The world is saying it’s goodbyes to Betty White, John Madden and Dan Reeves, but I’d like to use this space to tell you about another accomplished individual we just lost. His name is Sam Jones, he’s from right here in North Carolina and his story is an incredible one.
Sam was born in Wilmington in 1933. He grew up to be a good basketball player and at 6’-4”, he was tall enough to play college basketball anywhere. He was also black and this was 1951 so playing at UNC or N.C. State wasn’t yet an option because even back then, we the people made dumb decisions for illogical reasons.
He attended North Carolina Central University, but his stellar play was interrupted by Uncle Sam when he was required to serve two years in the U.S. Army. He completed his duty and returned back to Durham where he continued his education and played at NCCU.
By the time he graduated in 1957, he had met the love of his life, Gladys, and was prepared to accept a job offer as a teacher that would allow him to coach the game he loved. Down the road in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels had recently beaten Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas for the National Championship and the Boston Celtics’ Red Auerbach was in town looking for young talent.
Apparently he was told the best player in the state wasn’t in Chapel Hill, but in Durham at NCCU and when time came for the Celtics to pick in the NBA Draft, Auerbach chose Sam Jones despite never seeing him play. Gladys had to talk Sam into going to Boston as opposed to teaching because he was convinced the Celtics didn’t need him.
Boston was very good at the time, but during Jones’ 12-year career in the NBA, he won 10 championships and was considered one of the best shooters of his generation. He was a jump shooter averaging 20-plus points a game in the NBA Finals before the creation of the three point line. I’m pretty sure that’s what earned him the nickname, “Mr. Clutch.”
In 1971, the NBA created their 25th Anniversary Team listing the 10 greatest players in league history. Sam Jones was on the team. In 1996, he made the NBA’s list of 50 Greatest Players and last year he was included in their 75th Anniversary Team. He was a great among greats.
Jones retired from the league in 1969 and tried coaching for a bit before moving to Maryland, raising his family with Gladys and becoming a substitute teacher at Gaithersburg Middle School.
Sam Jones was a North Carolina native, a veteran, a champion, a teacher and, apparently, a legend.
David Friedman is a long time sports writer and lifelong believer that BLM. David can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org