Years Active: 1970 – 1981
Regular Season Stats: 837 games, 35.8 mpg
17.2 ppg, 4.9 apg, 4.0 rpg, 1.3 spg, 44.4% FG, 83.4% FT
Postseason Stats: 80 games, 42.9 mpg
21.5 ppg, 5.7 apg, 4.4 rpg, 1.1 spg, 44.9% FG, 82.8% FT
Accolades: 2x NBA Champion (1974, ’76), Finals MVP (1976), 2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1975, ’77), All-Rookie 1st Team (1970), 7x All-Star (1971-77)
The Celtics lazed through more than three periods until Jo Jo White did a 12-minute hustle Sunday to shoot Boston past Phoenix 98-87 in the opening game of the NBA championship series… White, scoring 12 straight points in a 4:15 span, finished with 22 points – all but two in the final two periods.
The highwater mark of Jo Jo White’s illustrious career came in the 1976 Finals. He played more minutes, scored more points and made more assists than other player in that series thus earning the Finals MVP award. There’s that heroic sequence in Game 1 described above where he knocked down a pair of jumpers, drove for two baskets and hit four straight free throws in just 4 minutes to thwart a Phoenix attempt to steal the series opener.
In Game 5 of the series, which some describe as the greatest game in NBA history, the Suns and Celtics played a triple overtime thriller that saw John Havlicek hit a supposed game winner in the 2nd OT that was instantly topped by Gar Heard’s turnaround jumper.
Jo Jo White amazingly played almost every moment of the 63-minute contest. Despite the heavy workload, White saved his best for those overtimes scoring 15 of his 33 points in the extra periods and pushed Boston to a 128-126 victory. Exhausted from the marathon affair, White slumped in his seat after the game and simply wondered aloud…
“Would you believe we’ve got another game in Phoenix Sunday?”
White managed just 15 points in the closing Game 6 as Boston collected its 2nd title in 3 years and 13th in 19, but he had more than pulled his weight already in the previous game and indeed, had been an iron horse for the Celtics for years by that point.
White was the 1st draft choice of the Boston Celtics following the demise of the Russell era in 1969. He enjoyed a moderate workload as the Celtics stumbled to their 1st losing season in nearly 20 years in the 1969-70 season. But the C’s weren’t down for long. Still with John Havlicek, Don Nelson and Satch Sanders from the old dynasty, Boston added Dave Cowens in the 1970 draft and were instantly back in the title mix.
Jo Jo’s ascension was a tremendous part of that. His scoring rose from 12 ppg his rookie season to 22 his sophomore year and never dipped below 18 until the 1977-78 season. His assist average would settle between 4.5 and 6 during this same span. A deceptively low total for a point guard as great as White, but the Boston offense boasted many fine passers in Cowens, Havlicek and, later, Paul Silas and Paul Westphal. White also brought a stifling, lightning quick defensive pressure in the backcourt.
Most importantly, though, you could count on White to show up every game and play all night long. Between 1971 and 1977, White appeared in 564 of 574 possible contests and played 39.6 minutes a night while doing so. Also, he made the all-star team every one of these seasons.
White quickly showed his playoff mettle too. In his 1st postseason, White averaged a spectacular 23.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 49.5% FG and 83.3% FT shooting. Then in 1973, he picked up tremendous slack as the Celtics struggled to stay alive in the Eastern Conference Finals without their captain John Havlicek who was battling a shoulder injury.
In Game 4 of the series, minus the hobbled Hondo, White came up huge for Boston scoring 34 points (and Cowens adding 33) as the gang of green forced New York into double overtime before finally bowing out 117 to 110. Down 3 games to 1, Boston rallied to a 7th game before finally succumbing 94-78.
The next season, and at full strength, the Celtics exacted revenge on the Knicks in a demolishing 4-1 Eastern Conference Finals victory. The Celtics then faced off with the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals. Eventual Finals MVP John Havlicek (26/8/5) did the heavy lifting opposite Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s mammoth performance (33/12/5), but White did his part by beating Oscar Robertson in the point guard matchup. The series went the distance and Boston prevailed on Milwaukee’s home court, securing their first title in 5 years.
Another title followed in 1976 and White took home MVP honors for the heroics described before.
By 1977, Don Nelson was retired, Paul Silas was traded and John Havlicek was solidly in his twilight. Cowens and White were the Celtics stalwarts and Jo Jo produced perhaps his best season yet even if Boston was sliding in the standings. Leading the Celtics in points, assists and steals, White was selected to the All-NBA 2nd Team. Typically, he upped his play during the post season.
Most notable was his Game 6 against Philadelphia in the Eastern Semifinals, which would prove to be his final act of playoff glory. Pumping in 40 points, including 4 of Boston’s last 6, White led Boston to a 113-108 victory to tie the series at 3-3. In Game 7, White again led Boston with 17 points, but the 76ers (behind Julius Erving and George McGinnis) were younger and demonstrated they were better with an 84-78 victory.
The 1977-78 season would see Boston turn in its 1st losing campaign since the aftermath of Bill Russell’s retirement. A huge factor was Jo Jo White missing games for the 1st time in 6 seasons. The Iron Man (who played in over 480 straight games) was sidelined for nearly half the season with a heel injury.
And thus began White’s descent into eventual retirement. The next season (1979) he was traded to Golden State and then finished his career in 1981 with Kansas City. In standard athlete fashion a glorious career had ended rather anonymously.
But that glory is something to bask in. Jo Jo White’s career averages of 17 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds have only been achieved by 12 retired players. Of these only White and Richie Guerin are not Hall of Famers and both are tremendously deserving of the honor.
The regular season was the stuff of child’s play for White, though. His bread and butter was the postseason and he improved upon his already dazzling play in the playoffs with 21.5 points, 5.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds. The rare company Jo Jo enjoys with these numbers? Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Larry Bird.
I don’t know what the delay is, but it’s high time Jo Jo White accompanied these fellas in the Hall of Fame.