NBA 75th Anniversary Season

Archive 75: Sam Jones

In honor of the passing of Sam Jones, we present a look back at his NBA career.

Todd Spehr

Archive 75: Sam Jones

Pinpointing the most important shot Sam Jones hit in his career is a dilemma of the “choose your favorite child” variety. But a good place to start was one that came in Jones’ 12th and final season, in Game 4 of the 1969 championship series against the Lakers. Here’s the scenario: Seven seconds left in the game, and Boston trailing 88-87. In the series, the Celtics were behind 2-1 and a loss heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 would place them one step from elimination. But no team in the history of this league relied more on single-possession miracles than the Celtics of the Bill Russell era. Time and again their fate rested on someone make a play and time and again someone made a play. Very often, that someone was Sam Jones.

We are going to introduce you to the Sam Jones vault in the most glorious way possible: By showing you one of the most famous shots in championship history, using footage not seen since its original broadcast, as described by Chick Hearn.

Nothing defined Sam Jones greater than his continual insistence on showing up for the big game, for delivering when the stakes were highest. And when a single game’s outcome dictated the series winner — Game 7 — Jones was at his best. Whether unlocking a tie with two seconds left on a 15-footer (1962 vs. Philadelphia), outscoring the great Oscar Robertson 47-43 (1963 vs. Cincinnati), or hitting for 37 while tracking down the ball John Havlicek famously stole (1965 vs. Philadelphia), Jones always rose for deciding, winner-take-all games. Those 1969 Finals would come down to the final game, too, and Jones delivered again with 24 points in what was ultimately his farewell to professional basketball, taking with him title No. 10.

Drawn to intense moments in the biggest of games, that immortal Celtics team was constantly tested, and it culminated for Jones and company in 1969. If Jones was afraid of failing on the big stage, then he sure didn’t sound like it. Here, it’s the vault’s turn to come through in the clutch. Listen as Jones talks about delivering in the pressure moments; watch as we show that famed shot to bury the Lakers from every angle.

Please allow one moment for this most awesome diversion. Here’s Sam Jones shooting jump shots in an empty Boston Garden in 1962 as described by the inimitable Johnny Most. Why? Because it’s Sam Jones shooting jump shots in an empty Boston Garden in 1962 as described by the inimitable Johnny Most!

Wilt Chamberlain had the “Dipper Dunk.” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the sky hook. George Gervin the finger roll. For Sam Jones, it was the bank shot. While a modern game can be a composition of evolved moves first formed by those of yesteryear, some, like Abdul-Jabbar’s hook or Jones’ bank shot, are mostly lost to time and are rarely seen. Jones was a lethal outside shooter — one with a rapid-fire release — and when it came to hitting the board from distance, he was incredibly accurate. His bank shot was part science, part instinct, and all confidence. It was Jones’ go-to shot in a broad offensive ensemble, and he would use it for all occasions.

Presenting: The Sam Jones Bank Shot.

Even within the incredible dominance of his team, Sam Jones was capable of historical marks. He topped out in the 1965 playoffs, when he averaged 28.6 points per game as the Celtics once again won the title. A guard had never averaged that much in a postseason for a team that went on to the championship. The next time it would occur? Michael Jordan, in 1991. The only guards to do it since: Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and Stephen Curry.

But the genuine joy Jones extracted from the game was being part of a team, and in Boston, he was part of the greatest dynasty in sports. It had started humbly, waiting behind Bill Sharman for his full-time opportunity. Yet by 1966, Jones was among the most valued and depended-upon members of a team striving for its eighth consecutive title.

Here, we have unique insight into that journey – from first step to summit. Here, Jones reflects with vivid detail on his very first game, when he joined a team already at the top in 1957.

Now we come full circle. Jones and teammate Satch Sanders watch Boston battle Los Angeles in Game 7 of the 1966 Finals — Red Auerbach’s farewell and the Celtics chasing immortality.

Pick the adjective: Winner, clutch, superstar. Sam Jones was each in the most prolific way. The team he was part of, the Boston Celtics of the 1960s, was truly a cavalcade of the very best this sport has ever offered. And what role did that legendary group keep for Jones? When they needed a play in the biggest moments, they turned to him.

Jones plied his trade while hiding in plain sight, amongst immortals, on one of history’s greatest teams. For Jones, his greatness is undisputed. But the only question remaining is this: Did he ever get that moment of pure appreciation, of rightful celebration for his accomplishments?

You decide.

 

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