He made five all-star games, and was selected to the All-NBA second-team on three different occasions. In the 1965 playoffs, with the Celtics gunning for their seventh straight championship, this shooting guard played the best basketball of his career, averaging 28.6 points and leading the Cs to a tough series victory over the Philadelphia 76ers and a resounding rout of the Lakers in the finals.
Later, in 1969—his final season—this shooting guard hit a game-winning shot against the Lakers in Game Four of the finals, rescuing the Celtics from a sure loss and propelling them to a tightly-contested seven-game victory.
So it's safe to say that there are streets in Boston named after him, right? That people still talk about his exploits as if they were there when they happened? That any Bostonian could walk by him, immediately recognize him and think, "Man, oh man, that guy was unbelievable in his day?"
The passing of time has immortalized Celtics legends such as Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Larry Bird, and Red Auerbach, but left Sam Jones forgotten in history's wake. While most players who have starred for the Celtics remain icons to this day, Jones' legacy has failed to survive through the years. For a player so gifted, so productive, and so exceptional, it's a shame that Boston has so easily disregarded his career, overlooked his excellence, and ignored his accomplishments.
And Jones worked so hard to get where he was. When Boston drafted Jones with the eighth overall pick in the 1957 NBA draft, Jones was actually devastated. Coming from North Carolina Central, a small Divison 2 college without a great basketball pedigree, the 6'4" shooting guard didn’t think he had what it took to cut it with the defending-world champion Celtics. Some players would react to that insecurity by losing confidence and letting their doubts negatively affect their play.
But not Jones.
Jones wasn't ready to contribute to the Celtics right away (averaging a paltry 4.6 point per game during his rookie season), but he never stopped working and never stopped believing in himself. According to Auerbach, Jones would "do anything you ask him. He's always in shape and ready to play, and nobody works any harder at basketball than he does."
With such an unrelenting work ethic, it wasn't long after Jones' unproductive rookie season that he transformed himself from a bench-warmer toiling in the shadows of better players to a contributing player destined for greatness.
It took Jones four seasons to join Bob Cousy in the starting backcourt but, when he did, he had already earned his teammates' admiration and his opponents' begrudging respect. According to Cousy, "Sam and Bill Sharman are probably most responsible for me getting into the Hall-of-Fame, because whenever I'd throw them the ball, they’d put it in the damn hole."
Sam could always make shots, and had an ability to score that rivaled any player in the league. About Jones' basketball abilities, Auerbach proclaimed, "I would like to thank Sam Jones for making me a helluva coach."
During their glory years, Jones was the Celtics’ best scorer. He could fill it up from any angle—a kiss off the glass, tear drops over big men's outstretched hands, pull-ups in transition, you name it—but still has never been granted the respect and admiration bestowed upon most Celtics greats.
And it's sad. When a deserving player fails to receive the undying gratitude granted to all the other Boston stars, one wonders what went wrong. Jones has rarely been back to Boston after his playing days, blaming his unwillingness to return on a lack of an invitation. He doesn't know why he has been so unaccepted in Boston since his retirement, but remembers Boston's racism and hopes the prejudice has "changed for the better."
So, next time you talk about the Celtics dynasty and their star players Russell, Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, and John Havlicek, don't forget the Celtics' best scorer from that era. For decades, Jones has been overlooked by the media and fans alike, staying mostly out of the spotlight and never being paid the reverence his career merited.
Now, it's time Jones finally receives his due for his part in making the Celtics the greatest organization in NBA history.
He earned it long ago.
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