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Friday, December 25, 2020

K.C. Jones: Consummate Champion

Players and teams talk so much about the thrill of winning just one championship that it is worth remembering and emphasizing that K.C. Jones, who passed away earlier today at the age of 88, won two NCAA titles, an Olympic gold medal, and eight NBA titles as a player before winning two NBA titles as an assistant coach (1972 Lakers, 1981 Celtics) and two more NBA titles as a head coach. Only two players have won more NBA titles than Jones: his Boston teammates Bill Russell (11) and Sam Jones (10).

K.C. Jones may be the most underrated head coach in NBA history. He not only coached the best Boston Celtics teams of the 1980s--one of which, the 1986 Celtics, will forever be on the short list of greatest single season teams ever--but his regular season winning percentage of .674 ranks sixth in NBA history (minimum of 200 regular season games coached), trailing only Steve Kerr, Phil Jackson, Billy Cunningham, Larry Bird, and Gregg Popovich (Jones is only .001 percentage points behind Popovich, so Jones may move past Popovich on that list this season unless the San Antonio Spurs perform much better than expected). Jones' playoff winning percentage of .587 ranks 13th in NBA history (minimum of 60 playoff games coached). Jones is one of eight coaches who have won two NBA titles; only six coaches have won more than two NBA titles (Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, John Kundla, Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich, and Steve Kerr).

As a player, Jones was not a great shooter but he was cerebral, tough, and athletic. Jones was drafted by the NFL's L.A. Rams, and he might have made the final cut had he not injured his knee; despite only spending a brief time with the Rams, Jones is credited with being the first defensive back to utilize "bump and run" coverage technique.

Jones' partnership with Russell dates back to their days at the University of San Francisco, where they captured NCAA titles in 1955 and 1956 while putting together a 55 game winning streak. Russell was such a dominant defender that he would tell Jones to run to a particular spot so that Russell could block a shot directly to Jones to start the fast break! The combination of elite athletic ability and supreme basketball IQ/mental toughness is impossible to beat. It is not an accident that Russell and Jones won at every level (college, Olympics, NBA), and anyone who assumes that they would not be very successful as players in this era fails to understand the essence of championship competition. 

Jones' NBA statistics are not eye-popping, but he ranked third in the league in assists for three straight seasons (1964-66), each time trailing only Oscar Robertson and Guy Rodgers. The Celtics won the championship during each of those seasons, and it speaks volumes that Jones was not only a stout defensive player for those squads but that he was also the team's quarterback after Bob Cousy retired.

Jones' Boston teammate Tommy Heinsohn passed away a few weeks ago. I interviewed Heinsohn on June 10, 2004. A few days later, I interviewed K.C. Jones. At the time, I was working on an article about their Boston teammate Sam Jones (the article appeared in the December 2004 issue of Basketball Digest), but our wide ranging conversation covered not only Sam Jones but also Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Bill Fitch, Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and more. 

My K.C. Jones interview has never been published in full anywhere, though some quotes and insights from that interview have appeared in various articles that I wrote. Here, in tribute to Jones, is that June 20, 2004 interview:

Friedman: "The idea for this article came out of an interview that I did with Slick Leonard, the Pacers’ broadcaster. He mentioned that he felt that Sam Jones is the most underrated guard in the history of the NBA. From your perspective as a teammate of Sam's, what made him a special, unique player?"

Jones: "What made him unique? That's kind of hard to explain. He had such supreme confidence in his shot. One example that I recall is when he went for a nine foot jumper and Wilt came over to block it and while Sam was in the air he said, 'You can't get this one baby' and it went off the backboard and in."

Friedman: "Was that the game that Wilt went after Sam? I read about a game in which Sam so infuriated Wilt—telling him that he couldn't block his shot—that Wilt went after him."

Jones: "I'm not sure if it was that game. I don't think that Wilt would go after somebody for trash talking. I think that something physical happened and Wilt went over to shake Sam's hand to say, 'Let's put it behind us' and Sam thought that he was coming after him so he picked up a stool from behind the basket."

Friedman: "Oh, so it was kind of a misunderstanding."

Jones: "Yeah."

Friedman: "I noticed in researching this article that Sam Jones averaged 27 points per game in game seven situations and that the Celtics were 9-0 in those games. Obviously, that was above his regular season scoring average. What enabled him to be so successful in clutch situations?"

Jones: "He very seldom went to the basket for the layup. He would drive and then pull up for the jumper. We did all kinds of things to get him open or to get Havlicek open. That's the way we played. That's similar to what Detroit is trying to do now, work for your teammate. Sam could go one-on-one. He had a stutter step that would kind of halt your defense and then all of a sudden he just glides by you. He did that to me in a scrimmage and it just totally blew my mind that he was so smooth with that. He was driving on the right side from around the top of the key extended. It looked like he was going to pull up. He just hesitated, I stopped and then he just went by me. In our offense we always tried to get him open for shots. When Russell would get the ball for his play he could just take the ball and shoot it because it was the '6' play but he would not shoot the ball unless Sam and Havlicek were not open. That's the way we played. So we liked to get out shooters open because that's the high percentage play."

Friedman: "Would that be a play where Russell would be getting the ball on the block looking for cutters and Sam would cut off of him?"

Jones: "He'd mainly look for our shooters. He wouldn't look for me or Satch (Tom Sanders), even if I was open. One time he got an offensive rebound and I was five feet away from him saying, 'Bill, Bill, Bill' and he looked me in the eye, reached around and threw the ball in the corner to Sam, which I thought was the right play. Some other player in my position would have been (ticked) off and then you have a problem but that's not the way we did it."

Friedman: "Right, because your role was not as a shooter on the team."

Jones: "Yeah, but other teams have guys who are not shooters but if they are not passed the ball they are ready to fight. My point is, I considered that the best play because we want the ball in the hands of the guy with the highest shooting percentage."

Friedman: "You mentioned guarding Sam in a scrimmage. Did you usually guard him or were you usually on the same team with you playing point and him playing shooting guard?"

Jones: "I didn't usually guard him. I don't know what happened in that practice, but that was the first time I guarded him, I believe. I guarded Bill Sharman most times in practice. I either guarded Sharman or Bob Cousy."

Friedman: "You mentioned the Detroit Pistons. For my readers who did not have a chance to see Sam play, what current or recent guard would you say is most similar to him either in shooting ability or performance in the clutch?"

Jones: "I guess Jerry West would be one. Maybe Hamilton. He would be another."

Friedman: "Hamilton from Detroit?"

Jones: "Yeah."

Friedman: "That's interesting. Tommy Heinsohn also mentioned him. Heinsohn mentioned Hamilton because he has a variety of shots—the long distance game, the mid-range game and the driving game. So you would see a similarity from that standpoint?"

Jones: "Oh, yeah. More times than not when Hamilton is driving he pulls up for the jumper. If he has the defense beaten he goes straight to the basket. More times than not he's running without the ball and he spends a lot of energy running around to get open and then he has to go to the other end and play aggressive defense. That man is in awesome shape. What's like Sam is that he moves without the ball and when he gets the ball he's going right up for the shot."

Friedman: "What's interesting is that when I brought that comparison up to Bob Cousy, who I later interviewed, he didn't like that particular comparison because he didn't think that there was anyone in the modern game who could really be compared with Sam. It's interesting to me to talk to his teammates and hear their different perspectives. You are the second one who brought up Rip Hamilton, which is interesting to me."

Jones: "What did Cousy say as far as comparisons go?"

Friedman: "Well, he was looking strictly on the basis of skill level and when I brought up that Tom Heinsohn had mentioned Rip Hamilton, Cousy replied that, for one thing, he didn't see Hamilton as a Hall of Famer and to him that was disrespectful of Sam Jones' talent. He felt that Rip Hamilton has not proven that he is a Hall of Famer. I made the point that what Heinsohn had said to me was not that Hamilton is as good as Sam Jones, but that their styles are similar in terms of having a variety of shots. There are very few modern guards who really have a complete game in terms of being able to shoot from deep, from mid-range and being able to drive. Most guards today only have one of the three."

Jones: "Yes."

Friedman: "So there is a comparison there from the standpoint of style. No one is saying that Rip Hamilton is an all-time great—"

Jones: "It's a little early for that."

Friedman: "Right, of course."

Jones: "He's only been in the league a few years."

Friedman: "Right, he's only been around for a few years and this is his first championship."

Jones: "Yeah. You take Kobe, you take Hamilton, you take Sam, you take Jerry West—in crunch time you are looking for these people, you want these people to have the ball."

Friedman: "So from the standpoint of producing in the clutch you would put Kobe in there as well because he hits last second shots. He and Sam had different playing styles, but they both produced in the clutch."

Jones: "The style is different, but what I'm saying is that in crunch time you want the ball to go to your best shooters. That's what I'm saying. I'm not talking about style—whether they use a spin move or all that—I'm saying in crunch time the ball goes to your best shooters. They approach it in different ways."

Friedman: "Sure. Another thing I want to ask you about—and I know that a similar question was once asked of Bill Russell about a hypothetical matchup with Kareem and his response was, 'Young man, you have the question backwards'—I'm interested from your perspective how you would picture a matchup of Sam Jones in his prime playing against Kobe or McGrady, what would that matchup be like, what strengths would Sam Jones use to counteract Kobe or McGrady, who are both a little taller than Sam?"

Jones: "Kobe would have a very difficult time staying with Sam defensively."

Friedman: "From a speed standpoint?"

Jones: "Yes, from speed or quickness, whatever you want to call it. Could Kobe stay with Hamilton? I don't think so. Kobe couldn't stay with Sam and maybe Sam couldn't stay with Kobe. Thinking in terms of guarding each other, I don't see it in that mode. There are changes and moves that can be made; they can guard other people so that they don't wear themselves out and wear their minds out guarding the best player on the other team."

Friedman: "So if they played against each other it would be a real shootout because they both would be scoring a lot."

Jones: "Well, yeah. They are masters of the offensive end, they don't master the defensive end. So you have to be someone who is defensive oriented to guard the Kobes and the Same Jones and the Hamiltons. That's what happened in Chicago when Drexler from Portland was guarding Jordan (in the 1992 Finals). I thought that was not a good move, putting Drexler on Jordan."

Friedman: "You're wearing out your best player."

Jones: "Yes, plus you experience a defeatist attitude, a sense of fear, guarding Jordan. Why would I put one of my best shooters out there to guard Jordan? It doesn’t make any sense to me."

Friedman: "So from your standpoint, if Sam Jones was playing at the same time as Kobe they might not even be guarding each other. You might cross-match or do something so that they wouldn't be facing each other."

Jones: "I think that would be the best move. If you saw Drexler in the game, it just took his mind away."

Friedman: "You're talking about the game in the Finals when Jordan hit all those three pointers."

Jones: "Yeah, whichever game that was. I know that Drexler is an offensive player and great at being an offensive player. How many great shooters do you see who are great on the defensive end?"

Friedman: "Very few."

Jones: "Very few."

Friedman: "Actually, Jordan would probably be one of the exceptions since he was Defensive Player of the Year in addition to winning all of the scoring titles. But your point is well taken. If you have a minute, I'd like to switch gears. I'd be interested to ask you some questions specifically about your career for use in a future article. I see some parallels between your coaching career and Phil Jackson's coaching career in terms of reluctance in some quarters to give you credit for your teams' success. With Phil Jackson, he has won nine championships but people say, 'He always had the best player. He had Jordan or he had Shaq' and I think that kind of echoes from your career in Boston when you won championships but people said that you had a Hall of Fame frontline. Do you see a parallel in that sense?"

Jones: "There was a great coach before I got to the Celtics, Bill Fitch. He was a great coach. He did a super job of winning the championship in 1981. I had the same players and went to the Finals four times in five years and won two championships."

Friedman: "Right. That’s a very similar run to what Jackson just had with the Lakers, winning three titles in five years."

Jones: "What you mentioned was that because I had these high profile players, that's how I was able to have a championship team and go to the Finals that often. That's what you're saying, right?"

Friedman: "I'm not saying that. I'm saying that's a criticism that others have said. I don't think that it is valid. I think that it is a challenge—and I wanted you to speak about this—when you have that many talented players to get them to accept roles and to understand what has to be done to win."

Jones: "I was speaking to the criticism. Of course, I'm not an entertainer, which all coaches should be, because the media lives off of that. I was just the opposite. I guess you are saying that (people say) that Jackson was a quiet guy sitting on the sidelines and only reason he won was because he had Jordan and Pippen. That really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me."

Friedman: "I agree."

Jones: "Here's what you've got. In college, the best coaches are the ones who do the best scouting. They come up with the Okafors and the Bill Russells and the Kareems. Without these great players, these great individuals, how are you going to get there? Shaq and Kobe, they won for three years. Then Jackson is criticized for having Jordan and Pippen. I don't understand that."

Friedman: "I don't understand it either. I think that it is a great challenge. The team that you had in Boston, which had Bird, McHale and Parish—any one of those guys could demand 25 shots a game. You were able to get them to work together to understand how to share the ball and—"

Jones: "It's the same thing with Bill Fitch. He had the same players and he did a great job with them to win a championship. But there wasn't any question that he had Larry Bird and Kevin McHale and Danny Ainge. He is not mentioned in the same way as Jackson and I am."

Friedman: "When you first took over in Boston what was the biggest challenge that you faced?"

Jones: "The biggest obstacle is always the communication factor. If you don't have good communication between you and your top players, then you are really alone. What Jackson did in Chicago was he had Jordan and Pippen as his protectors. Jerry Sloan did that in Chicago and he also did it with Malone and Stockton in Utah. I'm sure Jackson did that with Shaq."

Friedman: "So the key thing is to first make sure that the big star buys into your program and accepts what you are doing and then everyone else falls into line?"

Jones: "Those players have to be included. Your top two players, like Russell and Cousy. It's even better if you have three players. Your major guys are the ones who have to be included in your strategy planning. They have thoughts. Red Auerbach did that with Cousy and Russell. If you don't do that there is a fence there. You are alone. A wall is up."

Friedman: "You mentioned something about demeanor, that you were not a media darling or doing things that the media would pick up on and that is similar to Phil Jackson, because sometimes people will criticize him by saying, 'Look what is going on on the court and he is sitting there looking at his fingernails.' When you were on the sidelines you were not very demonstrative. Your teams were very effective. People would turn that into a criticism. I think that that is another way that you were similar to Phil Jackson. You had a very calm demeanor on the courtside, you weren’t running around or getting technicals."

Jones: "That's the entertainment factor. John Wooden seldom got off the bench, but that's what the media looks for and some coaches have a way of giving them what they want. Rick Pitino is great on the sidelines with the press and his demeanor on the court. That's awesome stuff. You have others who do the same thing and that's their coaching style."

Friedman: "From your standpoint, coaching—"

Jones: "Larry Brown in Detroit, what does he do?"

Friedman: "To me, he is a little bit of a mixture. A lot of times he is getting up and getting excited but sometimes—I think that he is a hybrid. I think he is in the middle. He is not as demonstrative as some, but he is not always just sitting there quietly—"

Jones: "Not in the playoffs (laughs). Maybe in the regular season. In the regular season there is a tomorrow."

Friedman: "Right. Your coaching philosophy, as I understand it, is your coaching was done in practice. You prepared the team for what they had to do and you didn't need to do a lot of histrionics on the sidelines—"

Jones: "It wasn't me to be that demonstrative and it's not Jackson to do that. Brown, same thing there. Then you have others—Bill Fitch was great, he was up on the sidelines. He could have been a comedian on the stage because he was great with the media and he was a super bright person."

Friedman: "One other thing that I wanted to ask you about is something that I recall and then I see it all the time on ESPN Classic. I noticed something about where Larry Bird would receive the ball. Usually when you have a great player who is predominantly right handed, when they catch the ball on the block—whether is it Shaq or Hakeem or Duncan—you can go down the line—they usually like that left block. What I noticed a lot of times—"

Jones: "The left block facing the basket?"

Friedman: "Right. Exactly. The left block facing the basket. If you picture Hakeem posting up or Shaq, they usually run to that left block. That seems to be where the great players who are right handed tend to go."

Jones: "Except for Kareem."

Friedman: "Right."

Jones: "Kareem liked the right block."

Friedman: "Yeah. But I noticed with Larry Bird a lot of times when he ran that exchange with Parish or if he was posting up and Ainge or Dennis Johnson were feeding him, a lot of times Bird would go to the right block or even the right side midway between the foul line and the block. I wondered if there was a particular reason why he received the ball there. I don't remember a lot of great players who were right handed getting the ball there. I've always been curious about that."

Jones: "Well, hey, that’s something new to me. I never thought about that. Of course, guys have special places they like to be. Right handed guys like to be on the right block, is that what you’re saying?"

Friedman: "Well, my observation—maybe I’m wrong and you can correct me. It seems to me that right hand dominant players tend to go to the left block—I'm thinking of Shaq, Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon. I know that you mentioned Kareem. I think that he would go to either block."

Jones: "Yeah."

Friedman: "I noticed a lot of times with Larry Bird—I remember watching it during the 1980s and then I see it again on ESPN Classic—a lot of times he was getting the ball on the right wing, midway between the foul line and the post. I didn't know if this was by design or if that was where he liked to get the ball or if it had anything to do with the spacing of the other players. I didn't know if there was a grand reason behind it or it just happened that way."

Jones: "Well I never saw a grand reason behind Larry doing that. Of course, shooters follow the ball, and if you are a Reggie Miller or a Larry Bird or whoever, it's wherever you get the ball and deal with it. But then there are plays that put you in position to do that. Then it's, 'What side do you want it on?' or 'What block do you want it on?' Then you know that’s the way it goes and that’s how it’s dealt with."

Friedman: "Oh, OK. It seemed like he would get the ball a lot of times in that area. I even noticed it when they replayed the old 1979 NCAA Championship against Magic Johnson. I didn't know if it was something that developed early in his career for some reason. I know that he was effective anywhere on the court, but I didn't know if there was a particular reason he liked that spot, kind of midway between the foul line and the post. If he had a smaller guy it seemed like he would back him in—"

Jones: "Yeah."

Friedman: "If he had a bigger guy he would drive. In the (1988 playoff) game against Dominique, it seemed like he was getting the ball a lot of times in that spot and then he would wheel around and drive into the lane, like in that fourth quarter when he had 20 points."

Jones: "Yeah. Of course, players have spots that they like or positions that they like to be in to make their favorite move down there. You’re saying left block and right block and some of them could do both, but I was never really that aware of that except coming off certain plays if he wanted to post up he would come to either block, the block that he liked best. More times than not, Larry was on the right side of the court as a forward. Kevin was always on the block—him or Robert."

Friedman: "Right. Bird would be kind of in a mid-post position, between the foul line and the block or even outside the three point line."

Jones: "Yeah, Larry would come from the right side or the left side or coming off a screen set by Robert or Kevin. A lot of times he was on the right post."

Friedman: "Yeah, that’s what I'm saying. I noticed that on tape. I found that interesting. I didn't know if there was a specific reason. I guess some of that just comes out of the flow of the game."

Jones: "Yeah. It comes out of the flow of the game. What about other players? Hamilton, he does that circle thing, he comes around to the right side a lot of times and all of a sudden he’s up in the air for the shot."

Friedman: "He's perpetual motion."

Jones: "Yeah, but all he is doing is trying to get open. It's like a 1-4 setup, two guys on the right block, one guy on the left block and the point guard's up top. Hamilton’s down under the basket trying to find which way he can go to get the defense knocked off. So he'll fake this way and go that way. Or fake this way and go the other way. He's coming around and that's how he gets open."

Friedman: "He kind of bounces around like a pinball. He reads, he goes by one of his big men and reads which way his defender is going and he pops out the other way."

Jones: "Yeah. He's doing a mile run to get open to get his shot on a court that is what, 50 by 90?"

Friedman: "Right. Exactly."

Jones: "But that's him. There are different ways of doing it. Oscar Robertson would dribble you this way or that way for 15 seconds, let you make a mistake with one of his subtle fakes and he's by you. Different strokes."

Friedman: "Oscar's philosophy, as I understand it, was always that he was never satisfied. If he had a 15 foot shot, he would try to back you in or fake so that he could get a 12 foot shot. If he had a 12 foot shot, he was always trying to get closer to the basket, and of course he had great size, so he was always trying to get the closer shot. He was never satisfied."

Jones: "Well, why not?" (laughs)

Friedman: "Sure, it makes sense. Well, the current players don't always necessarily think that way. If the shot is open then they think it is a good shot. They are not trying to get closer. It’s not the same type of approach. Of course, Oscar's approach makes sense."

Jones: "That's what you work for. If you can get it, you get it, but you have to work for it."

Friedman: "One more thing that I want to ask you—"

Jones: "There is one thing that I want to say. You were talking about that I had Larry Bird and Kevin McHale and all those people and that's how I was able to win. Then, I mentioned Bill Fitch. But I was not mentioning Bill Fitch in a negative way."

Friedman: "No, I understand."

Jones: "I was talking about the critics and what they were saying. If I had these people here and that is the reason that I got to the Finals and won championships—he was coaching the same guys."

Friedman: "No, I understand your point exactly."

Jones: "I wanted to be clear on that."

Friedman: "OK, no problem there. I understand what you are saying. Just to make it clear from my standpoint, I don't believe that that is a valid criticism. I am bringing up something that other people have said to get your reaction to it."

Jones: "That's what I was reacting to, not something that you said, but what you were asking."

Friedman: "When I thought about it and realized that I would have the opportunity to speak with you about Sam Jones, I was also thinking about a future article that I could write about you in a similar vein. The article that I am writing about Sam Jones is called 'Reconsidered,' when I look at somebody's career and take a different perspective—look at someone who has been underrated or neglected. I was thinking that in a future article I could do something very similar about your coaching career, because I see a lot of parallels between your coaching career and Phil Jackson's in terms of not receiving what I would consider to be adequate credit. Like you say, they don't look at Bill Fitch that way for whatever reason, but, sometimes, critics will say, well someone had the players—and someone else may have had the same players and they don’t make that criticism—it doesn't always seem fair."

Jones: "Look, that's being—what do you call it—not biased, but that's going straight at the coaches, K.C. or Jackson, because they had the talent. Those critics are saying that they really don't think much of these two coaches."

Friedman: "Right and some of it also gets back to what you were talking about in terms of how the coach may relate to the media or how the media perceives them."

Jones: "That's it right there. Bill Fitch had a great ability in controlling the media through his humor. He'd jump up every now and then and scream. They'd feel the spirit he put into it—a great communicator and that's what the media wants. That's what they accept. With a guy like me, they're not going to get much, because I'm the guy who sits quietly on the bench."

Friedman: "Right. In that sense also, although he hasn't won a championship as a coach, there is a little similarity between you and Maurice Cheeks from a demeanor standpoint. Maurice Cheeks is not real demonstrative, he is kind of quiet and that doesn't mean that the person is not coaching, that's just his personality—"

Jones: "If he had been in there and won a couple championships then he would have the same problem I have." (laughs)

Friedman: "Right. Exactly."

Jones: "And Dr. Jack Ramsay."

Friedman: "Right. One other thing that I want to ask you about is not the happiest memory from your coaching career, but I want to have your perspective on it. History is generally told from the standpoint of who won—also, in light of what happened this year in the Finals when we had an upset, of course. You coached the Washington Bullets in the Finals against Golden State (in 1975) and that was a team that was considered to be the favorite but you did not win. We always read the story from the perspective of what Rick Barry did or Golden State or whatever, but from your standpoint what do you feel like happened in that series? From your standpoint why did that series go the way it did?"

Jones: "Well, the scenario was that there was a circus that was going on during the Finals in San Francisco. So that changed the whole format from the usual 2-2-1-1-1. The change was we had the choice of playing game one in San Francisco and the next two in Washington or the other way around. I made the mistake of taking the first game at home and being on the road for the next two. You make a boo-boo like that, it makes it very difficult to win the championship as the favorite."

Friedman: "What you're saying is that when you lost the first game it put you behind the eight ball because you didn't have the home court advantage that you expected to have."

Jones: "Yeah, that was what the format was. By them winning the first game—and they won it narrowly, because we missed a layup that would've won the game—Golden State now felt confident as all get out, rather than being intimidated by the 2-2-1-1-1."

Friedman: "That's something that I know about because I've researched that series a little bit and read about what happened, but that's something that is not mentioned a lot when people talk about the upset or what Rick Barry did, but that was a big disadvantage—"

Jones: "What you're saying is that they just come out with their thoughts about how I did a terrible job because I was favored, but without mentioning how the series was set up. Nothing is mentioned about the circus, nothing is mentioned about the 1-2 format."

Friedman: "That also says something about where the NBA ranked in the sports universe or the entertainment universe at that time. I don't think that kind of scheduling could happen in today's NBA. I don't think that there could be some type of scheduling snafu where you end up playing 1-2—"

Jones: "Golden State, they had that schedule set (with the circus) because they felt that Golden State would not (still) be in the playoffs. So they used that playoff time to have the circus but all of a sudden Golden State beat Chicago and then it was like, 'Oh, (shoot).'"

Friedman: "Right, 'What are we going to do?'"

Jones: "'We have a circus here, da-da-da,' and the commissioner said, 'OK, 1-2.'"

Friedman: "But nowadays the NBA is such a huge business I don't think that anyone—even the Orlando Magic with the horrible record that they had last year—would have scheduled a circus to be in there during playoff time until they were mathematically eliminated. I don't think that anyone would say before the season starts, 'I don't think that we're going to be in the playoffs, let's have the circus here in May.' Well, I won't take up any more of your time. Thank you so much for your help with the Sam Jones article. As I mentioned, at some point I would like to do a 'K.C. Jones Reconsidered' dealing with your coaching career." 

A few minutes after the conclusion of the interview, K.C. Jones called back to state that he wanted it on the record that "Bill Fitch was a better coach than I was." K.C. Jones made it very clear that his comments about both of them having the same players but Fitch's coaching skills not being critiqued in the media the same way that his were did not mean that he did not respect Fitch as a coach. I reassured K.C. Jones that I understood what he had meant during the interview and that I have no intention of trying to create some type of rift with Coach Fitch. The operative comparison is between the laid back bench demeanors of both Jones and Jackson.

It speaks volumes about Jones' character (1) that he spent so much time doing an in depth interview with a writer who he did not know and who is not famous and (2) that he put so much thought into his answers, to the point of calling me back to clarify that he meant no disrespect to Coach Fitch. Longtime 20 Second Timeout readers know that Julius Erving is my favorite player of all-time. It goes without saying that I was not rooting for Jones' teams during the 1980s--but I hope that it is also evident how much I respect him, and how much research and preparation I did (for a basketball lifetime, not just for one interview) before I spoke with him. 

I am happy that I shared that time with K.C. Jones, and I hope that this interview helps basketball fans cultivate a greater appreciation for his accomplishments. I never wrote the "K.C. Jones Reconsidered" article, but in a sense that is what this article is. K.C. Jones deserves to be reconsidered, and to always be remembered as a championship player and a championship coach.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:09 PM



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