Sam Jones, a clutch scorer who won 10 titles with the Boston Celtics during their dynasty in the late 1950s and 1960s, has died at the age of 88.
Jones died Thursday night in Florida, where he had been hospitalized in failing health, Celtics spokesperson Jeff Twiss said. The team held a moment of silence for Jones before Friday’s game against the Phoenix Suns.
“Sam Jones was one of the most talented, versatile, and clutch shooters for the most successful and dominant teams in NBA history,” the Celtics said in a statement. “His scoring ability was so prolific, and his form so pure, that he earned the simple nickname, ‘The Shooter.’ … The Jones family is in our thoughts as we mourn his loss and fondly remember the life and career of one of the greatest champions in American sports.”
Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984, Jones played all 12 of his NBA seasons with the Celtics. Paired with K.C. Jones in the backcourt, he was a shooting guard known for his quickness, his leadership on the court and one of the best bank shots in the game.
“Sam Jones will be remembered as one of the most prolific champions in all of professional sports,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “His selfless style, clutch performances and signature bank shot were hallmarks of an incredible career that featured 10 NBA championships in 12 seasons with the Boston Celtics. An HBCU legend at North Carolina Central University and a member of the NBA’s 25th, 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams, Sam was a beloved teammate and respected competitor who played the game with dignity and class.
“We mourn the passing of a basketball giant and send our deepest condolences to Sam’s family and the Celtics organization.”
Jones was drafted sight unseen by Red Auerbach in 1957 out of North Carolina Central, a historically Black college. The Celtics were coming off a title, and Jones thought he had little chance of making it into the lineup, with Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman forming a legendary backcourt in Boston.
“I never felt so miserable in my life when I got the news,” Jones said at the time. “I really thought it was the end of my basketball career. Sure, I was thrilled with the honor. … I never thought I’d be able to break into the game, let alone the lineup.”
Jones averaged 4.6 points per game his rookie season, but Auerbach liked his speed, intelligence and team-first approach. When Sharman was sidelined by injuries early in the 1960-61 season, Jones got his shot to start and became a fixture on the championship teams.
“Sam was one of the great shooters of all time,” Auerbach once said. “But he was team-oriented. All he wanted to do was win. … The great athletes, they played for pride.”
Jones was a five-time All-Star and finished his career with 15,411 points, averaging 17.7 points per game. He led the Celtics in scoring for three seasons, and when he retired, he held the franchise record for most points scored in a game with 51, a mark that was broken by Larry Bird. Jones’ 10 titles are the second most of any NBA player, behind teammate Bill Russell (11).
Russell once said that if there was one shot to be made to win the game, he would want Sam Jones to take it.
“I was a good shot,” Jones said, “and I never thought about missing. I thought about the ball going in the basket.”
Jones burnished his reputation for clutch scoring during the playoffs. In Game 7 of the 1962 Eastern Conference finals against the Philadelphia Warriors, Jones hit a game-winning jumper with two seconds remaining over the outstretched arms of Wilt Chamberlain. In the Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers that year, Jones scored five of the Celtics’ 10 overtime points in Game 7 to help the team to its fourth straight title.
He retired from basketball in 1969 at the age of 36. In his final game, a Celtics win over the Lakers in Los Angeles in Game 7 of the Finals, Jones scored 24 points.
At a ceremony to honor him after his retirement, Auerbach said, “I would like to thank Sam Jones for making me a helluva coach.”
After retiring, Jones became a substitute teacher in Maryland. He continued to teach for more than 30 years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.