Jo Jo White loved the Celtics and the Celtics loved him back
Hall of Famer, seven-time All-Star and Finals MVP dies at 71
Cedric Maxwell got word that his old Boston Celtics teammate Jo Jo White died on Tuesday just before Maxwell was about to go on radio to give his usual analysis of the Celtics game. Sadness engulfed Maxwell during the broadcast. Not able to say much more, Maxwell left the TD Garden in Boston in the middle of the first quarter to go home to grieve.
“At some point in the first quarter I said, ‘Guys, I am sorry. I can’t do this game.’ I just left and came home,” Maxwell, 62, told The Undefeated. “I did not have any of my broadcasting skills or unique laughter or insight. I had none of that tonight once I had heard that my friend had passed.”
White’s daughter, Meka White Morris, told The Undefeated her father died from complications (pneumonia) from dementia that was brought on by brain tumor surgery. He was 71. White had surgery in May 2010 to remove a benign walnut-sized tumor on the back of the left side of his brain. He did not have cancer, Morris said.
Morris said the family kept her father’s worsening condition private and only allowed close friends and family to visit him. While no former NBA teammates or respected foes were among those who visited, Morris said many have reached out to the family after learning of her father’s death. Funeral plans for the two-time NBA champion will be determined.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of an incredible husband and father,” Morris said. “He was a Hall of Fame basketball player, but even a better man. We sincerely appreciate all the love and continued prayers. But we ask for privacy as we spend time as a family reflecting and celebrating his life.”
White averaged 18.4 points, 5.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals while playing for the Celtics from 1969-79. He earned game highs of 33 points and nine assists in 60 minutes in the Celtics’ 128-126 triple-overtime win in Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns. White earned Finals MVP honors.
The seven-time NBA All-Star was named to the All-NBA second team twice. The 6-foot-3 guard compiled 14,399 points, 4,095 assists and 3,345 rebounds while also playing for the Golden State Warriors and Kansas City Kings during his NBA career.
Known for his midrange jumper, the St. Louis native had his No. 10 jersey retired by the Celtics on April 9, 1982. His speech for his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015 was taped because of the aftereffects of his surgery and played while he was on stage in Springfield, Massachusetts, during the ceremony.
“I said to anyone who would listen that Jo Jo White deserved to be in the Hall of Fame,” Maxwell said. “And this is of no offense at all, but Jo Jo White deserved to be in the Hall of Fame before Dennis Rodman.”
White was also a two-time consensus second-team All-America selection at the University of Kansas. During the 1966 NCAA tournament’s Midwest Regional Final, he nailed a possible game-winning 35-foot shot at the buzzer in overtime against a Texas Western (now Texas-El Paso) team with seven black players, but he was ruled out of bounds by the referee. Texas Western won the game in a second overtime and went on to make history by winning the national title. The story was later depicted in the movie Glory Road.
White also played on the United States’ 1968 Olympic gold medal-winning basketball team. He earned a physical education degree from Kansas before the Celtics drafted him ninth overall in 1969. White was also drafted by the Cincinnati Reds and the Dallas Cowboys.
“Jo Jo White had an unbelievable history of winning championships with the Celtics,” Maxwell said. “There was the history made with Texas Western, with the first black team winning, and Jo Jo’s Kansas team was a big part of that. And to win an Olympic medal. His kids are so successful. His son [Brian] is an actor. He has a profound legacy that a lot of people are going to miss.
“I last talked to Jo Jo at a game last year. You could tell his health was failing. But he still met you with a smile, a firm handshake and looked you in the eye. Jo Jo White was taught that way. His legacy is going to be as the ultimate competitor. He was in seven All-Star Games, MVP of the Finals, and in a triple-overtime Finals game he had 33 points. He has an NBA pedigree that will live far beyond him, especially with the people that knew him.”
White loved the Celtics, and the Celtics loved him back.
Then-Celtics coach Doc Rivers and players Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins and Tony Allen visited White in the hospital during the 2010 NBA playoffs. White’s former Celtics teammates Maxwell and Dave Cowens also visited him. The Celtics organization sent flowers, food, DVDs and a 50-inch flat-screen television so White could watch the Celtics’ playoff games. And once he left the hospital, his job as director of special projects for the Celtics was still there for him.
Pierce tweeted four crying emojis in honor of White, while Rondo offered words of respect after his New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Celtics 116-113 on Tuesday.
“I knew [White] pretty well. He was probably one of my biggest supporters from day one since I got here,” Rondo said to reporters in Boston. “He always supported me. He always gave me great advice, and his family, his wife, were very kind to me as well. I send my condolences to the White family.”
— Paul Pierce (@paulpierce34) January 17, 2018
White was also known for being one of the best dressers in NBA history and for epitomizing cool. After he retired, he would walk to his midcourt seat at Celtics games dressed to the nines with his wife, Deborah.
“With Jo Jo White, if you were a Celtic, that personified cool,” said Maxwell, who was teammates in Boston with White from 1977-79. “He did everything so cool. He walked cool. He talked cool. He was just the ultimate during the ’70s. I would say he was, ‘K-O-O-L, not ‘C,’ but ‘K-O-O-L.’
“The first time I saw Jo Jo he was in a pinstriped blue suit, and ‘Damn’ was the only thing that came out of my mouth. And then to watch him play, he had gotten older and lost a step. But to watch him play, he had flashes where you can see that All-Star.”
Besides his wife, White is survived by five daughters, Meka White Morris, Errin Saleh, Ashley D’Agostino, Jessica White and Jamie White, and one son, actor Brian J. White.