K.C. Jones, who won 12 NBA Championships (11 with the Boston Celtics) as a player and coach has passed away at the age of 88. The news was first reported by Tim Bontemps of ESPN.
Jones was a pillar of the two most dominant runs in Celtics’ history, as a point guard in the 1960’s and a coach in the 1980’s. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1989, and his number 25 is retired by the Celtics.
The Taylor, Texas native played his college ball at the University of San Francisco alongside lifelong friend Bill Russell. After winning two NCAA Championships, Jones was drafted by the Celtics in the second round of the 1956 NBA Draft (the same draft that saw the Celtics select Russell and Tommy Heinsohn).
From 1958-59 to 1965-67, Jones and the Celtics won eight straight NBA titles. His eight rings are the third-most by a player in NBA history, behind only Russell (11) and fellow Celtic Sam Jones (10). He played 676 games in his nine-year career, during which he was known as a ferocious defender.
As a part of the US Men’s Olympic team, he won a Gold Medal in 1956. Jones is one of just seven players to win at least one NCAA title, NBA title, and Olympic Gold Medal. The others are Russell, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Jerry Lucas, Quinn Buckner and Clyde Lovellette.
I just received a call letting me know my x-roommate/teammate & most of all friend the great KC Jones passed this morning. Prayers to his family. We have been friends for almost 60yrs, this our last photo together. Friends for life #2020Usuck! #RIP @NBA @celtics pic.twitter.com/Ia6yZB5l2x— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) December 25, 2020
After attempting an NFL career following the end of his time with the Celtics, Jones ended up back in basketball. He coached locally – first as the head coach for Brandeis University in Waltham from 1967-1970, then as an assistant at Harvard for the 1970-71 season.
His first professional head coaching job came in 1972 with the San Diego Conquistadors of the ABA. After stops in Washington and Milwaukee, he returned to the Celtics as an assistant in 1978. Working on the staff of Bill Fitch, he was part of the 1981 championship team.
He would go on to assume Fitch’s role as the head coach before the 1983 season, and was at the helm for the Celtics championships in 1984 and 1986. Along with Russell (1968, 1969) he is one of only two African-American head coaches to win multiple NBA championships.
Jones would go on to coach with the Detroit Pistons and Seattle Super Sonics, before one final stint with the Celtics. He closed his career as the head coach of the ABL’s New England Blizzard in 1997 and 1998. In total, Jones spent 31 years coaching the game of basketball. 21 of those were with teams in Greater Boston.
Shortly following the news of his passing, the Celtics released the following statement memorializing Jones.
Where K.C. Jones went, winning was sure to follow. K.C. – his given name – was a twelve-time NBA champion as player and coach, a two-time NCAA champion, and a Gold medal-winning Olympian and Hall of Famer. In NBA history, only teammates Bill Russell and Sam Jones have more championship rings during their playing careers. K.C. along with Russell, Clyde Lovellette, Jerry Lucas, Quinn Buckner, Earvin “Magic “Johnson and Michael Jordan, are the only players in history to achieve basketball’s “Triple Crown” – winning an NCAA Championship, an NBA Championship and an Olympic Gold Medal. His number 25 has hung from the rafters since 1967.
K.C.’s coaching career was similarly illustrious. He was named to lead the Celtics in 1983, beginning what is one of the most remarkable head coaching runs the NBA has seen. K.C. helmed the Celtics for two of the most memorable seasons in the team’s rich history, first leading the team to a championship in 1984 over the Lakers during a peak of that storied rivalry. Two seasons later, he led what many consider the greatest team in NBA history, the 1986 Champion Boston Celtics. These were the highlights of an astonishing four consecutive seasons in the NBA Finals, one of the most impressive and beloved Celtics eras.
K.C. also demonstrated that one could be both a fierce competitor and a gentleman in every sense of the word. He made his teammates better, and he got the most out of the players he coached. Never one to seek credit, his glory was found in the most fundamental of basketball ideals – being part of a winning team. The Celtics family mourns his loss, as we celebrate his remarkable career and life.