K.C. Jones, Celtics legend and former Bullets coach, dies at 88

“I thought I was going to be coach of the Bullets for the rest of my life,” Jones told The Washington Post in 1983 . “I guess I was naiv...

“I thought I was going to be coach of the Bullets for the rest of my life,” Jones told The Washington Post in 1983. “I guess I was naive. I’m carrying my ‘For Sale’ sign with me now, because getting fired is a reality. It’s something that’s going to happen to every coach. I learned that the hard way.”

Jones said his life fell apart and he gave up hope that he would coach in the NBA again, but a decade later he would coach his former team, the Boston Celtics, to a pair of NBA titles, earning his 11th and 12th championship as a player, assistant coach or head coach.

Jones, a Hall of Famer, an Olympic gold medalist and one of the most prolific winners in basketball history, died Friday at 88.

Jones was born in Taylor, Tex., in 1932, but he emerged as a star football and basketball player at San Francisco’s Commerce High before he was recruited to play at the University of San Francisco alongside future teammate and Hall of Famer Bill Russell. Jones and Russell became roommates, and in 1956, back-to-back NCAA champions and gold medalists at the Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.

While scouting Russell, Celtics Coach Red Auerbach took notice of Jones, who was selected in the second round after Boston drafted Russell second overall in the 1956 NBA draft. But Jones, a point guard, would not make his Celtics debut until two years later, after serving in the Army and nearly playing cornerback for the Los Angeles Rams.

“I didn’t think I was good enough to make the NBA,” Jones told the Los Angeles Times in 1989, referencing a leg injury he was dealing with at the time. “But I had an injury that would have gotten worse if I had continued to play football.

“I called Red Auerbach and asked if there was still a spot for me on the team. Had Red said no, I would have gone back to the Rams.”

Jones played behind all-NBA guard Bob Cousy for five years until Cousy’s retirement in 1963, after which Jones solidified his role as a defensive stopper while quarterbacking the Celtics’ offense — he ranks ninth on the Celtics’ career assists list with 2,908.

“I played for Red Auerbach. I watched him, listened to him, saw what he did,” Jones said. “Cousy was the quarterback of our team, and I watched him. I was a bench guy and I hated being on the bench, but while I was there I watched and absorbed, and when I got out there on the court I was in heaven.”

Boston won eight consecutive titles from 1959 to 1966. Jones retired in 1967, and he began coaching at Brandeis and Harvard before joining the Los Angeles Lakers as an assistant and winning another championship in 1972.

A one-year stint as the coach of the American Basketball Association’s San Diego Conquistadors preceded his 1973 return to coach the NBA’s Capital Bullets, who changed their name to the Washington Bullets the following year.

He took Washington to the 1975 NBA Finals and posted a 155-91 record over three seasons before serving as an assistant — and winning the 1981 NBA championship with Boston — for seven years while nursing the urge to lead an NBA team again.

Jones got that second chance, taking over the Celtics in 1983 and coaching a team that boasted Hall of Famers Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances and championships in 1984 and 1986. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player three years later.

Jones is one of eight players to win an NCAA championship, an NBA championship and an Olympic gold medal. Only Russell and former Celtics teammate Sam Jones have won more NBA championships as players.

Cedric Maxwell, Jones’s former player with the Celtics, described him as a “quiet genius” Friday.

“He demanded respect. He knew his players. He understood in a huge way of how to get the most out of his players,” he said. “You had to respect the fact that he was an all-time champion.”

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Newsrust: K.C. Jones, Celtics legend and former Bullets coach, dies at 88
K.C. Jones, Celtics legend and former Bullets coach, dies at 88
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