Lawrence, Kan. (KSNW) – Kansas basketball legend Jo Jo White died Tuesday, the Boston Celtics announced. He was 71 years old.
His daughter, Meka White, told ESPN that her father “died from complications (pneumonia) from dementia that was brought on by the removal of a benign brain tumor in May 2010.”
A two-time Kansas All-American and seven-time NBA All-Star, White was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September 2015.
“He was a KU legend,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said. “When you talk about KU greats and you’re trying to fill that five of the best who ever played here from a talent standpoint, most of the old-timers put Jo Jo in that group.”
White played at KU from 1966-69. An All-America selection in 1968 and 1969, he was a three-time All-Big Eight Conference honoree and KU’s Most Valuable Player for three-straight seasons playing for head coach Ted Owens. The Saint Louis native scored 1,286 career points while at Kansas, which currently ranks 32nd on the KU all-time list.
“He made an incredible contribution to Kansas basketball,” Owens said. “People have often asked me what his greatest strengths were. I would say his greatest strength was he had no weaknesses. He was the absolute complete player, so unselfish. His teammates loved playing with him because he would play great on defense and distribute the ball, and would think about his teammates first then his own shot later.
“We walked off the court in Stillwater (at Oklahoma State) one night,” Owens recalled, “and Jo Jo had three points and he had totally dominated the game on defense and offense, penetrating to get the ball to his teammates. I think that’s the finest game I’ve ever had a point guard play.”
His four years at KU saw the Jayhawks win two Big Eight Championships, three Big Eight Holiday Tournaments, make two NCAA Tournament appearances and finish runner-up in the NIT. He was a member of the 1968 Gold Medal USA Olympic team.
Drafted by Boston with the ninth overall pick in 1969, White led the Celtics to NBA Championships in 1974 and 1976; he was named NBA Finals MVP in 1976. White averaged 17.2 points, 4.9 assists and 4.0 rebounds over 12 NBA seasons. He spent 10 of those 12 seasons with the Celtics, and played in a Celtics-record 488 consecutive games.
A major impact player at the collegiate and professional levels, White’s Kansas jersey was officially retired on Jan. 27, 2003. His number was also retired by the Celtics in 1982. Following his NBA career, Owens hired White as an assistant coach at Kansas for two seasons in 1981-82 and 1982-83.
“We went to Boston a couple years ago to have dinner with Jo and (his wife) Debbie and they took us to a Celtics game,” Owens said. “He was so proud to show me that number 10 hanging down from the rafters. Even years later, people came from all over the stands to talk to him and get his autograph. He was a huge hero in Boston.
“He would come back and work our (KU) basketball camps and he would sit in the lobby for hours and visit with the kids,” Owens recalled. “The highlight of basketball camp for a lot of kids was being able to get that one-on-one time with Jo. He was not only a special player but was a very special person.”