Exclusive interview with Wali Jones - 8/1/2011
One of the Sixers' most successful homegrown products, Wali Jones began his basketball career at Overbrook High School, played at Villanova and spent over six seasons with the Sixers, from 1965-1971 and a second stint in 1975, after which he would retire. Jones was selected to the NBA All-Rookie First Team as a member of the Baltimore Bullets in 1965 and won an NBA Championship with Philadelphia in 1967. In addition to other Sixers greats Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham, Jones played alongside many other staples of basketball's golden era, including Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Lanier and Moses Malone (on the Utah Stars).
Sixers.com: Youíve been heavily involved with community work since your playing days ended, including positions with the Department of Education and the Miami Heat. What have you been doing recently?
Wali Jones: I work for a group called Champions 4 Champions. Itís a group of legends from football, basketball, soccer and boxing. We work with the United States Army in reference to troop and family morale. I travel around the country and speak in schools on behalf of my program, Shoot for the Stars. I have an international training institute for positive peer leadership training and family development. I go to schools and talk about academic planning and the army talks about career exploration. Iím honored to work with the army.
S.C: In 1999, you were presented with the Presidentís Award by President Bill Clinton during his ĎStop the Violenceí campaign. Was that a bigger honor than winning the championship with the Sixers in 1967?
WJ: That was a great honor. My partner Mr. Wesley Frater, whoís with the Tournament of Champions, and I put on the Martin Luther King Basketball Classic and the Dade vs. Broward All-Star Football game each year. Through our symposiums and workshops, we provided a Stop a Violence program when they had a lot of problems at the high schools in Miami. I created a program training students to go back to their high schools and try to stop the senseless violence they were having in Florida and around the country.
S.C: Having grown up in Philly, how excited were you to be traded to the Sixers following your rookie season?
WJ: Itís really something that you dream about. To get a chance to play with some of the greatest basketball players is really an honor. I talked to Billy Cunningham two weeks ago and he told me that The Sporting News named [the 1966-67 Sixers] the sixth greatest team of all time. The honor of being named the greatest team of the NBAís first 25 years is something that Iím very proud of. (Ed: Awarded during the NBAís 35th Anniversary)
S.C: What was it like to finally knock off the Celtics in the playoffs in 1967, ending their eight-year run as champions?
WJ: I canít tell you all the other professional basketball players who told us how grateful they were! It was a dynasty. To have our team dethrone them, it was great. A fellow just told a trivia question about who was the top scorer in the championship game against San Francisco and it was me! I forgot I had 27 points in the last game that we beat the Warriors.
S.C: You averaged more points in the playoff than you did during the regular season. Is that something you took pride in?
WJ: The playoffs are when you want to show that youíre a pro. Youíre honored when you can do something in a playoff/championship series and show your true talents. If you can display your talents in the playoffs, thatís where you get your reputation from.
S.C: Was it tough for the team to refocus after beating the Celtics since you still had to get past the Warriors in the Finals?
WJ: One thing that kept us focused was Alex Hannum. We called him Sarge. We practice hard and we played hard. We were a family. I talk to kids around the country about having Polish Americans, German Americans, Irish, Italian, African AmericanÖ we treated each other with respect. We did so many things together. We would go out to Paganoís, the Italian restaurant, after games. We were very close and still keep in touch.
S.C: You were traded from the Sixers but eventually came back and finished your career here. Was it important to you to retire as a Sixer?
WJ: It meant a lot to me. I thought we had a great team [in 1975-76] with Doug Collins, Freddie Carter, [George] McGinnis, Darryl [Dawkins], World B. Free, Jellybean Bryant. We had some great players but just couldnít pull it together in the end. It was great to finish my career with the Sixers and I was very proud to be a part of that team in 1976.
S.C: What was Doug Collins like as a player and how do you think heís doing as a coach?
WJ: Tough player. When you see the job he did this yearÖ I was so proud of him. I sent him a note to tell him that he really made those guys play some good basketball.
S.C: You played with some of the greatest players in NBA history and have been around the game for a long time. Is Wilt the best player of all time?
WJ: In history. In the history of basketball, how could you question that? As an individual, heís the greatest basketball player ever to put on sneaks. Iím honored because Iíve played with some great centers: Walt Bellamy, Bob Lanier, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins, and Darrall Imhoff. Then you talk about Archie Clark, Hal Greer and Oscar Robertson. Iíve played with some of the greatest guards in the history of basketball.
S.C: As a teammate of Wilt, Kareem and Moses, did they share any of the same qualities which made them great?
WJ: The intensity of wanting to rebound and dominate the boards. I played with Moses who said he was going to dominate and break some records, and this was as a 19-year-old kid! Thatís the way Wilt was too. I learned how to be a professional through athletes like Larry Costello, Hal and Wilt because they set goals. To have a guy like [Wilt] want to dominate offensive and defensive rebounding was phenomenal. When he had 55 rebounds, that was just unbelievable. Guys get 10 rebounds and he averaged over 20.
S.C: When you meet current players, what advice do you give them?
WJ: Just stay grounded and give back. The 20 years I worked with the Miami Heat, there were some great gentlemen that came out of that organization. They were not only great players, but they gave back to their community.