SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — Basketball legend K.C. Jones, who teamed up with fellow future NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell to lead the University of San Francisco Dons to back-to-back NCAA titles in the 1950s, has died. He was 88.
Jones, starred at football basketball at San Francisco’s Commerce High, and then gained national attention with the Dons. He and Russell also played on the U.S. team that won the Olympic gold medal at the 1956 Games in Melbourne.
Blessed with quick reactions, Jones hounded loose balls and rebounds. A four-year varsity star, Jones’ play against LaSalle was key to USF wining its first NCAA title. As captain his senior year, Jones expanded the team’s winning streak and led the team to its second consecutive NCAA tourney.
He reunited with Russell in Boston to win eight straight NBA titles from 1959-66. He retired in 1967 and began coaching, first in college at Brandeis and Harvard before joining the Los Angeles Lakers as an assistant, where he earned another championship ring in 1972.
Jones was an assistant coach on the Celtics team that won it all in 1981 before guiding the team led by Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish to the 1984 and ‘86 championships. Jones’ No. 25 was retired by the Celtics in 1967, and he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1989.
Only Russell and fellow Celtics teammate Sam Jones won more NBA championships as players.
“Where K.C. Jones went, winning was sure to follow,” the Celtics said in a statement before their Christmas Day game against the Brooklyn Nets.
“K.C. also demonstrated that one could be both a fierce competitor and a gentleman in every sense of the word. He made his teammates better, and he got the most out of the players he coached,” the team said. “Never one to seek credit, his glory was found in the most fundamental of basketball ideals — being part of a winning team.”
Russell tweeted out his condolences to Jones’ family and included what he said was their last photo together.
“Friends for life,” Russell wrote.