Larry Jones

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Larry Jones

Postby rlee » Wed Jan 26, 2011 12:46 am

Larry Jones, former Denver Rocket guard

By Irv Moss
The Denver Post
POSTED: 01/25/2011 01:00:00 AM MST

When Larry Jones brought his talent to the Denver Rockets and led them to the American Basketball Association playoffs three consecutive years, the players were called guards, forwards and centers.

Even though titles such as superstar, franchise player and some others hadn't been coined when Jones played for the Rockets for three seasons from 1967-70, they would have perfectly fit his game.

With the Rockets, the 6-foot-3 Jones averaged 25.4 points and 4.2 assists in 226 regular-season games and 25.1 points and 5.6 assists in 20 playoff games. He represented the Rockets in the ABA All-Star Game three consecutive years.

For Jones, the ABA came along at the right time.

Jones was picked by the Philadelphia 76ers in the third round of the 1964 NBA draft and averaged just 5.7 points in 23 games during the 1964-65 season, his only one in the NBA until returning to finish out his professional playing career. It wasn't until 1967, when the ABA started, that he got another chance to play at basketball's highest level.

"I was playing in the Eastern League," Jones said, "and at the same time I called and wrote a letter to just about every team. Denver was the only team that responded. All of us who started out in the ABA looked at it as an opportunity."

Jones averaged 24.9 points in the 1969-70 regular season and 26.6 points in the playoffs, but the Rockets lost in the West finals after winning a first-round series.

With a 3-point shooting line and a red, white and blue basketball, the ABA brought a new spirit to professional basketball and the stagnant NBA of the day.

The sports scene of almost 50 years ago was a lot different, including the money the players earned.

"Players of today can pay cash for about any car they want," Jones said. "My first contract with the Rockets was for $10,000 and a $3,000 bonus. I could buy new front tires for my car after the season and new tires for the back of my car if we made the playoffs."

His playoff check was for $1,500.

Jones made the most of his classic jump shot. He admits he didn't have much trouble putting the ball in the basket. He once scored 30 points or more in 23 consecutive games and he was the first ABA player to reach 5,000 career points.

"If there was a captain on our team, it was Larry Jones," Rockets teammate Grant Simmons said. "He didn't have a real good training camp the first year, but once his game kicked in, he was our leader."

Rockets general manager Dick Eicher saw what he wanted in an impromptu workout for Jones at Arvada High School.

"Once I saw how he could shoot the ball, I said we should sign him right now," Eicher said.

The ABA was far from a polished league. Jones remembered a game played in a minor-league hockey facility in Commack, N.Y.

The basketball floor was put down over the ice and it was so cold, the players wore their topcoats when they were on the bench.

On his first trip to play in Pittsburgh, Jones stayed the entire time on the team plane to escape a subpoena by the Eastern League that disputed his jump to the ABA.

Jones played another three years in the ABA after leaving the Rockets and finished his career with one season back in the NBA with the 76ers.

But Jones hasn't moved far from basketball. He coached in the NBA and was on the coaching staff of two women's professional teams.

During his playing days, Jones was the first president of the ABA Players Association.

Jones now conducts free summer basketball camps for youngsters in Columbus, Ohio. He remembers his high school coach, Jackie Moore, for keeping him headed in the right direction.

"I was ineligible for a season in high school," Jones said. "My coach helped me go from a poor student to an honor student. I hope I can say something to a young person that might make a difference in their life."

Jones is fond of his memories in Denver and with the Rockets. He looked back at making the right turn in a fork in the road.

"I loved being in Denver and the opportunity I was given," Jones said. "I had similar contract possibilities with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Rockets. I was driving west and when I got to St. Louis, I had to pick between I-66 to Los Angeles or I-70 to Denver. I took I-70."

Jones bio

Born: Sept. 22, 1941, in Columbus, Ohio

High school: East, in Columbus

Colleges: Toledo, Ohio State
rlee
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Postby Bob Kuska » Wed Jan 26, 2011 2:02 pm

Larry Jones deserves a lot more credit than this article gives him. Jones was a smart, degreed college guy who pushed to start the ABA Players Union. He also was a heck of a scorer who never got a chance with Philly. Jones didn't fail in Philly; he just was the odd man out.

Moss missed a fantastic story about how Jones landed in the ABA. In the summer of 1967, Jones played with the Lakers, and GM Fred Schaus offered him a contract for $11,000, I believe it was. Jones went home to Columbus, Ohio and had another offer from the ABA Denver Rockets for $11,000. Having been through the mill in Philly, Jones pined about which offer would give him the best shot to survive as a pro. He asked his mother for advice, but he still couldn't reach a decision. Mid August arrived, and Jones got into his car and drove west to training camp, not knowing his final destination. According to Jones, he finally reached a split on the interstate. Los Angeles was the exit to the left; Denver was the exit to the right. What to do? "I could never go to my left [on the court], so I took the road to Denver."

That's how Larry Jones ended up as an all-time ABA great.
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