So as some of the readers of this publication are aware, I covered a reception for Celtics great K.C. Jones last week. The event was a benefit for the Pittsfield Public School Athletic Dept. and the Pittsfield Hoop Club. Very well attended. Lots of fun.
Most of what was printed were comments by Jones made at the event itself. But Jim Abel, Pittsfield Public School Athletic Director, also set up a little late lunch-early dinner for me with Jones before the event. K.C. had so many interesting things to say at the event that there was no room in the last story for his observations during our little tête-à-tête.
So, here, unvarnished, are some of his remarks.
Q: Starting with your college career, did you foresee success at the University of San Francisco, especially after seeing Bill Russell?
A: Well, that's interesting. In 1955, four of the five starters at USF couldn't shoot a lick. I couldn't shoot, Russell couldn't shoot, (guard) Hal Perry couldn't shoot, (forward Stan) Buchanan couldn't shoot. The only guy that could shoot was (forward Jerry) Mullen. But we lost one game that year, went undefeated the next year. Two national champions.
Q: So how did you do it?
A: Defense, defense, defense. Run the floor, run the floor, and then defense and more defense. That was it. We got all over people. And no one had ever seen anything
Q: A situation, I assume, that carried over to the 1956 Olympics, where the U.S. won the gold medal, with you at the point and Russell at center.
A: We killed everybody. The Russians were supposed to be good. We killed Russia.
Q: So were you always known for defense?
A: Hell no. I was the leading scorer in the city at (San Francisco) Commerce High. I could knock down shots from all over the place. I was 5-10 as a senior. The summer after that, I grew three inches. And my shot disappeared. I still don't know why.
Q: You graduated from USF in 1956, and went into the Army. You didn't join the Celtics until 1958. Any regrets not playing those two years?
A: Well, I don't know if I could have made the team in 1956. Boston had a veteran team, and they picked up (forward Tommy) Heinsohn and Russell in the draft. I don't know if (coach) Red (Auerbach) would have kept three rookies. So it might have worked out better for me this way.
Q: What was your first Celtics camp like?
A: I felt as though I had to make an impression. So the first scrimmage, I picked up (guard Bob) Cousy full-court. When Cousy sat down, I picked up (guard Bill) Sharman full court. Everywhere they went, I went. And they started hitting me and banging me and trying to run me into picks, but that was good. Because Red started to notice me.
Q: On to coaching. Talk about your most satisfying year as a head coach.
A: Has to be 1984. We faced the Lakers in the NBA Finals, and we won the championship in seven games. The guys played hard for me all year. I really enjoyed that season.
Q: I would have thought 1986 would have been the best year. Boston went 67-15, and dominated the league. Larry Bird was MVP and he was unstoppable.
A: Oh, that was a fun year, too. That was my favorite team. Larry was knocking down shots from everywhere, we had (guards) Danny (Ainge) and Dennis (Johnson) playing great out front. Kevin McHale, Robert (Parish) and Bill (Walton) were killing people in the paint. When we got Walton, Bill was so happy to come here. He played every game that season with a huge smile on his face.
Q: You played with Russell. You coached Bird. Who was better?
A: (Raising index finger) Bill Russell. (Raising two fingers) Larry Bird. But not by much. They played different positions, but Larry did the same job Russell did for their teams. They were both leaders. They were both team players. They both loved to win. They made it very easy to play the game. Or coach it.