K.C. Jones Talks Defense, 1973

[Here’s another short article. This one comes from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Don Fair, who covered the Sonics back in the 1970s and interviewed quite a few NBA stars passing through town as fodder for his weekly column. Here, Fair talks with Boston great K.C. Jones, who played with the Celts from 1968-1967, about defense. Great topic, and a great two-minute read. Fair’s story ran in the Seattle P-I on December 30, 1973.] 


Then there were the Good Olde Days. 

But don’t try that line on Capital Bullets coach K.C. Jones, or he might deservedly hit you with something like a used sneaker. 

If ever a little guy (6-feet-1) epitomized defense in the sport of basketball, it was K.C. Jones. He proved it through three varsity seasons and one NCAA championship at the University of San Francisco and through nine years with the Boston Celtics (eight playoff titles).

“I still consider him the best defensive guard in the game,” his old USF and Boston teammate Bill Russell acknowledged recently. 

So, how was K.C. rewarded by the Celtics for providing his team with all those important intangibles that owners and general managers say they desire and reward? “I didn’t make as much money with Boston as I get for coaching the Bullets,” he answered with a shrug. “In my day, you didn’t get paid for playing defense. You got paid for offense. 

“It wasn’t really a shock—I guess it was a disappointment—I couldn’t earn more. The Celtics paid me about the minimum now for a rookie (i.e., $20,500). My last pro season, I made $1,000 more than the minimum.”

Consider that maybe one, or even two NBA players today, receive the minimum, if that many. The rest are in another financial world. 

“The last five Celtic years, I was a starter,” Jones continued. “Mainly, I concentrated on other parts of my game than scoring. I wasn’t that bad a shot in college, but I didn’t think about my shot with the pros. My mind was on everything but concentrating  on the basket when I did shoot.”

So Jones, with a career NBA scoring average of 7.4, put his playing emphasis on “running the fastbreak, diving for the loose ball, getting a few rebounds, quarterbacking the club, and always guarding the strongest opposing guard. “Name the all-star guards, and I had ‘em,” he states.

What was Jones’ requisite for trying to defend opposing supers? “Learn as much as possible about their strengths and weaknesses and master the basic fundamentals of defense. The best way, of course, is to actually play against them, experience them. Sometimes, you picked them up fullcourt or jumped at them to get a reaction how they would handle the ball, what direction. Under stress, any player resorts to the same reaction 95 percent of the time.”

Jones’ specific comments on great guards included:

Oscar Robertson—“He had no weaknesses. He let you make a mistake and was such a good ballhandler that he would take advantage of any defensive opening. The best way to stop him was to play him tough without the ball, so he couldn’t get it.”

Lenny Wilkens—“He was reportedly all lefthanded, or at least 90 percent as far as ballhandling and dribbling. I figured to take his left hand away. But he would lull me into going after the ball, switch the dribble to his right hand, and be gone. The best thing was to be patient, to stay with him. Too often, I got impatient.”

Jerry West—“I learned what he would do in almost every situation. If he was coming straight at me and I jumped, he would cross dribble (transfer the ball from the right to left hand). I would anticipate this move, keep my right hand down for the steal when the crossover came. Jerry was so quick with his shot that I decided to go up—whether he was faking or not—to try to block his shot. You had to go straight up, so you didn’t land on him either.”

Hal Greer—“I played him without the ball as much as possible. He liked to drive and work a pick for his shots.”

Jones concluded: “No team worked as hard as the Celtics did on the “D” when I played. Now, the whole league is defense conscious. 

And finally, what do the initials K.C. stand for? 

“Just K.C., that’s all. But in the sixth grade, my teacher said I had to have a name. So, I talked with my mother, Enia, and we decided on: Kertell Clemens Jones. I used it for almost two months before kids started misusing the first name. I told Mom that was it and went back to K.C. And you can’t print the name the kids had been giving me.”

Under the guise of NBA privilege, Jones told me the censored name. He’s right. I can’t print it. 

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