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Celtics legend Sam Jones dies at 88

The former All-Star and Hall of Famer averaged 17.7 ppg and was one of Boston's first star players.

Sam Jones was one of the key linchpins of the Boston Celtics' dynasty in the 1960s.

BOSTON — Basketball Hall of Famer Sam Jones, the Boston Celtics’ “Mr. Clutch” whose sharp shooting fueled the league’s longest dynasty and earned him 10 NBA titles — second only to teammate Bill Russell — has died, the team said. He was 88.

Sam Jones was one of the most talented, versatile, and clutch shooters for the most successful and dominant teams in NBA history. His scoring ability was so prolific, and his form so pure, that he earned the simple nickname, “The Shooter.” He was also known as “Mr. Clutch,” the Celtics said in a statement Friday.

“Only Bill Russell won more championships in his NBA career. The Jones family is in our thoughts as we mourn his loss and fondly remember the life and career of one of the greatest champions in American sports.”

Jones died Thursday night in Florida, where he had been hospitalized in failing health, Celtics spokesman Jeff Twiss said.

In a statement released by the NBA, Commissioner Adam Silver also paid homage to Jones: “Sam Jones will be remembered as one of the most prolific champions in all of professional sports.  His selfless style, clutch performances and signature bank shot were hallmarks of an incredible career that featured 10 NBA championships in 12 seasons with the Boston Celtics.

“An HBCU legend at North Carolina Central University and a member of the NBA’s 25th, 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams, Sam was a beloved teammate and respected competitor who played the game with dignity and class.  We mourn the passing of a basketball giant and send our deepest condolences to Sam’s family and the Celtics organization.”

The Celtics honored Jones with a moment of silence before Friday afternoon’s game against the Phoenix Suns, showing a video tribute on the screen hanging among the championship banners above the parquet floor at the TD Garden. His No. 24, which was retired by the Celtics in 1969 while he was a still an active player, was also displayed on the monitor in the hushed arena before a still photo of him in a suit and the words “Sam Jones 1933-2021.”

“Another one of my dear friends lost,” Celtics broadcaster Cedric Maxwell wrote on Twitter. “Well, the banks are open in heaven this #NYE.”

Celtics coach Red Auerbach discovered Jones when he went to North Carolina to scout the national champion Tar Heels for the upcoming draft. Auerbach said he was told that the best player in the state was actually on Hall of Fame coach John McLendon’s team at North Carolina Central.

The Celtics paid tribute to Sam Jones before Friday's game against the Suns.

Auerbach selected Jones in the first round of the 1957 draft, eighth overall, despite never seeing him play.

Jones went on to average 17.7 points and just under five rebounds in 12 years with the Celtics, leading the team in scoring five times — including the 1963 champions, who had eight Hall of Famers on the roster.

Jones was even better in the playoffs, averaging 18.9 points per game in the postseason. When he retired in 1969 at the age of 36, he was the only player in Celtics history to score more than 50 points in a game.

“You look at the championships and what he did, it’s obviously a big loss for the community here,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said before Friday’s game.

Using a bank shot that was unconventional even then, Jones came to be known as “Mr. Clutch” after a series of game-winners, including a buzzer-beater to clinch the 1962 Eastern Conference finals. He hit an off-balance, wrong-footed jumper to win Game 4 of the ’69 Finals; instead of heading to Los Angeles trailing 3-1, the Celtics tied the series against the Lakers at two games apiece and went on to win in seven.

Jones retired after that title, having won his 10 championships in 12 seasons. A five-time All-Star, he was was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984.

At the time he retired after the 1968-69 season, Jones held 11 Celtics records. He had led the team in scoring for three seasons and owned the Celtics’ single-game scoring record (which has since been broken).

In 1970 he was named to the NBA 25th Anniversary All-Time Team and in 1983 he was elected to the Hall of Fame. In his speech at the ceremony he gave credit where he felt it was due, with his typical humility: “It would have made me very happy,” he said, “if the Celtics had gone in as a team, because that’s what we were, a great team, not great individuals.” The honors did not stop with the Hall of Fame, because in 1996 he was named to the NBA 50th Anniversary Team and in 2021 he was named to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.

Jones’ death comes a year after teammate Tommy Heinsohn and 13 months following the death of K.C. Jones.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.