Edgar Jones: Living the Early 1980s in ‘The Zone’

Remember Edgar Jones? Six-foot-10. A forward out of University of Nevada. Skinny. Real athletic. Spent six seasons in the league (1980-86). He started with New Jersey, his home state, bounced to Detroit, San Antonio, then his knees gave out in Cleveland. Jones finished with career numbers of 9.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per outing. What kind of game did he have? “Edgar Jones is the kind of player who keeps both teams close,” a basketball magazine wryly wrote of the always-active, anything-goes career bench player who took the floor ghoulishly sans his two front teeth. 

Ring a bell? If not, don’t worry. You’re not alone. But if you reported on or followed the league intensely in the early 1980s, you’re probably already smiling. Jones was one of the era’s most-colorful characters, a beaming personality and an outspoken practitioner of circular logic. A unique brand of round and round. Marvin Barnes had nothing on Edgar Jones, or E.J. to his bemused teammates. 

“E.J. is in another world out there,” said the unique World B. Free, his teammate in Cleveland. “In fact, he is another World. He’s like World, Jr . . . Hey, I like that—that’s a good comparison.” Other teammates said E.J. “lives in the zone,” a euphemism for “out there.” George Karl, the then-Cleveland head coach, cut to the chase. “When he’s not good, he’s weird.” 

Here is E.J’s mind and tongue in NBA and other verbal action:

On his intelligence. “My intelligence is at times baffling. People underestimate it. At parties, I was always looked on more as a bookworm than a jock. If people aren’t prepared for me, then they walk away from me knowing less than they did when they walked up.”

On things and nothing all the time: “You can say so much about so many things so often. But if you do, then you’ll be saying nothing about anything all the time.”

On Bernhard Goetz: “I’m an admirer of (New York subway vigilante) Bernhard Goetz, because whether it’s pool or basketball, I shoot first and ask questions later. What you have to remember about me is that I’m a participant and not a victim in the way of the world.”

On his playing time, or the lack thereof: “In order to produce, you gotta be on the floor. During my whole career, people have asked me why I don’t start or get more minutes. All I can say is that I do what I can, when I can.”

On taking up basketball as a teen. “Basketball is the last sport I took up back in high school. I was too busy throwing the javelin, running sprints, and playing football and baseball. I could play all eight positions, except catcher, because I looked funny wearing a mask. In football, I was a wide receiver; I can bench 275-280 pounds, you know. Then all of a sudden, I grew six inches in a month . . . Maybe less than a month. I looked at my pants and saw them crawling up my legs. That’s what I decided to play basketball. It didn’t take me long to get good. Maybe one day. Ever since then, I’ve been dishing out the punishment . . . Just scaring people.’

On the evolution of his game. “There’s something you need to learn, and that’s E.J.’s Theory of Evolution. I didn’t develop as a basketball player, I evolved. First, I was a defensive specialist. Then, I incorporated the shot blocking, and then I threw the dunking and jump shooting into the mix. I came up with a dominating, exterminating, germinating, postulating machine. One bad, dude. Now, I’m what you’d call a stalwart, an anchor. That’s why you’ll never see me quoted again. Defensive players don’t talk. You taunt before you dunk in his face, but not before you throw his shot in the stands.”

On his dunking prowess: “I’ve made dunks over people that players can’t make when they’re wide open. I’m a three-dimensional player.”

On his offensive game: “Offense is like a chemical to me. When I’m scoring, I can open up a whole game, my whole life. When I’m not, it’s like I’m in a cave, and I have to bring us out of it.”

On his outside shooting: “If I hit the first couple early, the defense is in trouble, because I’ll take them all night. Everybody always backs off me, because they know I want to dunk. But my leg isn’t 100 percent yet, so I’ll shoot from outside and try to keep the defense honest. When my leg gets stronger, then you’ll get the tomahawks and everything the fans want to see.”

On his popularity: “Fans like unpredictable players like me. They move up a little in their seats when I come into the game. They don’t know if I’ll do something good, bad, or what. All they know is I’ll do something, and they want to see what it is. Basically, I do what I can, when I can. I play the complete game. I can shoot, rebound, and bang on the boards. I can hurt you in so many different ways. I see myself as unstoppable because I have so much in my arsenal.”

On seeing the San Diego Chicken for the first time: “When I saw the Chicken, my first thought was to cut him up and fry him, get some grease and have a feast. I can taste it now. Contrary to what you guys [reporters] think, I don’t mind mascots. The last time I drilled one, it was in New Jersey a couple of years ago. Things were going bad, and he came up and said something, so I fed him my fist. I didn’t get in trouble, because New Jersey is my hometown. But to be honest, I don’t coldcock mascots very often.”

On his earning power: “Everybody keeps asking me how I’m going to make money outside of basketball instead of in. As soon as I get my doctor of real estate, they’ll know.”

Coach George Karl on Edgar Jones: “You know, behind his B.S., E.J. is a hard-working player who wants to win very badly.”

[Let’s close with a blast from a most-unusual tip-in past. Cleveland vs. New Jersey in the Meadowlands, March 26, 1986. The famous Terry Pluto on the call in the Akron Beacon Journal.]

On some shots, there’s never a doubt. On others, there’s only a prayer. 

For a clue about what kind of shot Wednesday night enabled the Cavaliers to win their first game in 15 tries at the Meadowlands, all you had to do was look at Cleveland coach Gene Littles. He was on his knees. You couldn’t blame him for having his hands folded and his eyes toward the heavens.

That’s how it was on Edgar Jones’ tip-in, a shot that may live in infamy only in the minds of Jones and Littles. Hey, this wasn’t even the shot heard all the way around East Rutherford, but it was enough for the Cavs to edge New Jersey, 110-108, before 10,278.

“You want to know about that last shot?” asked New Jersey coach Dave Wohl. “Well, I’ll tell you this—the guy who tipped it in probably didn’t know he did it. And I’ll tell you something else, that ball defied gravity.”

Maybe it could only happen to Edgar Jones, who revolutionized West Coast basketball by blocking shots with his head at Nevada-Reno. For an account of this great deed, no one could do it more justice than the man himself. Take it away, E.J.:

“Let’s see, it was 108-108, and we had the ball out of bounds with 14 seconds left. The ball went into Bags (guard John Bagley), and he threw it to Roy (Hinson), and Roy shot it about five times. Then Buck Williams had the ball, then he didn’t. I had five fouls, you see, and I was wondering if I should get in there or just watch. So I made my move, and I sorta got it around the rim, and I tipped it in.”

There was more. 

“But the ball didn’t go in right away. It kinda hung on the rim for a second or two, thinking, ‘Should I go in or not?’ Then it went in.”

For some clarification, we go to Bagley: “E.J. tipped the ball in from about his shoulder, almost like he shot-putted it.”

And this from World B. Free: “E.J. is gonna say he had his elbows over the rim, and he was soaring. He’ll say he almost broke the rim with his power. He’ll say a lot of things.”

And what should we do?

“Use your own judgment,” said Free. 

Meanwhile, Jones was receiving his star-of-the-game award from broadcaster Joe Tait, who noted Jones was “albeit a rather tarnished star.”

“That was the only thing I did right all day,” said Jones, who had six points and five fouls in 18 minutes. 

But the press wanted more. Details. They always want details. Like, hey E.J., did you put any spin on the ball?

“The only thing I got on the ball was my hand,” said Jones.

And what is the significance of this shot?

“It means we won the game,” Jones said, “and to win a game like this is better than to lose a game like this. Know what I mean?”

Finally, have you ever won a game like this before?

“Never,” said Jones. “And think of it. You were there.”

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