Jones, K. C.

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(b. 25 May 1932 in Taylor, Texas), defensive standout as a basketball guard for the Boston Celtics and as a coach for the Celtics and others.

Born into poverty, Jones, who, like his father, was named after the fabled railroad engineer, grew up to take on a legendary status of his own. Jones's years in Texas were hard as his father, a factory worker and cook, drifted from job to job during the depression. When his parents divorced in the early 1940s, the nine-year-old Jones moved with his mother, Eula, and two siblings to San Francisco. Jones was an athletic child and took up several sports. At San Francisco's Commerce High School he was a standout in both basketball and football before graduating in 1951. Jones's tenacious defense as a schoolboy player caught the eye of Phil Woolpert, the head coach for the University of San Francisco (USF). Woolpert was rebuilding USF's basketball program and recruited Jones and another gangly schoolboy named Bill Russell, who became Jones's team-mate for almost two decades and his friend for life. Although Jones had to sit out almost all of the 1953–1954 season due to a burst appendix, he and Russell led the USF Dons to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championship in their junior and senior years, for the 1954–1955 and 1955–1956 seasons. Jones was named All-American his senior year and after receiving his B.A., he was selected with Russell for the gold-medal-winning 1956 U.S. Olympic basketball squad.

Russell's shot-blocking and rebounding drew the attention of the Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach, who also became enamored with the hustle and tenacity of the scrappy Dons guard. Auerbach drafted Russell in the first round of the 1956 National Basketball Association (NBA) draft and called Jones's name in the second round. Jones doubted that he could crack the already-powerful Celtics lineup, however, and opted for a two-year stint in the U.S. Army instead. After his tour ended in 1958, Jones turned to football, playing in a few pre-season exhibition games with the Los Angeles Rams before finally accepting a spot with the Celtics and his old college roommate Russell, for the 1958–1959 season.

Jones saw limited playing time as a Celtics rookie, but was an able backup to the team's powerful backcourt of the All-Star guard Bill Sharman and the Hall of Famer Bob Cousy. For four years Jones supplied valuable minutes off the bench for four straight championship squads. Jones married Beverly Cain in 1960 at the end of the basketball season, and the couple had five children before divorcing in 1978.

In 1963, after Cousy's retirement, he stepped into the starting job as a point guard for the defending champions, along with his fellow guard Sam Jones. Although he was never an offensive standout, Jones excelled on the other side of the ball, closing down high-flying offensive players. With Jones now running the point, the Celtics continued their dominance over the NBA until 1967, when they finally relinquished their hold over the title after losing the Eastern Conference final, four games to one, against the Philadelphia 76ers. Jones retired after the 1967 season; his final campaign was the only one without a championship. The Celtics promptly retired his jersey, raising number 25 to the rafters of the old Boston Garden on 12 February 1967. For his days as a player, Jones was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1989.

His playing days behind him, Jones turned to coaching, first for Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, in 1970. The following year he repeated his role as a backup to Sharman, who was now the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers took the championship that winter and Jones, as the assistant coach, took home his ninth NBA Championship ring. The San Diego Conquistadors of the upstart American Basketball Association (ABA) wooed Jones away in 1973, and for the first time he was a head coach in the pros. He returned to the NBA a year later, as the coach of the Bullets, who had recently relocated from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. In only his second season, Jones took the Bullets to the finals, where they were swept by the Golden State Warriors. Jones was fired a year later, in 1976, and returned to an assistant position, first with Milwaukee and then again with the Celtics. In 1980, he married his second wife, Ellen.

When the Celtics head coach position opened up in 1983, Auerbach again put his faith in the quiet guard from USF, naming Jones to lead another generation of powerful Boston teams. Jones remained popular with his players, and his laid-back coaching style fit well with the creative play of a Celtics squad that included Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parrish. The first year under Jones (1983–1984) saw the team go 62–20 and won Jones yet another championship, his first as a head coach and his tenth overall. His .751 winning percentage as the Celtics skipper was the best of any coach in the franchise's history.

Jones left the Celtics after the 1988 season and moved on to another position as the assistant coach with the Seattle Supersonics. He became the Sonics head coach two years later, a position he held until 1992. In 1994 he began a two-year stint as an assistant for the Detroit Pistons. Jones returned to coaching in 1997, this time for the New England Blizzard of the American Basketball League (ABL), a women's professional league. He coached the Blizzard until the ABL collapsed in 1999, with the advent of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA). Afterward, Jones returned to college coaching, first for the University of Rhode Island in Kingston and then for the University of Hartford in Connecticut.

In his nine-year playing career as a point guard for the Boston Celtics, the six-foot, one-inch Jones averaged only .387 from the floor and .647 from the free throw line. However, Jones's soft-spoken personality and mediocre statistics belied his competitive fire and reputation as a defensive standout. Wherever Jones went, both as a player and as a coach, he seemed to bring victory with him. Two NCAA championships, an Olympic gold medal in 1956, eight NBA championships as a player, another two NBA championships as a head coach, and another two as an assistant added up to an unparalleled basketball career.

Jones has been the subject of numerous magazine profiles. He wrote, with Jack Warner, Rebound: The Autobiography of K. C. Jones and an Inside Look at the Champion Boston Celtics (1986). His friendship with Bill Russell is discussed in Russell's two autobiographies, Go Up for the Glory (written with William McSweeney, 1966), and Second Wind: The Memoirs of an Opinionated Man (written with Taylor Branch, 1979). Jones is featured in On and Off the Court (1985) by Joe Fitzgerald and Celtics coach and owner Red Auerbach. Jones is also discussed in the many histories of the Celtics, including Joe Fitzgerald, That Championship Feeling (1974); Jeff Greenfield , The World's Greatest Team: A Portrait of the Boston Celtics, 1957–1969 (1979); Bob Ryan, The Boston Celtics (1989); and Dan Shaughnessy, Ever Green: The Boston Celtics (1990). An in-depth discussion of the Celtics' championship season with Jones as coach (1985–1986) is in Peter May, In the Last Banner (1996).

Matthew Taylor Raffety