K.C. Jones lived a full life in basketball. As a collegian, he and Bill Russell led their team to two national championships as well as a historic win streak. As a pro, he won eight NBA championships with the Boston Celtics before embarking on a long, illustrious coaching career that garnered four more titles. Through it all, the basketball lifer from San Francisco learned the value of teamwork. This is his story.
The Early Years
K.C. Jones was born on May 25, 1932 in Taylor, Texas, the youngest of six children. After his parent's divorce, he moved with his mom and two of his siblings to San Francisco when he was nine. As a youth looking for his niché in society, he discovered a love for basketball and learned the game on a patch of gravel.
Hardened by the hours spent on that patch of gravel, he starred on the basketball and football teams at Commerce High School and received a scholarship to the University of San Francisco. Under the guidance of coach Phil Woolpert, K.C. teamed up with Bill Russell to form one of the best duo's in the country. While together, the two would develop a play that is now known as the "alley-oop".
By the time they graduated in 1956, they had won back to back national championships and had won a then-record 55 straight games. At the time, K.C. thought that he had reached the peak of his basketball life, but little did he know just how wrong he was.
After his eligibility ran out, K.C. Jones was drafted in the second round (13th overall) by the Boston Celtics. At the time, he was seriously considering football as his future, not basketball, and even tried out as a defensive back for the Rams. But given the time commitment that he had made devoting himself to two sports at high levels, K.C. Jones couldn't convince the Rams coaches that he could be a key contributor in their defense.
With his football career over, Jones traveled across the country to Boston where coach Red Auerbach was building one of the great dynasties in all of sports alongside K.C's old college teammate, Bill Russell. In an era where the game's greatest gobbled up rebounds at a furious pace, K.C. Jones struggled. In nine years as a Celtic, his greatest year garnered just 4.7 rebounds per game, paling in comparison with the likes of Russell and Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain.
He wasn't much of a scorer either, topping out at 9.2 points per game in 1961-1962. But what K.C. Jones offered was a consistent presence on the floor, making the well-timed basket, the nifty assist or the game-saving rebound. Whatever it took to win a game, fans could be sure that Jones would be in the mix.
While the stars of the team such as Russell, John Havlicek, Bob Cousy and Sam Jones made a more recognizable impact, K.C. Jones helped his team win an improbable eight straight NBA Finals. Even then, he stood in the background, boasting of just 20 points in the fifth and final game of the 1965 championship series versus the Lakers, a game that the Celtics won convincingly 129-96.
After eight straight world championships, the Celtics were starting to look invincible to the rest of the world. That is, everyone but Philadelphia. In 1966-1967, change was in the air. All year long, it was as if Wilt Chamberlain and the 76ers were on a mission to defeat the Celtics when it mattered most. Despite Havlicek's 36 points in Game 5 of the Eastern Division Finals, the Philadelphia 76ers prevailed over their nemesis in dominating fashion, winning 140-1116. After that humbling loss, K.C. Jones hung up his sneakers and went straight into coaching.
Never in his wildest dreams could K.C. Jones had envisioned such a long and distinguished coaching career. After cutting his teeth in the profession at Brandeis and Harvard, K.C. Jones moved on to the Lakers, serving as an assistant for that historic 1971-1972 season. Ironically, a Celtic helped his longtime nemesis's Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and the Lakers finally win their first championship in California.
After a stint with the San Diego Conquistadors, Jones went to Washington D.C. to become the Bullets new head coach. The team was successful and even went as far as the NBA Finals in 1975, losing in an upset to the Warriors. After losing to Golden State in the Finals, K.C. Jones hungered for more and would spend the rest of his career searching for his next ring.
His next opportunity would come in 1981. At the time, he had been an assistant coach for the Celtics for three years and had watched as the franchise transformed itself from an afterthought to a juggernaut in the span of a single year. After Larry Bird arrived from Indiana State in 1979, the Celtics fortunes would never be the same.
While they lost to the 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1980, they returned with a vengeance the following year, clawing their way from a 3-1 deficit to defeat Philadelphia in the Easter Conference Finals before dismantling the Rockets for the NBA championship.
Two years later, K.C. Jones was named the head coach of the Boston Celtics, his old team. It was only fitting that they ended the year as champions over the hated Lakers, beating them in seven thrilling games. The following year, the two teams clashed in the Finals again, but this time was a bit different.
All year long, the Lakers had waited for the opportunity to avenge their previous Finals losses to Boston and by the time that the NBA Finals came around they were beyond angry. They were downright steamed. Despite the Celtics best efforts, they couldn't stop the locomotive from running over them in six games.
The Celtics returned to the Finals again in 1986, boasting the league's best record as well as the best home record in NBA history, winning 40 out of 41 contests. It was just one of those years where everything fell into place for one particular team all year and there was nothing that anyone else in the NBA could do to prevent the inevitable from happening. By the end of the year, the Celtics had won their third NBA title of the decade.
The Celtics were not so fortunate the following year. Betrayed by their aging bodies, they once again lost to the hated Lakers in the Finals. It would be their last appearance on the sport's biggest stage for the next 21 years. After resigning as Boston's coach in 1988, K.C. Jones spent a year away from the game, recharging for his last chapter.
By the time he was hired as an assistant in Seattle, Jones had been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The miniscule numbers on his resumé not withstanding, he had been recognized as one of the sport's greats for his efforts as a true team player during one of the greatest dynasties in all of sports.
From the time that he first became an assistant in Seattle in 1989 through his last foray in the coaching world with the New England Blizzard of the ABL in 1998, K.C. Jones had found time to spread his knowledge of the game that he loved to virtually every corner of the United States, whether it was in Seattle, Detroit, Boston or New England, he made sure that the sport remembered him long after he was gone. In 2006, he was recognized for those great teams that he and Bill Russell led in San Francisco by being inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame. After living a full life, K.C. Jones passed away on Christmas Day 2020.