Tuesday, January 16, 2018

KU, Boston Celtics legend Jo Jo White dies at 71

Kansas great Jo Jo White laughs with former Jayhawks coach Ted Owens during a halftime ceremony recognizing 115 years of basketball at KU, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas great Jo Jo White laughs with former Jayhawks coach Ted Owens during a halftime ceremony recognizing 115 years of basketball at KU, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse.


The Kansas basketball family on Tuesday lost one of its true legends, when Hall of Famer Jo Jo White died at the age of 71 from complications of pneumonia, brought on by dementia, after having a benign tumor removed from his brain earlier this decade.

White, a two-time All-American who played at Kansas from 1966-69 for head coach Ted Owens, was KU's Most Valuable Player for three consecutive seasons.

Best known nationally for his standout career with the Boston Celtics following his time at Kansas, White, a St. Louis native, also was a seven-time NBA all-star, a two-time world champion and the MVP of the 1976 NBA Finals.


Boston Celtics' Jo Jo White lays up a shot over Golden State Warriors' Rick Barry, in their National Basketball Association game at the Boston Garden, Feb. 29, 1976. Boston won the game 119 to 101. (AP Photo/J. Walter Green)

Current Kansas coach Bill Self spent some time around White but not nearly as much as he would've preferred.

“I'd like to say I did, but I didn't know him well,” Self told the Journal-World shortly after learning about White's passing on Tuesday night. “He obviously was a KU legend and, when you talk about KU greats and you're trying to fill that five of the best who ever played here from a talent standpoint, most of the old-timers put Jo Jo in that group.”

White's name and No. 15 jersey hang in the south rafters at Allen Fieldhouse and his No. 10 jersey also was retired by the Celtics.

During his KU career, White tallied 1,286 career points — good for 31st on KU's all-time list — and led the Jayhawks to two conference championships, three Big Eight holiday tournament titles and two NCAA Tournament appearances.

The most famous run came during the 1966 NCAA Touranment, when White and the Jayhawks ran into Texas Western in the Midwest Regional finals in Lubbock, Texas, and played in one of the most dramatic games in NCAA Tournament history.

With Texas Western en route to becoming the first team in NCAA with an all-black starting lineup to win a national championship, White and the Jayhawks nearly derailed history.

With KU and Texas Western locked in a heated overtime battle, White found himself with the ball in his hands in the waning seconds and heaved a 35-foot shot toward the basket that fell through the hoop and appeared to give Kansas the victory.

But referee Rudy Marich blew his whistle and ran to the spot where he said White had stepped out of bounds. The shot was waved off and Texas Western went on to win, 71-70 in double overtime.

“It appeared from where I sat that Owens asked White if he was, indeed, out of bounds,” longtime Texas Western/UTEP sports information Eddie Mullens told for a 2015 feature titled “One Small Step.” “White nodded his head and Owens immediately turned back to his huddle. All business. All class.”

Added White in the same article: “To be perfectly honest, my foot was out of bounds on the play. I had already set up for a shot before it came around to that particular shot. And they called it.”

“He was such a classy man, had a beautiful family and just represented himself so well and KU,” Self said Tuesday. “And then he went on to have not just a good pro career with the Celtics but a great career. I know Coach Owens is going to be pretty torn up about it because he thought the world of him.”

Self was right.

"I was stunned today when (White's wife, Debbie) called to tell me that he had passed away," Owens told KU Athletics on Tuesday evening. "He made an incredible contribution to Kansas basketball. People say, you know, 'What was Jo Jo's greatest strength?' And his greatest strength was that he had no weaknesses. He was just the absolute complete player, so unselfish, his teammates loved playing with him."

The last time Self saw or spoke with White was at the point guard's induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.

“I always strived to be the best,” said White, during his induction speech. “I tried out for my high school junior varsity team. I got cut. So what did I do? I went out for the varsity team and made it.”

"He was not only a special player, but a very special person," Owens said. "He certainly played a huge role in our lives."

Added the Celtics organization in a statement: "We are terribly saddened by the passing of the great Jo Jo White. He was a champion and a gentleman; supremely talented and brilliant on the court, and endlessly gracious off of it. Jo Jo was a key member of two championship teams, an NBA Finals MVP, a gold medal-winning Olympian, and a Hall of Famer. His contributions to the team’s championship legacy may have only been surpassed by the deep and lasting impact that he had in the community. The thoughts and sympathies of the entire Celtics organization are with the White family."


David Meredith 4 years, 8 months ago

Sad day for the Jayhawk family... seemed like such a classy guy in addition to being a great player. Always nice when a former Jayhawk is remembered so fondly for the type of person he was.

Harlan Hobbs 4 years, 8 months ago

Very sad, indeed. I had the pleasure of residing in the Joseph R. Pearson dorm my freshman and sophomore years at KU back when it was an athletic dorm. I would see Jo Jo in person a few times, and he was always gracious to anyone who talked to him.

In my opinion, Jo Jo is still the best guard to ever play for KU. He could do everything and was a great leader from the moment he stepped on campus.

Dennis Morrell 4 years, 8 months ago

Harlan, I also was in JRP at that time. Your description of Jo Jo is absolutely correct. My roommate was Howard Arndt who was on the team, we talked about Jo Jo shortly after his BB Hall of Fame induction. Howard reiterated what a gentleman Jo Jo was and that he was having health problems. Dennis Morrell class of 1969.

Suzi Marshall 4 years, 8 months ago

I’ve been crying since hearing this sad news. JoJo was a great person and player. Anytime people talk of the greatest KU players the trio of White, Chamberlin and Manning are unanimous selections. Heaven just got a great lead guard

Susan Harper 4 years, 8 months ago

JoJo was in one of my early English classes (very small about 15) and he was such a gentleman. Loved to watch him play. It is too early to see JoJo go. I have loved and admired many guards since he played but I always think of JoJo. Basketball was so fun to watch when he was playing.

Joseph Fix 4 years, 8 months ago

As one of the "old timers" that Coach Self referred to, I have always put Jo Jo on my very short list of greatest players in KU history. As an undergrad in '60-'69, I had the pleasure of watching Jo Jo in person many times. Probably the "smoothest" athlete I've ever watched on a basketball court - and most gifted all-around basketball player. Way too soon to lose Jo Jo -- a class act, phenomenal basketball talent, and a gentleman.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 8 months ago

9 years as an undergrad? Wish I could've gotten away with that. Wish I could have seen John Riggins and JoJo White.

Thomas Green 4 years, 8 months ago

Super interesting to hear guys who knew JoJo

Bryce Landon 4 years, 8 months ago

If any of the Ted Owens-era Jayhawks deserved to play in a Final Four but never got the chance, it was JoJo White. RIP, No. 15.

David Kelley-Wood 4 years, 8 months ago

I was lucky to be able to watch Jo Jo play during my short time at KU. I agree with others who believe he was our all-time best guard. RIP, sir.

Tony Bandle 4 years, 8 months ago

I was most fortunate to have seen Jo Jo's career at KU. One interesting note, Jo Jo was a mid semester student, why I can't remember, but I think his final year he only played in the first half of the season.

I, unbelievably, actually got to play against Jo Jo. I was in a pick up game in Robinson Gymnasium during the spring of '70 I think when a bunch of players came in and asked if anyone wanted to scrimmage them., Well, five of us volunteered.

It was only then I realized it was John Douglass, Bud Stallworth and Jo Jo White.with some other players. Well the five of us were so scared, we played our asses off not to be embarrassed while Jo Jo's team was going at about 1/3 speed just goofing around. Somehow, we won!!

What I remember however was on a switch on defense I was face to face with Jo Jo. He looked at me, kind of smiled and made three or four fakes that were awesome. However, I was so slow that I couldn't react fast enough to take the fakes and actually stopped Jo Jo in his tracks......purely by accident, I assure you.

To this day I can still remember that he was so smooth, he didn't make a sound with his feet while he dribbled. it was like he was floating on the court.

As a fellow St.Louisan, Jo Jo White was, is and always will be my favorite Jayhawk., Rest easy number 10.

John Swift 4 years, 8 months ago

While at Robinson for PE classes, Jo Jo and others were often there as Robinson was brand new and I don't believe there was a practice facility for the team yet. As you mention, team members often played pick up games with willing volunteers. At that time, I believe (appreciate comment there) that girls basketball team members had to stay in 4 corners rather that play the entire court as today. Jo Jo was guarding one of these girls team members who was out front beyond todays 3 point line. She had a two hand set shot that was killing him. It was funny to see this great player struggling to guard her shot. Still remember it until today.

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 8 months ago

The world has just lost one great athlete, a great KU alumnus.. I never watched him play but I'm doing it now in memory of JoJo. Prayers and fond memories are what we have to remember our dearly JoJo. My heartfelt condolences to his family.

Michael Mitchell 4 years, 8 months ago

I saw every home game he played (we lived just a couple of blocks from Allen Fieldhouse). 91 year old dad still lives in the same house. The memory that will never fade was the step out of bounds against Texas Western. I thought for sure, that would be the year the Jayhawks won it all. I still think we would have creamed Kentucky in the final. I couldn't read a sports page for a month...I just couldn't bear to read how we were defeated. I swore to anyone who would listen that Jo Jo did not step out of bounds...but, well, we all know the history. Jo Jo was always good for about three steals a game of which he always took it to the hoop and layed it in. He could dunk if he wanted, but he never did. I agree with Ted Owens in that he had no weaknesses in his game. I have a lot of favorite Jayhawks, but Jo Jo is in my top five. My condolences to his family and all the Jayhawk fans who knew him.

Bill Kackley 4 years, 8 months ago

Until last year Jo was my all time point guard but Frank had to move into at least a tie. Clyde Lovelette, Wilt and Danny round out the top 5 all-tme jayhawks. Was lucky enough to see them all play several times.

Edward Daub 4 years, 8 months ago

Jo Jo White was equally adept at dribbling the basketball with both right and left hand. He also shot his layups with both right and left hand (certainly a lost art today). He is arguably the greatest guard ever to play for KU!

The Texas Western Game was a Classic! The next season the Houston Cougars (led by Elvin Hayes) came into Allen Fieldhouse (1st Round of NCAA) and defeated KU 66-53. As a Sunset Hill 6th Grader, I went to bed shedding tears that night.

Dale Sprague 4 years, 8 months ago

In all my years while a student I attended only one Jayhawk away game, and it was the Texas Western game in Lubbock. That game was too big to miss, what with Jo Jo White and the massive press coverage of the cinderella Texas Western Minors rise in the NCAA Tournament. The atmosphere was beyond electric; it was unending pandemonium start to finish. Jeers and cheers bordering the obscene flew freely the entire game; the fabled post-Wilt the Stilt Hawks were definitely in enemy territory of West Texas and El Paso. It was deafening! Yes, the photos confirmed Jo Jo's step that crushed us. His right heel as I recall barely touched the bounds line as what today would have been a "Svi from the corner 3 pointer" left Jo Jo's fingers and nailed the bucket for the winning 2! But there wasn't a Hawk in the crowd that believed the ref's call until those photos emerged. We honestly left believing we had been home-towned in the the worse of all ways! Athletes of pure class and talent were the models of that day. Jo Jo lead that pack together with Gayle Sayers. The privilege of being a Jayhawk began back then and has never died. May Jo Jo rest in peace; his memories and legend never will.

Mike Kendall 4 years, 8 months ago

Truly a legend in KU basketball history. He will be missed. RIP Jo Jo.

Jim Stauffer 4 years, 8 months ago

Story says 71-70. I have always heard it was 81-80. Also his daughter in an article in another place said Jo Jo claimed to have pictorial evidence he did not step out. Which was his claim, in or out?

Brad Watson 4 years, 8 months ago

When I was growing up...every summer I attended Ted Owens Summer Camp...and I not only met Jo Jo but he was my counselor there..what a class act he was.....He taught me all the right ways to play guard and took a real interest in my development...he it took it seriously...he was putting his stamp on it...even today when i play pickup games at the rec center...i still practice what he taught me....i remember when he took my parents and me to my room when i checked in at the camp...we all were star struck.....what a true legend he was.....a lot of stars .don't measure up after you meet .Jo Jo's case ....he was an A++++....he always did things the right way...the class way... a TRUE champion... and will be greatly missed......our hearts are with his family.....I hope they honor him again at the Baylor game on Saturday...he's earned it and my wish is that the school officially retire the number !5 forever.

Dennis Morrell 4 years, 8 months ago

"The Life and Times of Basketball Great JOJO WHITE" by Mark C. Bodanza tells Jo Jo' s life story. Although written by a Boston area person it describes his life from his early days in St Louis, his storied days at KU, the 1968 Olympics, the military draft - - Jo Jo got into the Marine Reserve and was inducted into the Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame, to his days as a Celtic.

While the book documents Jo Jo's on court accomplishments, it repeatedly emphasizes what a good man Jo Jo was.

Harlan Hobbs 4 years, 8 months ago

Thank you for the update Dennis. I was a year behind you (class of 70), but my memories of Jo Jo are still crystal clear today. I never missed a home game in my 4 years at KU and always sat with other students behind the KU bench.

All the references to "smooth" are so apropos. During pre-game player introductions, Jo Jo would always kind of shuffle out to center court, as if he was dead tired. What a con game! When the game started, there he was giving his all on practically every play.

On one occasion, I was extolling Jo Jo's ability to one of my friends in the stands, and he finally got annoyed and said, "Can't he do anything wrong?" I quickly answered "no!"

One play that will stick with me forever is during a home game with Colorado, their lead guard, I think his first name was Gordon, tackled Jo Jo as Jo Jo was going in for a layup. Jo Jo hit the floor hard, and Vernon Vanoy came up to the Colorado guard and lifted him up by the shirt. Of course, the referee, and even Jo Jo immediately interceded. Even as lovable as Vernon really was, I think he could have killed that Colorado guard.

I suppose that the passing years may have enabled me to embellish the story a little, but that's my story and I am sticking to it!

Tony Bandle 4 years, 8 months ago

Think what he could have done if the three point shot was in play during his career. One pregame warm up in Allen I counted 25 straight baskets by Jo Jo from three point distance...25 in a row!! Holy S##t!!!

What I heard from some of the team members was that his heel was indeed over the line but it had not touched the court thus making the shot good and maybe changing the history of college basketball.

Suzi Marshall 4 years, 8 months ago

Ted Owens, who always talks about JoJo, always says how many more points the would have had if the he played with the 3 point line.

That heel story seems to be widely believed by KU fans.

Harlan Hobbs 4 years, 8 months ago

Isn't it great that the legend still reins after 50 years!

Titus Canby 4 years, 8 months ago

I didn't get to KU until '75, but one of my professors would tell this story. In the 60s, freshman weren't eligible. So every year, the freshman team played the varsity team. Jo Jo's freshman team won. He said the first game of Jo Jo's sophomore year was one of of the wildest games he ever attended.

Thomas Muther 4 years, 8 months ago

I've watched KU BB since 1968, and over that period I've seen many great players, many of whom were guards, naturally. Mason, Hinrich, Valentine, Collins, Miles, to name a few, were all greats. JoJo was absolutely the best of them all. What set him apart was his defense which no one else on that list could come near. After Wilt and Manning, I consider him the third greatest player in KU history. I only got to see him in person once, though I watched him on the tube many times (I lost a part time job at a bowling alley as I became entranced by a game he played at Nebraska on a TV there--instead of my job). I was just a kid, and lived in Topeka, so I didn't have much opportunity. But I made a special effort for his last game. It wasn't his best, but since the game wasn't that competitive, it was all about giving him a stage to demonstrate his prowess. And he did, scoring 30 for the first time in his career. I'm so happy I was able to watch that game in person. I was truly saddened to hear he he died. It's a shame he lost his chance at a final four by a quarter inch (i.e., stepping on the line in 1966). He was a great player, and by all accounts, a very good man. RIP

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