The Naismith Hall of Fame is loaded with Celtics, representing multiple eras in the franchise’s storied history. Yet there was a void until last April, when Jo Jo White received the long-awaited news that he would join a handful of his former teammates and coaches in Springfield.
White sported a bright smile following the news, realizing his induction — 34 years after his NBA retirement while finishing his playing career with the Kansas City Kings — was perhaps a symbol of his perseverance.
White, who underwent brain surgery in 2010, moves a little slower than he used to, but his mind is sharp and his appreciation seemingly limitless for this honor. He helped the Celtics to two NBA championships in the post-Bill Russell era, teaming with Dave Cowens and John Havlicek in the 1970s version of the Big Three.
In playing in seven All-Star Games, being named MVP of the 1976 NBA Finals, and with a franchise-record 488 consecutive games played for the Celtics, White possessed Hall of Fame credentials. But it appears the Naismith committee has been slow to embrace some players from the 1970s who were perhaps overshadowed by the likes of Julius Erving, George Gervin, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Although White’s accomplishments in the game have always been greatly appreciated in Boston, it has taken years for others to recognize his career as more than just above average.
“I’m just excited and I loved playing sports,” White said. “To touch the athletes you’ve played with, coaches that you had to deal with, and you find you’re getting very, very close to the team that you’re working with. What I’ve went through as a player, I’m just excited.
“I’m still rejoicing from where I’ve gone to where I am to what I had to go through to get where I am. I’ve gone through it.”
The Celtics’ first draft pick in the post-Russell era, White was chosen ninth overall in 1969 and soon became a mainstay at shooting guard. He averaged 17.2 points, 4.9 assists, and 4 rebounds during his 13-year career with the Celtics, Warriors, and Kings. He emerged as one of the greatest shooting guards and clutch scorers in Celtics history, but those teams of the 1970s were so balanced that his contributions were somewhat overlooked.
“When you work hard and someone walks up to you and says, ‘You did great,’ that’s enough to make you feel you’re going the right way,” he said. “That’s what we strive for. I’m honored to have the opportunity that people want to step back and look at the high shelf of your play. What I’m excited about is to be able to create an opportunity where people can say, ‘Yeah, he’s one of those great players.’ ”
It’s difficult to get White to discuss his personal accomplishments. The Red Auerbach-led Celtics with Tom Heinsohn as coach were truly unselfish teams.
“We were chosen by somebody else so we had to earn the right to move forward,” White said. “We had to credit our coaches and the organization for putting us in the position to succeed. It’s over now but we look back on what it took — it’s so many little things that are most important, as when you are going through the [life] process.
“I talked with Tom Heinsohn and we talked about what he had to go through as a coach to pass on what he had to pass on. The players might not like what you have to say but it works. From here on I get to pass my knowledge on because it’s not mine to keep.”
The past few months have given White an opportunity for reflection.
“I was the youngest of seven, and I look back on what I learned,” he said. “Oh man, it was some outstanding times and some hard times. When I look back on it, it sometimes takes [tough times] to reach the goals you set for yourself. You find out things I needed to find out to help get there. It took a lot of work.”
GOLD MEDAL OR BUST
Team USA keeps its eye on the ball
As members of the US Olympic team refocus their attention on the upcoming NBA season, Team USA management remains focused on the 2016 Rio Games and the quest for a fourth consecutive gold medal.
The competition for that prize will be stiff but perhaps not as staunch as in previous years because, like many of the US team members, a number of international standouts are aging. Players such as Luis Scola and Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Nene (Brazil), and Pau and Marc Gasol (Spain) are now north of 30 years old, while players from other emerging teams may not be ready to push the United States until 2020.
“Well, first of all, there’s a wave — just like the NBA — there’s a continual wave of new young players. Generally speaking, that’s true internationally also,” Team USA chairman Jerry Colangelo said. “I think without question, you’d have to say Spain, if they get their players to perform and are healthy, despite the fact they are aging, they’re very formidable.
“Serbia is considered a very strong international team coming into this Olympic year. I think France is another team, age aside, there’s a lot of talent, and a big sleeper in the whole mix is Canada. Canada has some extraordinary, very good, fine young players and they’re going to be heard from. If it’s not ’16, it will be ’20.”
The Serbian team is led by Timberwolves forward Nemanja Bjelica and Fenerbahce Ulker’s Bojan Bogdanovic. Depending on the status of Spurs guard Tony Parker for next year’s Games, France could be the stiffest competition with Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier, Rudy Gobert, and Joffrey Lauvergne.
Team Canada is loaded with young prospects such as Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, Nik Stauskas, Andrew Nicholson, and Cory Joseph. The Canadians are currently vying to qualify for their first Olympic Games since 2000.
“If you’ve competed your whole life, you certainly understand that the wins yesterday are yesterday’s news,” Colangelo said. “All that matters is now. That’s a driver for all of us who are involved in USA Basketball. The culture that we’ve tried to build is very unique. We’re all very proud to represent our country.”
Colangelo, 75, has been the GM and owner of the Phoenix Suns, owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and was critical in bringing the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix in the 1990s.
“As Americans we’re taking a lot of heat around the world and when you have a chance to represent your country on the international stage we take that very seriously,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with a long career in sports and a lot of success, but at this stage of my life, to be able to lead an organization that is doing all of what I just said, makes it special for me.
“Back in ’04 as I watched where we were, USA Basketball, some of the other countries really had togetherness, like Argentina, like Spain. That was something I thought we needed to develop. So developing a national team concept, stating that we had to change our culture and to see where we are, it makes you feel very good. There was a plan. Right now we’re on a roll.”
Colangelo said USA Basketball is seeking sites to play five “friendly” games before going to Rio de Janeiro. He is heading to the Olympic city and said he is concerned about the playing conditions just 11 months before the start of the Games.
“I remember a few years ago, I was part of the Chicago group trying to get the  Olympics and we finished fourth in a four-city race when we had the best presentation, the strongest financial package,” he said. “I was in Copenhagen with the mayor of Chicago, the Obamas, and Oprah Winfrey, and this whole group of powerful people and we finished fourth in the voting, which was like a joke. It was so weird.
“All the concerns people had about Rio back then are the same today. The big ones were no prior experience, infrastructure, getting from point A to point B, roads, freeways, hotels, there’s a real shortage. The security was one of those issues that have seemingly been addressed pretty well through the World Cup.
“They’ve come a ways but I want to see it.”
BAPTISM OF FIRE
Okafor will have chance to shine
The 76ers have emerged as the most mysterious and confounding organization in professional sports. No one outside the franchise quite knows what its goals are. General manager Sam Hinkie has stockpiled young talent, young journeymen, and expiring contracts in a meticulous rebuild that will have the club headed for the top of the draft lottery for the fourth consecutive season.
Former first-round pick Joel Embiid will miss another season after another surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right foot, so the onus of the team’s improvement rests on the shoulders of centers Nerlens Noel and rookie Jahlil Okafor, who surprisingly fell to the 76ers after the Lakers passed on him and chose Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell with the second overall pick.
For much of the college basketball season, Okafor was considered the consensus No. 1 pick as a freshman at Duke, but he was outpaced by Kentucky’s Karl Anthony-Towns and then the Lakers, who felt they were in the LaMarcus Aldridge sweepstakes, took Russell, leaving Okafor for Philadelphia.
Okafor played in five summer league games, averaging 16.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 44 percent shooting. There will be heavy expectations for Okafor, especially since he has a good chance to lead all rookies in minutes this season. Embiid’s absence will allow the 6-foot-11-inch, 270-pounder to blend with Noel for what could be an effective center/power forward combination.
“I talked to Nerlens and he went to a majority of our [summer league] games,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me on the bench. I’m excited to be on the floor with him.”
Okafor has received positive advice and reinforcement from former Duke standout Jabari Parker, who missed most of his rookie season with the Bucks in 2014-15 with a torn left anterior cruciate ligament. There was speculation a year ago that Parker had considered staying at Duke for a second season to play with Okafor. Parker ultimately declared for the draft, but the two have remained close.
“The guy I’m closest with is Jabari,” Okafor said. “We’re very similar. We played one year at Duke and are from Chicago, so we’re like brothers. He’s a guy I can rely on. He’s always honest with me.”
What remains to be seen is whether Okafor can reach his potential in the 76ers’ system. The team drafted Michael Carter-Williams from Syracuse in 2013 and he went on to be named Rookie of the Year, only to be traded in the middle of his second season. Noel had a solid rookie year in 2014-15 after missing his first season with a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, but there are still questions about whether he can become an All-Star-caliber talent.
Okafor is quite honestly the best player the 76ers have had during the Hinkie era. And the league will certainly be watching his development, perhaps as a litmus test of how serious the Philadelphia franchise is about improving and being a factor in the Eastern Conference.
The 76ers open the season in Boston against the Celtics, and Okafor’s presence should at least make the team more interesting.
“I am ready [for the challenge],” said Okafor. “I was the No. 1 player in high school so I went through that attention. I went to Duke University, one of the bigger schools in the country, and won a national championship. I’m used to attention and I think I’ll handle it fine.”
The Hawks announced last week they plan to retire Dikembe Mutombo’s No. 55 before a Nov. 24 nationally televised game against the Celtics. Mutombo will be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame on Sept. 11 in Springfield. In nearly five seasons with the Hawks, Mutombo averaged 11.9 points, 12.6 rebounds, and 3.2 blocked shots, emerging as one of the top defensive centers of his era . . . With Glen Davis out for three months following ankle surgery, the Clippers signed former Raptors forward Chuck Hayes to a one-year minimum contract, continuing Doc Rivers’s summer overhaul that includes the acquisitions of Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith, and Pablo Prigioni. Hayes initially agreed to a contract with Houston but the Rockets backed out because of a roster crunch . . . At a recent Los Angeles Sparks WNBA game, team owner Magic Johnson introduced the newest Lakers point guard, D’Angelo Russell, to the crowd at halftime and Russell told the crowd, “We want to bring the magic back to the Lakers.” Johnson asked Russell if the Lakers were going to return to the playoffs and the rookie offered a resounding yes. Johnson no longer has partial ownership of the Lakers and has been quite critical of the ownership of Jim Buss, son of legendary team owner Jerry Buss. But Johnson seemed quite excited to talk Lakers last week . . . The Grizzlies were handed a setback when rookie forward Jarell Martin broke his left foot in a collision with a teammate during a pre-camp workout. Martin, the 25th overall pick, was expected to contribute this season but now could miss several weeks. He was a college teammate of the Celtics’ Jordan Mickey, who was selected eight picks later and is expected to garner minutes . . . Players such as Carlos Boozer remain on the open market but it’s likely many established veterans looking for work will wait until the regular season begins and the possibility of a guaranteed contract exists instead of a training camp invite or a minimum deal entering camp. Other players looking for work include former Bulls star Ben Gordon, who was released from his deal in Orlando last season, and former second overall pick Michael Beasley, who may be pondering another contract with a Chinese team instead of a lesser opportunity with an NBA team. Beasley played 24 games with the Heat last season, averaging 8.8 points . . . NBADL Maine will hold open tryouts on Oct. 3 at the Celtics’ training facility in Waltham. Players must be 18 or older and register for the event by Oct. 2. Forms are available at maineredclaws.com.
Darryl Dawkins was known not only for his rim-rattling dunks and colorful personality but for becoming the first high school player to go directly into the NBA. A look at the prep-to-pro timeline, and the remaining prep-to-pro players in the league: