Everyone around Jayhawk nation knows the names Naismith, Allen, Chamberlain, Riggins, and Sayers. Names like these are embedded deep in KU’s rich basketball and football traditions. Names like Manning, Williams, Pierce, Self, Chalmers, and Wiggins are well known amongst the current generation of fans. But there is a sizeable chunk of names that we know in passing - we know of their greatness but not necessarily what made them great. This column is intended to shed some light on past KU greats. Today we start with JoJo White.
A long time ago, my dad told me a brief story about Joseph Henry White, the man better known as JoJo. On the first day of class in what was most likely 1967 or 1968, my dad sat in the same classroom as JoJo White. The teacher asked the students to go around the room and state their name and major, maybe a brief bio, and when the time came for JoJo White to tell the class who he was, he simply said: "My name is JoJo White and I play basketball for the University of Kansas." The class broke out in a round of applause- such is the life of a basketball player at Kansas- before moving on to the next student. Now, this story was probably exaggerated and embellished by my late father, but it still shows how deep the passion for basketball runs on Mount Oread.
White was born in St. Louis, Missouri and while KU has had a few recruits from that area that labored over the decision to come to Kansas, for JoJo, it seemed like an easy decision. According to the 6’3" guard, he saw Gale Sayers play while he was on a recruiting visit and was hooked. The next thing you know, White was in Lawrence leading the Jayhawks to the 1966 Big Eight title.
Collegiately, perhaps JoJo White is best known for a shot that didn’t count. During the 1966 NCAA Midwest Regional Final against Texas Western, White was ruled out of bounds as he made a crucial late basket from the deep corner. Kansas would be denied a trip to their fifth Final Four and Texas Western would go on to make history while battling segregation. This might have been his most famous moment in college, but people fail to realize that White is number 24 on the all-time KU scoring list despite having played in only 84 games as a Jayhawk. Extrapolate his 15.3 points per game to around 120 games over a four-year span (a little low by today’s standards) and White would sit firmly in fifth place on the all-time KU scoring list. Not bad. As it stands, JoJo made All-Big Eight first team honors three times, and made the All-American list twice- third team in 1968 and second team in 1969.
In the middle of all this, White played for his country in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. All he did was average 11.7 points per game while shooting 47% from the floor and 81% at the line as the US won the gold with an undefeated 9-0 record. After garnering national attention at the Olympics and having a stellar senior season at Kansas where he averaged 18.1 points per game, the Boston Celtics drafted White number nine overall in 1969.
As good as he was at the amateur level, JoJo White was even better as a pro. He was a seven-time NBA All-Star and the player that most consider the best to not have been elected into the National Basketball Hall of Fame. During his ten years with the Celtics, he averaged 18.3 points and 5.1 assists per game, and in the playoffs he was even better. JoJo averaged 21.5 points per game in the post season, guiding Boston to NBA championships in 1974 and 1976. During the 1976 championship run, White averaged 22.7 points over 18 games while dishing out almost five and a half assists per contest. He was named 1976 Finals MVP.
Until they raise Paul Pierce’s jersey to the rafters in Boston, JoJo White remains the only player to have his number retired by the most storied collegiate program and the most storied professional team. Well done JoJo.