Friends who knew the late Jo Jo White are fondly remembering the Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer.
White, a seven-time NBA All-Star for the Boston Celtics and a star player for the Kansas Jayhawks, died Tuesday after a battle with brain cancer. He was 71.
“Jo Jo was a gentle man and a gentleman,” said Maggie Linton, a Leavenworth native who became friends with White while they attended the University of Kansas. “He was a nice guy, always a gentleman, lots of class. He had a motor (on the court). And he was one of the sharpest dressers I have ever seen in my life.”
White was a two-time All-American point guard at Kansas during the late-1960s.
“I remember everything about Jo Jo,” said former KU head coach Ted Owens. “He was a special guy.”
Owens said coaches measure the value of point guards by how much they make their team better. He said White was such a player.
“One of the best point guard games I ever saw was when we went to Oklahoma State and Jo Jo had three points in the game,” Owens said.
Owens said “the real Jo Jo” was demonstrated years later when the player was having a stellar NBA career.
He said White always returned to Lawrence each year to work the Jayhawks’ summer basketball camp for children.
“I remember during breaks, Jo Jo would always be out in the lobby talking with the kids,” Owens said.
Owens, the head coach at KU for 19 years, said White was one of the best point guards he had the pleasure to coach.
Linton, who now works in broadcasting in Washington, D.C., met White through a mutual friend, Ron Lang, another Leavenworth native, when they were all at KU.
“It’s hard to put into words how I felt when I heard about this,” said Lang, who played for the Jayhawks and was White’s roommate at one time. “It was more a feeling of profound loss. … He was very personable, had an infectious smile, class act. He was kind of bigger than life.”
Lang was the best man in White’s wedding. White was a groomsman in Lang’s wedding.
Lang said he had limited contact with White over the last many years, but when they did speak, “we picked up right where we left off.”
Linton said former Boston Celtics owner Red Auerbach always had high praise for White.
“Red would say that Jo Jo set the standard for KU players coming into the NBA and to the Celtics,” she said.
White was a member of the 1968 U.S. Summer Olympics basketball team that won the gold medal in Mexico City, Mexico.
He was a member of two NBA championship teams with the Celtics.
White was a member of the University of Kansas team that lost a two-overtime thriller to Texas Western in the 1966 Midwest Regional final. The game was featured in the 2006 film “Glory Road” about the Texas Western team.