My childhood friend was in Boston over the past few days. Many years ago, during summers of the 1970s, when we were kids, we spent many weeks together at at boys’ and girls’ basketball camps.
My friend’s name is Wally Ray; he is a distant cousin of NBA Hall of Famer and Boston Celtics great, Sam Jones, who was the co-director of some of those hoops camps at Stonehill all those years ago. My dad was another co-director of those camps.
Many Easton kids, Baby Boomers, have fond recollections of Sam Jones and the camps at Stonehill College.
I was fortunate to be able to see Wally and Sam yesterday and sit and talk with them.
I have written about Sam in this space before; that column can be found here:
Wally is producing a documentary on Sam Jones’s life and career. And with the Boston Celtics celebrating this week the 50th anniversary of the franchise’s 1962 NBA championship season, and with the Celtics organization bringing members of the team, which included Sam, to town for a celebration and suite of honors, including recognition at last night’s game against Orlando, Wally just had to be up here to do some interviews with players on that squad.
(This year's Celtics added nicely to the tribute in beating Orlando last night and clinching the Atlantic Division title.)
The players from the ’62 team stayed at the Park Plaza Hotel. And yesterday, Wally and his crew scored an epic interview with Sam Jones and his teammate Bill Russell sitting side by side.
Sam Jones and Bill Russell are quite simply among the best basketball players of all time – really.
And, get this – it is commonly known that Bill Russell has more NBA championship rings, 11, than any other player. Not as well-known is that Sam Jones is the player with the second most NBA championship rings; he has 10, and he is all alone in second place.
Bill Russell played for the Celts from 1956 through 1969, the final three seasons as player-coach. Sam was a Celtic from 1957 through 1969.
It was too bad that I didn’t get into the Park Plaza in time to see the live interview, but I was able to view portions of it on tape. In the interview, Russell said that Sam Jones was the best player he ever played with.
Let’s go through that again – Russell said that Sam Jones is the best player he ever played with. Think about the players with whom William Felton Russell played.
Talking with Sam was a thrill and an honor. Sam is a conversationalist and a storyteller, and funny, and he has an upbeat personality.
Sam turns 79 in June, and he is trim, energetic, and in excellent health.
Sam asked about people from all those years back, who were at the camps at Stonehill. He asked about one of his favorite Oliver Ames hoops players – that being Joe Malinowski, who graduated from OA back around 1970.
Joe was tall, about 6-7, and played center for the Tigers. After high school, Joe went on to a long career with the Easton DPW. He is retired now.
We were there sitting in the lobby of the Parker House, talking about all sorts of basketball, including Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Dr. J, Walt Frasier … and more … and Sam asks about Joe Malinowski. I love it.
I asked Sam when he was with the Celts, and the team was on the road, if he had the chance to sample some of the nice restaurants in a city. He laughed, and told me that when he started with the Celtics, the players’ per diem on the road was $8.
Today, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Co. get $180 per diem.
Sam’s final year in the league, his per diem was up to $30.
I told Sam how one night, late, I was switching through the TV channels, and what suddenly do I spy on ESPN Sports Classic but Sam and one of the great female basketball players of her day, Denise Long, playing a game of HORSE in front of campers on outdoor basketball courts in front of O’Hara Hall at Stonehill College.
The spot was part of a series that the sports journalist Heywood Hale “Woody” Broun put together in the 1970s.
For the uninitiated, HORSE is a shooting game, in which a player makes a certain type of shot, and his competition needs to match that shot, and if he doesn't match the shot he gets himself an "H." Each time you don't match the competition's shot, you get another letter. The first person who spells HORSE loses.
Sam remembers that HORSE game well.
For all but one season when he was with the Celtics, Sam lived in Sharon. What I didn’t know is that he sometimes, and most of the time when the weather wasn’t good, when the Celtics were at home and had a game, he would drive up Rte. 138 and park his car in Mattapan, and then take the trolley to North Station and walk from there to the Boston Garden.
Actually, when Sam was playing, and living in Sharon, he used to come over to Easton to watch OA basketball games.
I learned yesterday that Sam liked to eat at the Union Oyster House when he was winning championships with the Celtics.
You gotta love this story. At the hoops camps at Stonehill, there were team championships awards and individual awards given out. Yeah, a lot of hardware was distributed at those camps.
Now, there was another trophy available for awarding, but there surely was no guarantee anyone would win it.
You see, this tall trophy – probably about two to three feet high – had a shiny plate on its base in which were inscribed these words: “I Beat Sam Jones In Foul Shooting.”
Year after year, camp after camp, the best foul shooters among campers went up against Sam – and never did one win that trophy.
So, one camp session, Sam had pulled a muscle in his shoulder, or some sort of other injury, and he couldn’t shoot against the top camper. Sam was a good sport, and there was another Celtic at the camp the day of foul shooting competition, and Sam said to this Celtic – whom I will not name – you can sub in for me.
The top shooting camper that week was none other than Billy Killilea, the son of John Killilea, a great high school basketball coach who would go on to be a highly successful assistant coach in the NBA, including with the Celtics, where he would be an important part of two of the team's league championships.
So Billy beat the Celtic designate in foul shooting, and he took the trophy home.
This did not sit well with Sam. Sam recovered from the injury – and I don’t know if it was later that summer, or the fall, or whatever – Sam drove to the Killilea home up north of Boston in Melrose.
Sam knocks on the door. Billy was home. And Sam told Billy he was there to take him on in foul shooting. Sam was not going to let this thing stand. If Billy Killilea was going to hang on to that trophy – that trophy emblazoned with the words, “I Beat Sam Jones In Foul Shooting,” he was going to do it by beating Sam Jones.
“I told Billy, we can do this right here at the hoop in your driveway, on your home court,” said Sam.
Billy manned up and agreed.
They went up against, those two, in foul shooting.
Sam Jones left the Killilea home that day – with his trophy.