Caldwell Jones, 64, stood tall, quiet

In an oil painting, he’d have been part of the background scenery. As part of a comedy team, he’d have been the straight man who set up the other guy for the jokes and applause.

Caldwell Jones looks on during a 76ers game played in 1977.

Caldwell Jones looks on during a 76ers game played in 1977.

Caldwell Jones spent most of his 17 seasons in the ABA and NBA out of the spotlight reserved for the superstars, but always in the middle of the dirty work that needed to be done.

The 64-year-old center, one of four Jones brothers — along with Wil, Major and Charles — to play in the NBA, has died of a heart attack.

He was tall (6-foot-11) and spindly and often looked like he’d been constructed out of pipe cleaners twisted together. He’d occasionally take the court wearing a rubber cushion to protect a sore elbow, two big knee pads and one high-top and one low-cut shoe to deal with foot injuries and then just go about his business against the bigger, bulkier big men in the game.

It took him 1,227 games in both leagues to cross the 10,000-point plateau, never averaging double figures. But scoring and getting headlines weren’t as important to Jones as doing what was necessary.

I first met him when he was probably the least-known member of the flamboyant 76ers team with Julius Erving, Doug Collins, Darryl Dawkins and World B. Free, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant in the late 1970s and early 1980s and Jones was content to be a defensive tentpole that quietly held things up in the middle.

“Everybody likes to look at the glory part of the game, the scoring points,” he once said. “But there is a lot more to the game. I look at myself like an offensive lineman. Someone has to open the holes for the 1,000-yard rushers.”

He loved to watch old Westerns (Lash LaRue, Cisco Kid) and cartoons (Woody Woodpecker, the Flintstones) and had a laugh that was as genuine and down-to-earth as the hardscrabble roots in McGehee, Ark., that produced the Jones clan.

He ate chili dogs for breakfast, chugged beers in the locker room after a hard night’s work and when Oregonian reporter Dwight Jaynes once asked him to name his favorite seafood, replied: “Salt water taffy.”

Jones was always self-deprecating about his own talents.

“You know how you stop Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?” he once told me. “You push him and you push him and you push and you push him. And then you hope he just steps out of bounds.”

In the prime of his career, Jones was a mentor to the likes of young Sixers guards Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney, teaching them what it took to be a professional. In his final NBA season, he was still showing those ropes to a rookie named David Robinson in San Antonio.

After six seasons in Philadelphia, battling alongside Dr. J for Eastern Conference supremacy, but never winning a championship, Jones was traded to Houston for Moses Malone in 1982 and the Sixers won it all the next season while the Rockets finished 14-68.

I had moved to Houston myself about six months before the trade and Rockets equipment manager David Nordstrom asked me what he could do to make Jones feel welcome. I told him that a bucket filled with ice and a six-pack in front of his locker after every game would go a long way.

On the night Jones played his first game in Houston, I walked through the door just as C.J. was twisting the top off a bottle. He pointed it at me.

“They don’t guarantee what uniform you’re always gonna wear in this league” he said. “But they pay me very well to come to work and do a job.”

19 Comments

  1. R.D. Frable ♞ says:

    G_d bless Caldwell Jones… to the end he probably still regretted not getting to the Finals all those years in Philly, or still being there when they did win.

  2. Timmy says:

    saw Caldwell as a Spur in 1990. so cool

  3. Timmy says:

    spent many days watching Caldwell and Sixers in early 80s, RIP

  4. RonJ says:

    R.I.P. CJones,

    I very well remember him from being station at Fort Dix, NJ. The troop use to get in the car and head to Phila, and watch the Sixers…Great games, and Joneses was a great player…He would get the fast break going for the guards, and it was a sight to see! God Bless the family in their time of sorrow!

  5. Zillo says:

    Mr. Winston could learn a lot from a guy like C.Jones, be observant , Cill and let your talent do the talking for you. And stsy out of trouble. 17 years in the NBA speakes for itself.

  6. IPlaye Against Caldwel ~ Wilbur Jones When They Were Balling At Albany State College/University (Georgia) And I Was At The Fort Valley State College/University In The SIAC In The Late 60’s ~ He Was A Great And Quiet Brother ~~ RIP C Jones ~ Too Tall

  7. Quinton Davis (215) says:

    As a man born and bread in Philly, the Sixers were (and still are) my favorite sports team. Those teams were always in the hunt for a title and “CJ” was a big part of that.

    RIP Mr. Jones and my prayers go out to his family during this time of bereavement.

  8. Gregory Phillips says:

    RIP Mr. Jones

  9. Stan Williams says:

    Rest in Peace my Brother and thank you for your years as a player with the Sixers….

  10. MD DA MAN PEACE says:

    Caldwell was a great silent center who played the blue collar game. Thanks it was a pleasure calling your name when I rebounded or blocked someone shot. Rest in Basketball Heaven BIG FELLOW

  11. Fefe (Nets) says:

    Nice article & RIP Caldwell Jones

  12. Kenneth B. May says:

    Caldwell, “C” , “Preacher” ,

    I really do not know what to say, we go back to the days of “one-piece” and “two-pieces” rest in peace and well done my friend and extended family member. Go Wolfe Project! Kenny B.

  13. A philly fan when Cj played there says:

    Hey C J play a good game LIP

  14. drew thomas says:

    Great guy…my brother-inlaw played against him when he was at Albany st. In Albany ga.
    .

  15. lbj says:

    Mr. Jones, you’re one example the man-babies and the whiners of today’s NBA should emulate.

  16. cedricmaxwell says:

    Thanks for refreshing my memory, nice article. Rest in peace.

  17. Thanks Mr.Jones for the times we hung out, going fishing, lunch,and the great conversations. (sports & life)

  18. Asante says:

    My condolences to the family and the ancestors are waiting for the elder.

  19. keithmon says:

    RIP Caldwell from someone who respected your efforts in battling my hometown Celtics in some epic struggles.