The Jo Jo White Interview
Michael D. McClellan
Monday, April 7th, 2003
The exquisite jumper and boundless energy were nonpareil, yet these attributes barely tell the story of how Jo Jo White became one of the most important Boston Celtics of all time. He is perhaps most famous for his role in “The Greatest Game Ever Played”, the triple-overtime victory over the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals, and yet his was a career built on the dual pilings of longevity (10 seasons in a Celtic uniform, seven seasons an NBA All-Star) and durability (a team record 488 consecutive games played). He was the ideal teammate, willing to suppress his considerable offensive talents in order to make those around him better. He was a superbly conditioned athlete and the catalyst of a vaunted fast–break attack that won two world championships in the mid-70s. He was, above all else, the consummate Boston Celtic; like Frank Ramsey and Satch Sanders before him, White understood his roll and played it to perfection, and in the process continued the Celtic tradition of placing team-centric accomplishments ahead of individual honors.
Jo Jo White was another in a long line of Red Auerbach masterstrokes; while highly coveted in the 1969 NBA Draft, the Kansas All-American slipped to the Celtics because of what was believed to be a two-year military obligation. White found himself in the Marine Reserve program instead, and Auerbach suddenly had the foundation on which to build a post-Russell title winner. A year later, Auerbach would add swashbuckling center Dave Cowens to the mix; by 1974 the Boston Celtics were once again atop the basketball world.
White, who grew up playing sports in St. Louis, was such a gifted all-around athlete that both the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Reds drafted him. A consensus All-American at Kansas, White helped the United States to Olympic gold in Mexico City as the U.S. erupted for 17 unanswered points to begin the second half against the Yugoslavians. (White would score eight points in the onslaught.)
Still, his name will forever be linked to "The Greatest Game Ever Played", and on that sweat-box of a stage otherwise known as Boston Garden, Jo Jo White came to play. Thirty-three points. Hellish defense. Sixty-plus minutes on the court in a pivotal, triple-overtime Game 5 that put the Celtics up 3-2 in the series. White's performance catapulted Boston to its 13th NBA title, guaranteed him the NBA Finals MVP award, and solidified his place in the pantheon of Celtic immortals.
I had the good fortune of speaking with Mr. White just hours before his beloved Jayhawks were to square off against Syracuse for the NCAA Championship in New Orleans. He was very accommodating despite a hectic schedule that includes his role as Director of Special Projects and Community Relations with the Boston Celtics. Intelligent, articulate and thoughtful, Jo Jo White epitomizes what Celtic greatness is all about.