National News

Jo Jo White, Deadeye Shooter for Boston Celtics, Dies at 71

Posted January 17, 2018 12:24 a.m. EST

Jo Jo White, the sharpshooting guard for the Boston Celtics whose smooth, nearly unstoppable jump shot helped carry the team to two National Basketball Association championships in the 1970s, died Tuesday. He was 71.

His death was announced by the Celtics, who did not say where or how he died. White received a diagnosis of brain cancer in 2010.

During his 10 years in Boston, White, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015, embodied the tradition, pride and excellence associated with the Celtics in the decades after the league’s creation. On the court, White could do it all. With quick hands and quick feet, he jump-started fast breaks, finding teammates with clever passes or taking matters into his own hands with a deadeye jump shot.

“He was a champion and a gentleman; supremely talented and brilliant on the court, and endlessly gracious off of it,” the Celtics, for whom White worked as the director of special projects, said in a statement Tuesday.

During his prime in the mid-1970s, White never seemed to tire. He led the team in points and assists in back-to-back seasons, and he played in 488 consecutive games, a Celtics record.

In Game 5 of the 1976 NBA finals, White played 60 of the 63 minutes in a triple-overtime thriller often called the greatest game ever played. He led all players with 33 points and nine assists in a 128-126 victory over the Phoenix Suns. The Celtics went on to win the title in six games, and White was named the most valuable player.

Asked about how he managed to play almost the entire Game 5, White credited his conditioning. “I was tired, but I was conditioned to go the distance,” he said in an interview several years ago. “My thinking was that if I was tired, the other players were close to death.”

From the time he first emerged as a standout player on the national stage, White had an uncanny ability to pull up at the top of the key and sink a clutch shot. A quick dribbler, he could cut through defenses before passing the ball to open teammates. But when a game was close with time expiring, White often had the ball.

In college at the University of Kansas, White hit a 32-foot last-second shot that would have knocked out Texas Western in the 1966 NCAA tournament if not for a ruling by referees that he had stepped out of bounds. Texas Western eventually won the game and later defeated Kentucky, becoming the first team with five black starting players to win the national championship.

“White does everything better than any man of his size I have ever seen,” Phog Allen, the former men’s basketball coach at Kansas, told Sports Illustrated in 1967. “Watch him and you think he’s floating in oil.”

Joseph Henry White was born Nov. 16, 1946, in St. Louis, the youngest of seven children to George White, a Baptist minister, and the former Elizabeth Guynn. White earned his nickname, Jo Jo, in high school when one of his coaches, trying to get his attention, hollered his name twice.

White is survived by his wife, Deborah, whom he met in 1980 when she lived in his apartment building in Boston. Information about other survivors was not immediately available.

White, a top national recruit out of McKinley High School in St. Louis, chose to play college basketball at Kansas, about a four-hour drive west from his home via Interstate 70. By his sophomore year, he had caught the attention of professional teams awed by his ability to pass, rebound, dribble and shoot.

He won a gold medal with the U.S. men’s basketball team in the 1968 Summer Olympics and entered the 1969 NBA draft as one of the top players. But teams had concerns because of White’s commitment to serve in a brief stint in the Marine Reserves after college. The Celtics drafted him ninth overall, and he was able to join the team earlier than expected after the Marines granted him early release.

Off the court, White personified the class and elegance of a winning franchise. A sharp dresser, he was held up as an example for his teammates by Red Auberbach, the legendary Celtics coach who was the team’s general manager when White played.

“Look around you when the Celtics travel. They dress well,” Auberbach said after the team won the 1976 finals, two years after the team won the first championship with White. “If you dress like a champion, you’ll play like one.”