Jo Jo White, Deadeye Shooter for Boston Celtics, Dies at 71

Jo Jo White, Deadeye Shooter for Boston Celtics, Dies at 71

During his prime, in the mid-1970s, White never seemed to tire. He led the team in points and assists in back-to-back seasons, and he played in 488 consecutive games, a Celtics record.

In the 1973-74 season, White averaged 18.1 points a game as the Celtics, with a lineup that included John Havlicek, Paul Silas, Dave Cowens and Don Chaney, went on to the win the league championship, defeating the Milwaukee Bucks, led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in seven games, the final one in Milwaukee.

In Game 5 of the 1976 N.B.A. finals, White played 60 of the 63 minutes in a triple-overtime thriller often called the greatest game ever played. He led all players with 33 points and nine assists in a 128-126 victory over the Phoenix Suns, who were led by Paul Westphal. The Celtics went on to win the title in Phoenix in six games, the second under Coach Tom Heinsohn, and White was named the most valuable player.


Left, Celtics teammate John Havlicek embracing White after the Celtics beat the Milwaukee Bucks to capture the 1974 N.B.A. championship.

Associated Press

Asked about how he managed to play almost the entire Game 5, White credited his conditioning. “I was tired, but I was conditioned to go the distance,” he said in an interview several years ago. “My thinking was that if I was tired, the other players were close to death.”

White was a seven-time all-star in his decade with the Celtics. After a season and a half with the Golden State Warriors, he ended his career in 1980-81 with the Kansas City Kings (now the Sacramento Kings).

From the time he first emerged as a standout player on the national stage, White had an uncanny ability to pull up at the top of the key and sink a clutch shot. A quick dribbler, he could cut through defenses before passing the ball to open teammates. But when a game was close with time expiring, White often had the ball.

In college at the University of Kansas, White hit a 32-foot last-second shot that would have knocked out Texas Western in the 1966 N.C.A.A. tournament if not for a ruling by referees that he had stepped out of bounds. Texas Western won the game and later defeated Kentucky, becoming the first team with five black starting players to win the national championship.

“White does everything better than any man of his size I have ever seen,” Phog Allen, the former men’s basketball coach at Kansas, told Sports Illustrated in 1967. “Watch him and you think he’s floating in oil.”

Joseph Henry White was born on Nov. 16, 1946, in St. Louis, the youngest of seven children of George White, a Baptist minister, and the former Elizabeth Guynn. White earned his nickname, Jo Jo, in high school when one of his coaches, trying to get his attention, hollered his name twice.


White in 2015 when he was announced as a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

White is survived by his wife, Deborah, whom he met in 1980 when she lived in his apartment building in Boston. Besides his daughter Meka, he had five other children as well as grandchildren. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.

White, a top national recruit out of McKinley High School in St. Louis, chose to play college basketball at Kansas, about a four-hour drive west from his home. By his sophomore year, his multiple talents — passing, rebounding, ball-handling and shooting — had caught the attention of professional teams.

White won a gold medal with the United States men’s basketball team in the 1968 Summer Olympics and entered the 1969 N.B.A. draft as one of the top players. But teams had concerns because of his commitment to serve a brief stint in the Marine Reserves after college. The Celtics drafted him ninth over all, and he was able to join the team earlier than expected after the Marines granted him early release.

He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, in Springfield, Mass., in 2015, alongside Heinsohn, who was being honored as a coach after having earlier entered the Hall as a player. White appeared at the ceremony while still dealing with his cancer.

“In May 2010, I was diagnosed with a tumor on my brain,” he said in a speech for the ceremony that had been videotaped earlier. “The doctor said I wasn’t supposed to be here,” he added, but “God had other plans, and for this I’m truly, truly grateful.”

Jo Jo White’s Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Speech Video by OfficialHoophall

Off the court, White, a sharp dresser, was held up as an example of Celtics class and elegance to his teammates by Red Auerbach, the renowned Celtics coach who was the team’s general manager when White played.

“Look around you when the Celtics travel, they dress well,” Auerbach said after the team won the 1976 finals, two years after the team won the first championship with White. “If you dress like a champion, you’ll play like one.”

Jo Jo White’s Hall of Fame Highlights Video by NBA
Correction: January 17, 2018

An earlier version of this obituary misspelled the surname of a former Celtics coach. He was Red Auerbach, not Auberbach.

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