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Mike Shalin's Working Press: Grace set JoJo apart

January 18. 2018 10:14PM
Celtics greats JoJo White, right, and Sam Jones attend a Manchester fundraiser in 2010. White died Tuesday. (UNION LEADER FILE)

The Celtics lost one of their icons this week — a very talented basketball player who leaves us thinking only good things.

“There was a grace about JoJo, on the court, off the court that was unmistakable,” former general manager Jan Volk, who held a variety of front office job when JoJo White played for the team, said Wednesday night. “Anyone who came in contact with him understood that. His confidence, he had a way he carried himself that was very distinctive and very … probably from a teammate’s point of view very encouraging, very reassuring.”

And he was a heck of a player. A Hall of Famer.

“That goes without saying,” says Volk, who runs SportsPix, his photography business, these days and was shooting the 1,000th win of Bentley women’s coach Barbara Stevens Wednesday. “Put that together and it’s a hell of a combination.”

Times were different back then, Volk said. “I’m not sure exactly how many people we had in the front office, but it wasn’t big. There were a lot fewer people involved then, at any level, so everybody in the organization had contact and knew everybody else. There was no strata where you didn’t associate with players because you were selling tickets or something like that. And that’s not how Red (Auerbach, the legendary Celtics coach and executive) wanted it, so there was a lot of interaction — everybody knew everybody.

Asked if White, who lost a battle with cancer at 71, was one of Red’s favorites, Volk said, “For the most part I think anybody who was there was any period of time WAS a favorite. Red demanded and expected a lot out of his players and if you were there for a while you were making him happy.”

Volk recalled one of his early dealings with White.

“I started working in August of 1971 and as I recall, JoJo’s contract had just ended and he was a free agent,” he said. “He came into the office one day during the offseason, went into Red’s office and they closed the door. He was in there for about 10 minutes, he came back out, he’s sitting outside my office, he’s looking at his mail and he’s mumbling to himself, ‘I think I made a big mistake.’

“I said, ‘Jo, what are you talking about?’ He said, ‘you know my contract is up and I went to talk to Red about a new contract and he asked me what I wanted,’ and I told him and he said, ‘OK,’ I think I made a big mistake. This was before agents … if you knew anything about Red and Red said yes the first time out, you sold yourself short.”

Kind words

White was a Hall of Famer on and off the court. A proud man with a proud record.

“The guy was one of the quickest guys in the league,” former New York Knick Walt Frazier told the New York Daily News. “He could really shoot off the dribble, get you going back and pull up and shoot off the jumper. He epitomized what the Celtics were. They were always a running team. He provided that.”

Unlike today, players didn’t hug after games.

“We talked a little but never any social type of thing,” Clyde said. “Even at the All-Star Game we didn’t talk. A lot of times they had four guys and we had three or four guys.

“In those days there was no camaraderie. Certainly not like it is now. Out of respect we’d speak to them but no fraternizing. The rivalry was that intense.”

Column pal Brian O’Connor shared a memory of White that had nothing to do with basketball.

“A great ballplayer, and a great man. All class,” he wrote on Facebook. “My wife is from Lawrence, Kansas, and our wedding reception was at the KU Alumni Center. I’ll always remember looking up at several points during the evening to see JoJo (along with Wilt ChamberlainGale SayersJohn Riggins, and Al Oerter) looking down benevolently at the proceedings. Being a Boston guy, I loved having JoJo there!”

The jersey of former Boston Celtic player Jo Jo White hangs over a seat prior to a game between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden on Thursday. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

Hand gesture

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hurt his right hand this week. He didn’t practice Thursday. Like many of the other things being said by the two sides in this AFC title game, no one is really buying any of it.

“I’m sure he could probably throw left-handed if he has a problem with his right hand and throw just as well,” says Jags coach Doug Marrone, who saw plenty of Brady when he worked for the Jets and Bills.

Earlier in the week, Brady, appearing on WEEI, was asked about Jags cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s guarantee of his team’s Super Bowl Trip.

“I think what I have learned for a long time is — it’s how you play, it’s not what you say,” Brady said. “Everyone has different ways of handling things — players do, coaches do. We do what works for us, other players do what works for them. The game is going to be decided by who plays the best, not who hypes the best or speaks the best.

“He’s a really good player. I have watched a ton of film on him. He has a lot of strengths. He’s obviously very confident. That is reflected in how he plays. I am more concerned about how he plays (as) opposed to what he says.”

Not a fan

Don’t count Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel among those happy the Colts are set to hire Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as their new head coach.

“Josh McDaniels will get a second chance, but not a clean slate,” Doyel wrote. “That isn’t how these things work, not for any of us. We get a clean slate just once, same as Josh McDaniels, and his came in 2009 when he was hired to coach the Denver Broncos. And in less than two years he spray-painted so much graffiti on there that the Broncos fired him for a variety of reasons, so take your pick: his abrasive personality, his horrific judgment of talent, his team’s penchant for losing games, or those broken NFL rules.

He added: “And I still can’t believe this is happening. Can’t believe McDaniels will soon be hired by the Colts, and entrusted with Andrew Luck. Can’t believe he was the hottest commodity on the coaching market this fall. McDaniels is Lane Kiffin to me, an arrogant young punk who ascended rapidly after Daddy got him a cherry first job in coaching — McDaniels’ father, Ohio high school legend Thom McDaniels, was friends with Nick Saban, who hired Josh as a grad assistant at Michigan State in 1999 — and who kept getting promoted to the point of failure.”

Claude’s return

The man who led the Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup and 2013 Final was finally back at TD Garden Wednesday and, as usual, Claude Julien, who was treated to a video tribute in the first period, handled it with grace.

Good news

From Jerry Remy on social media this week: “I am going to post this on Twitter in a while, but I wanted you all to see it first. Today was my last radiation treatment. When people complete radiation treatments they ring the bell before they leave.I was looking forward to that. The nurses were fabulous. Next up spring training!!”

He followed that up on Twitter, saying, “It started in June with surgery, chemo and 5 weeks of radiation. It ended today. Finished, Thanks to the team at MGH and the support I got from many people. To my co-patients, stay strong. Now a little timer to gain strength and down to the Fort. Go Pats!”

Friendly meeting

Remember when John Tortorella, then coaching the Vancouver Canucks, tried to get into the Calgary locker room in 2014? Well, the Houston Rockets did the same thing in Los Angeles the other night, and actually got inside.

James Harden, who didn’t even play in the game, and three teammates, including former Clipper Chris Paul (his first game back in LA), used a back hallway to get at the LA locker room and confront Blake Griffin and Austin Rivers over what had happened on the court. The Rockets players were dared to advance in the room.

“It was classic NBA,” one Clippers witness told ESPN. “None of these guys were going to fight.”

Said Griffin: “We were where we were supposed to be. We were in our locker room. So whatever happens over there, I mean, we can’t control what anybody else does. We control what we did. Everybody was in our seats. That’s it. You should ask them.”

There was a report back in June that had Paul disliking both Rivers: dad Doc and son Austin, and those reports are growing, particularly aimed at Austin.

For some reason, there’s been a rise on NBA scuffles, which actually amuses some people. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said, “NBA fights are the silliest, namby-pamby things I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Happy anniversary

It was great seeing all the attention given the 60th anniversary of Willie O’Ree breaking the NHL’s color barrier. This man is a gem, and told a story on the NHL Network about another gem.

Talking to Kevin Weekes, and we’re paraphrasing here, O’Ree recalled winning a baseball championship as a 12-year-old and the prize was a sightseeing trip to New York City. Meeting Jackie Robinson was a highlight of the trip and O’Ree said he told Robinson he liked playing baseball but was a hockey player.

O’Ree said he met Robinson against at an NAACP convention 13 years later, went over to introduce himself — and Robinson actually remembered his name from when they had met in 1949. Great story.


Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is

Sports columns Patriots/NFL Red Sox/MLB Celtics/NBA Bruins/NHL