft against Detroit.  What was it like to be a part of two such historic events, and can you take me back to each of those moments?

K.C. JONES
I was on the floor for the first one (Havlicek’s steal).  There were five seconds left, and Russell lost the ball off of the guide wire support.  Hal Greer was the inbounder, and he was going to pass the ball to either Johnny Kerr or Chet Walker.  Kerr made his move and then I suddenly realized where the ball was going – deep to Walker.  I was scared to death because of the positioning on the floor.  I thought my mistake might end up putting the ball in Wilt’s hands down low.  Fortunately, Havlicek smelled a rat.  He read it perfectly and intercepted the ball, preserving the victory.

Larry’s steal was one of the greatest plays of all time.  He was a snake in the grass on that play.  We needed that steal or we would have been in very serious trouble – we would have been going back to Detroit down 3-2.  It was an incredible play.


 

CELTIC-NATION
And what about Dennis Johnson on that play?  When you see the replay it was a smart move on his part as well – and not an easy shot.

K.C. JONES
It was instinctive on his part – the instincts of a veteran player.  Larry Bird has a tremendous amount of respect for Dennis Johnson.

 


 

CELTIC-NATION
In 1972, you won an NBA championship as an assistant coach to Bill Sharman with the Los Angeles Lakers.  Did it feel strange being on the other side of the great Celtics-Lakers rivalry?

K.C. JONES
No, not at all.  It was a happy time for me, and a very good experience.  In spite of all the battles, we were close to each other for the most part.


 

 

CELTIC-NATION
Jerry West was on that team, and he is probably the most identifiable Laker of all.  What was it like to be involved so closely with Jerry West?

K.C. JONES
Jerry West is one of my favorite people.  I've always admired both his playing ability and his front-office savvy.  I have a lot of respect for Jerry.

 CELTIC-NATION
You won another ring as an assistant on the ’81 squad that found itself down 3-1 against Dr. J and Philadelphia (in the Eastern Conference Finals).  It was one of the classic series of all time.  Did you think Boston would win three straight against the vaunted Sixers, especially games in which you had to claw back from three second-half double-digit deficits?

K.C. JONES
The big thing that I remember is the togetherness of the team.  Even when we were down 3-1 nobody was giving up, nobody was pointing fingers.  Because of that, we were able to weather the storm and win the series.

 
 

CELTIC-NATION
When you took over for Bill Fitch the team was clearly ready for a change.  The players were more mature and seemed to have grown tired of Bill’s demanding style.  You had been an assistant for five years.  You were the perfect man for the job and the Celtics really responded, winning that classic seven game series against the Lakers in ’84.  How did that series rank with all the others that you won?

K.C. JONES
It was the best.  It was my first year as head coach and we weren’t supposed to win.  I am very proud of that accomplishment.  The 1984 championship ranks up there as the biggest title ever.

 

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
Let’s stay with the Celtics-Lakers in ’84:  The whole Bird and Magic rivalry turned this into one of the biggest Finals in NBA history.  From a media standpoint it was huge.  You had the east coast vs. the west coast.  You had the movie stars, the glitz and the glamour in L.A., and you had the pride and passion of the Boston fans.  Again, you were the perfect man for the job.  What was it like to coach this series?

K.C. JONES
It was big in all aspects, big in every sense of the word.  The media coverage was incredible, and it seemed as if everyone in the world was watching the series.  You turned on the TV and it was there.  You turned on the radio and everyone was talking about it.  That series had everything.  Larry and Magic made it that much more special – what more can you say than that?

You also had Gerald (Henderson) stealing the Worthy inbound pass in Game 2, which we won in overtime.  That was huge for us.  If he doesn’t make that steal then we’ve lost two in the Boston Garden and head to L.A. in serious trouble.

Cedric Maxwell played a great series, especially in Game 7.  Cedric was – and remains to this day – a very loquacious individual.  He was always talking.


 

CELTIC-NATION
Cedric made some pretty bold statements prior to Game 7.

K.C. JONES
Cedric said that he was going to have a big game, and that his teammates could climb on his back because he was going to carry them to the championship in Game 7.  It was a pretty big boast but Cedric backed it up.  He played a great game and dominated the boards.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
Back to Gerald Henderson for a moment.  Without Gerald’s steal Boston is in too deep a hole to win the series.  Given that his steal was in the Finals, against the hated Lakers and with the Celtics pushed to the brink, I view this steal as one of the most important in Celtics history.  But for some reason Henderson’s steal isn’t given the same level of reverence as those made by Havlicek and Bird.  Do you have the same sense about this, and if so, why do you think this to be the case?

K.C. JONES
I agree with you.  When you look at the magnitude of the situation, Gerald’s steal was very important.  It was a big turning point, and it allowed us to get back in the series against the Lakers.  Like I said, if we had lost that game we were down 0-2 going to Los Angeles.  Before the series that scenario was something I didn’t think possible, but for a while there it looked to be the case.  As it was, we were able salvage a split at home and then go on to win the series.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Dennis Johnson was a big defensive stopper for the Celtics and played a pivotal role in the series against the Lakers.  Did he remind you of yourself in any way?

K.C. JONES
Yes, I saw a lot of the same defensive characteristics in Dennis.  He was taller, but we had a very similar defensive style.  DJ was a very bright, very strong player.  We gave him the tough defensive assignments, the Magic Johnsons and the Michael Jordans, and he was always up to the challenge.  Dennis was a very important part of our team.


 

CELTIC-NATION
Let’s dissect the Big Three.  Bird, McHale and Parish were one of the greatest frontlines to ever play the game.  What was it like to coach Larry Bird?

K.C. JONES
The word that comes to my mind is ‘appreciation’.  I have a tremendous amount of appreciation for Larry Bird.  He was such a hard worker, and was always trying to improve his game.  Everyone knew that he was a great offensive player, everyone knew that he was going to get his points.  But when he came into the league everyone said that he was too slow to play in the NBA, that he couldn’t jump, that he couldn’t defend.  Then you’d look at the box score and he had twelve, fourteen rebounds.

Larry was more than a great player – he was a joy to coach.  So motivated.  He led by example.  And not only that, having Larry on the floor was like having another coach out there.  He saw so much before it happened.  He understood the game better than anyone else on the floor.  That’s why he had so much success with Indiana.  There will never be another player like Larry.  He’s one of the greatest of all time.

 
 

CELTIC-NATION
Tell me about Kevin McHale.

K.C. JONES
Kevin was such a happy person.  He was always smiling, always having fun.  A joy to be around.  Like Cousy, he was one of the high intellects.  And like Cousy, he read a lot.  He had a great mind.

Kevin was also a giving person.  He had those revolutionary low-post moves, things no one else had ever done, and he’d work with the other guys in practice to help them improve their game.


 

 

CELTIC-NATION
Robert Parish.  Along with Larry and Kevin, one of my favorite players from that period.  I have so much respect for him.  Please talk about Robert Parish.

K.C. JONES
I could talk about Robert all day long.  Robert’s nickname was “Chief”.  Cedric Maxwell put that tag on him.  He called him “Chief” after a character in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.  Robert was special because he knew his place on the team.  He knew that there were only so many basketballs to go around, and that Larry and Kevin were going to get the majority of the shots.  He also knew that Danny (Ainge) and Dennis were going to take their shots as well.  So Robert fell into his space on the team, which was to rebound, play tough defense, and to be a force in the middle.  This isn’t to say that Robert wasn’t a great offensive player; he could have put up big numbers on other teams, so he wasn’t just a big body to clog the middle and stop the other team’s big man.  Robert had a very good offensive game.  He just understood what was expected from him and he went out and did his job.  Robert was awesome.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
In your mind, where does that ’86 team rank in NBA history?

K.C. JONES
That team was right up there with the best in history.  All those great players – Larry, Kevin, Robert, DJ, Danny.  We got Bill Walton that year, and he made us the complete package.  Walton was such a legend, both in college and with what he did in Portland before he started having trouble with his ankles.  When he played at Portland he was out of this world.  He could pass brilliantly, and he had the same tenacity as Bill Russell.

 CELTIC-NATION
I’ll never forget where I was when I learned that Len Bias had died from a cocaine overdose.  It was such a tragic event, because Bias seemed like a genuinely good person.  How did you find out about what happened?

K.C. JONES
I was driving home from work in my car.  I found out about it on the radio, and it broke my heart.  I’d just spent time with him the day before.  He had gone to Boston following the draft to meet his new team, and then he returned to Maryland.  He went back to the Maryland campus to celebrate with his friends – I use the term loosely, because these people weren’t his friends.  Not when they’re doing drugs.  It was a tragedy.


 

CELTIC-NATION
We’ll never know, but on paper Bias had the tools to be the next great Celtic.  He was muscular like Karl Malone, with huge arms, and he could jump like Michael Jordan.  Everything was so bright for Bias and the Celtics on draft day, and then…

K.C. JONES
It hurt, no question.  Larry lobbied Red to draft Bias.  He grew more excited as the draft got closer and it looked like we were going to land Len.  Larry was making plans to attend the rookie camp so that he could start working with Len and preparing him for his first year in the league.  The two of them had met, and they were fast friends.  So it really hurt Larry to find out that Len had died from drugs.


 

CELTIC-NATION
Larry Bird as coach.  Evaluate his three year career as the coach of the Indiana Pacers.

K.C. JONES
It was a fabulous coaching job.  Larry took over an Indiana team that had been coached by the great Larry Brown and took them to the NBA Finals.  And he did it with basically the same team that Brown had the previous year.  That’s not a knock on Brown, because I respect him a great deal.  He’s one of the best coaches in the game.  But for Larry (Bird) to come into that situation and excel, that was truly a special job.

 
 

CELTIC-NATION
It also disproved the thinking that great players don’t make great coaches.

K.C. JONES
Exactly.  Larry blew that theory out of the water.

 

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
When I watched Larry coach, his style and demeanor brought to mind another soft-spoken coach who succeeded famously.  You know, the one who won a couple of rings back in the mid-eighties.

K.C. JONES
Are you talking about me? [Laughs].

 CELTIC-NATION
Exactly.  You weren’t a screamer – you succeeded by treating a veteran team like, well, a veteran team.  I always admired that quality in you, and Larry had that same gift.

K.C. JONES
Thank you for saying that.  The critics claimed that anyone could have won with Larry, Kevin and Robert on the roster.  I’ve read the articles where I could have supposedly rolled the ball on the court and the team would have won anyway, but those same people don’t know what goes into preparing a team to play at that level.

In Indiana, Larry inherited a veteran club and he had just the right touch.  I was happy to see him succeed.

 
 

CELTIC-NATION
Let’s fast-forward to the current Celtics.  What did you think of this season’s playoff run?

K.C. JONES
Jim O’Brien has really excelled.  He stepped into a situation that wasn’t so positive and immediately earned the player’s respect.  To a man they have responded to Jim.  The playoffs were great for the team.  They made the trade for Delk and Rogers and it paid off.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
Paul Pierce is maturing rapidly.

K.C. JONES
Paul is one of the most dangerous players in the league when he has the ball in his hands.  The only way you stop him is to keep him from getting the ball.  He’s big at 6’-7”, and he can hit anything.  He’s going to get his shot off or he’s going to go to the foul line.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
What do you think about the trade for Vin Baker, and where do you see the Celtics finishing this season?

K.C. JONES
I really haven’t thought about the Baker trade that much, but on the surface it looks to be a great move.  Here is a player who had All-Star years early in his career.  Whatever happened in Seattle seems to be in the past. He looks focused.  He’s a big man with great skills, and the move to Boston just might regenerate his career.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
Okay, we’re winding down.  If winning is the bottom line, it’s hard to find anyone with your credentials:  Two college championships, an Olympic gold medal, eight NBA rings as a player and four more as a coach.  Do you ever take time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished in your life?

K.C. JONES
Yes, frequently.  I feel very lucky to be where I am and to have lived this life.  When I look back at how I got here – from growing up on the move, to the time I spent learning sports at the rec center in San Francisco, to how I got into college – I feel very fortunate to have accomplished so much.  [Pauses].  Who knows what things would have been like if had accepted Mikan’s offer to play in Minneapolis.  I turned down $5,000 to play for the Lakers.  I’m very happy with the way things turned out.

 CELTIC-NATION
A question for historical perspective:  Where were you when the terror attacks occurred on September 11th?

K.C. JONES
I was at home, watching on TV.  I saw the first plane hit, and thought that it must have been a terrible accident.  Then I saw the other plane hit and I knew.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
Final question:  You’ve achieved great success in your life, and you’ve done so with a great deal of dignity, pride and class.  You are universally respected and admired by many people (both inside and outside of the NBA).  If you could offer one piece of advice on life to others, what would that be?

K.C. JONES
Honesty and effort.  In my mind, those are the two most important ingredients to achieving success.

 


 

CELTIC-NATION
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.  You are one of the true gentlemen, and it was an honor to conduct this interview.

K.C. JONES
My pleasure.  Thank you.

  

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