On the Bounce with Jo Jo White, 1975

[During the 1969 NBA Draft, all talk centered around UCLA’s superstar-in-the-making Lew Alcindor and everything his skyhook would bring to expansion Milwaukee. But in Boston, after the Celtics made its first-round selection, Red Auerbach sat tossing a blue-and-white top into the air in stunned triumph. “I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it,” exhaled the cagey Boston GM. “He’s the only one I ever drafted that I never expected to get.”

No, Boston hadn’t just been offered a once-in-a-lifetime shot at Alcindor. What stunned Auerbach is Jo Jo White, Kansas University’s high-scoring All-American guard, had slipped to Boston with the ninth pick due to well-founded rumors that Uncle Sam had selected him for two years of mandatory military service. 

The gleeful Auerbach followed up with a few choice phone calls to sneak White into the Connecticut National Guard and cancel his draft status. Though Auerbach caught some heat for his National Guard stunt (the Kansas star had never stepped foot in Connecticut), he opened the 1969-70 season with White and his trusty jump shot plugged into the Celtic lineup as the heir apparent to the retired Sam Jones.

In this short article, plucked from a 1975 Hoop Magazine, the Christian Science Monitor’s Ross Atkin explores White’s career in season six (of 12) and highlights his expanded role in the Celtics’ lineup.]


When Jo Jo White first came into the National Basketball Association six years ago, he was like an assembly line worker asked to concentrate on one thing—scoring.

But the Boston Celtics’ front office knew that someday White would have to move up to a foreman’s job. It would no longer be enough to tighten lug nuts. He would have to start putting the whole car together.

That is what has happened over the last few years. Jo Jo has been asked to help John Havlicek quarterback the offense, and at the same time, play solid defense. “It’s been difficult, because each year I’m asked to do something different,” says White, the son of a Baptist minister. “I just looked to score my first year in the league. That made things simple. But now, I have to play both ends of the floor.”

Jo Jo’s efforts to develop an all-around game have had a noticeable effect on his shooting. “He is streaky now because he has so many other things to think about,” says Tommy Heinsohn, the Boston coach.

Heinsohn used to want White to pump in 20 points every game. “Now,” says Celtic forward Paul Silas, “Jo Jo knows he doesn’t have to get 20 to help us win.” Consequently, his scoring average has tapered down from a career high of 23.1 points per game in 1971-72 to 18.1 in 1974 and 18.3 last season.

Despite the more-modest average, White is still considered a dangerous pure shooter. His radar-controlled jump shot had become something of a trademark. The ball spins madly off his fingertips without a hint of arch, then hits the brakes right above the basket. “It’s all really quite simple,” Jo Jo says. “I just concentrate on getting the ball over the front rim and shooting the same way every time.”

Because his shooting touch tends to be temperamental, Jo Jo is not trigger-happy. If he’s not hitting, he takes fewer shots and is selective about the ones he does take.

But even on those nights when he blows hot and cold as a shooter, White works at being consistent in other areas. He is particularly reliable and adept at directing the Boston fastbreak; and his defensive development allows the Celtics to utilize a full-court press effectively when the occasion calls for it.

Actually, the Celtics’ running game was alien to White when he arrived from Kansas University. With the Jayhawks, he played slowdown, possession basketball so characteristic of the Big Eight Conference. From a minuet of pick-and-rolls, he had to jump into Boston’s up-tempo offense. The ground rules were simple: take the outlet pass and beat a path to the other basket.

“Jo Jo has had to make a tremendous adjustment from college, but he’s made it remarkably well,” says Heinsohn. “Now I think he runs the break as well as any guy in the league.”

Still, White sometimes finds himself in the shadows of other players—and like most players, he also has his shortcomings. “Jo Jo is not a powerful driving player,” Heinsohn says. “He can penetrate, but because he stays on the floor, he can’t see all the plays develop. Don’t get me wrong, Jo Jo is a great athlete, but nobody’s a perfect player.”

Yet a model guard is what many people expected White to be right away. “He was under the gun to perform and be an all-around player from the moment he stepped into the league,” Heinsohn says. “He had more pressure put on him than Havlicek as a rookie. Remember, John was the Celtics’ sixth man for several years.”

Heinsohn adds, “The fact is, Jo Jo is a very underrated player, a super offensive player who will probably outscore Havlicek during his career if he plays the same number of years.” Havlicek, Boston’s super-charged forward who has been a Celtic since the 1962-63 season, is the team’s all-time scoring leader. 

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