Praise for athletes who give us their all, like Jo Jo White
Their fighting spirit will always inspire us
When Jo Jo White died last week at 71, he was hailed for standing tall, on and off the basketball court.
But I’ll always remember White, a Hall of Fame guard for the Boston Celtics, for sitting down. It was 1976, and White and his Boston Celtics were battling the Phoenix Suns in a triple-overtime game in the fifth game of the NBA Finals. The Celtics won that game 128-126. Later, they clinched the series in Phoenix, winning Game 6, 87-80.
During a break in Game 5, White sat on the hardwood. His chest pulsated. The eventual series MVP had given everything an All-Star could be expected to give, and then he began to dig into a reserve only champions can call on when they need it most.
By the end of the grueling contest, White had scored a game-high 33 points. He had played 60 of the game’s 63 minutes.
Since then, I’ve often thought of White when athletes soar beyond limits to help their teams win.
In 1982, Kellen Winslow Sr. enjoyed a Jo Jo White game when the San Diego Chargers tight end caught 13 passes for 166 yards and blocked a field goal attempt in a 41-38 overtime playoff victory against the Miami Dolphins. Trailing the reigning champion Golden State Warriors 3-1 in the 2016 NBA Finals, LeBron James strung together three consecutive Jo Jo White-type games, wrapping a ribbon around his Cleveland Cavaliers’ first NBA championship.
And just last year, Deshaun Watson, the magic man, accounted for 463 total yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winning pass, in leading his Clemson Tigers to the college football national championship over Alabama, 35-31.
Furthermore, all across the nation in coming weeks, high school basketball players will make their bids for championship glory. Like the collegiate and pro stars they emulate, our boys and girls will seek to win despite mighty forces determined to beat them.
Consequently, teams and athletes playing the fall and winter sports face their seasons of heroism, from the Super Bowl to the Winter Olympics to high school basketball championships.
Who knows who will stand tall on the field, on the court, or on the ice or snow? After all, sometimes the biggest games are won by unlikely Davids and their slingshots.
White was a minister’s son. He believed in the sports commandments of hard work, dedication and a commitment to excellence. He graduated from the University of Kansas. Square-jawed and clear-eyed, he served in the Marines. In 1968, he helped win an Olympic gold medal for the United States. In 1969, White started playing for the Boston Celtics, who would later retire his No. 10. He played for the Celtics from 1969 through parts of the 1978-79 season, winning two NBA championships. White then played about a season and a half with the Golden State Warriors.
During his NBA career, which ended in 1981 with the then-Kansas City Kings, White stood tall. He moved with the economy and grace of a white-gloved deacon collecting an Easter Sunday offering at a black Baptist church.
And in 1976, White sat on a basketball court like a noble and regal giant.
Now, his spirit stands among the clouds.