NBA Superstar and Hall of Famer, Sam Jones – a Pioneer in Sports – and Willwork President, Bill Nixon Sr., Were Colleagues and Kin in Winning on the Basketball Court, and in Life
February 29, 2016
Among the most important and valuable people in society are the teachers and coaches – the mentors of youth.
Some of these exceptional types make teaching and coaching their vocation and primary profession.
Others make their primary living in other pursuits, yet attain fulfillment, either in an adjunct, volunteer, or second career capacity – or a combination thereof – in mentoring. As well, they enlist and apply their expertise and achievement from their, as it were, main profession – or long-time “day job”, to help and guide youth.
Sam Jones and Bill Nixon are both teachers and coaches.
They were also athletes.
Now, for sure, when doing an assessment and review of the lives of the two men, the level and places and arenas (figurative and literal) in which they taught, coached, and competed were vastly different.
Yet not always. Indeed, there is much vocational and avocational history and DNA they share.
Both grew up in the Depression.
Both were only children.
Both served in the military before finishing college.
While in college, both planned on becoming a high school teacher and coach.
Both married their soul mate right out of college, and stayed and have stayed married to their soul mate for life.
Sam and Gladys Jones have been married for 58 years. Bill and Helen Nixon were married for 52 years until Mrs. Nixon’s passing in 2007.
Both, with their wives, brought up big families. Sam and Gladys Jones had five children. Bill and Helen Nixon had eight children.
Both men worked in gymnasiums.
Both are enshrined in multiple halls of fame.
Both are students of basketball – and fiercely focused and competitive in preparing for and chasing and securing victory in the sport.
Both realized and adopted as a mission a love of and dedication to honoring the sport.
Both were animated with, and fulfilled in, improving the lives of young people, pulling potential out of youth, and facilitating the conditions of learning and self awareness.
And the two would become business colleagues, and friends, and for several years, every summer, would work together at basketball camps. They would teach and coach together. Talk together about basketball tactics and strategy.
For both men, basketball was a conduit and a vessel.
Samuel “Sam” Jones is among the greatest to ever play the game of basketball.
He is also near the top of the list of the most underrated players in NBA history.
In his 12 seasons (1957-58 through 1968-69) in the NBA, all with the Boston Celtics, Sam Jones was a member of 10 championship teams, which included a streak of eight consecutive NBA titles.
Only Bill Russell, who started in the league the year before Mr. Jones, and who would also play his entire pro career – 13 seasons – with the Celtics, has more NBA championship rings: 11.
So, yes, if you do the math, you find that Sam Jones and Bill Russell were teammates on 12 Celtics squads, 10 of which won championships.
Over his NBA career, Sam Jones scored 15,411 points, and averaged 17.7 points per game. He pulled down 4,305 rebounds (4.9 rpg), and 2,209 assists (2.5 apg). He was named NBA All Star five times, and three times named to the All NBA Second Team.
The Boston Celtics retired Sam Jone’s number, 24.
A compelling statement on the value of Sam Jones to the Celtics dynasty is that not long after Mr. Russell retired as a player, he said that if Sam Jones had not been his teammate, he would only have four championship rings.
Mr. Russell also said, this comment he also made in his post playing days, that if he could pick one player for the seventh game of an NBA championship series, he would pick Sam Jones over any man who ever stepped on the court.
Sam Jones was immensely talented, and a fierce and focused competitor.
One of the purest shooting guards in the history of the sport, Sam Jones, 6-4, 198 lbs., was expert at the bank shot, and was properly renowned as “Mr. Clutch” for his poise under pressure, and penchant for optimum performance when stakes were high and seconds on the scoreboard were few.
In 1996, a panel of media professionals, former NBA players and coaches, and NBA general managers – to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of the league – selected the top 50 players in NBA history.
Sam Jones was one of the 50.
Many people know, yet it is fact and history not yet discovered by many others, that Willwork, Inc. Exhibit & Event Services . Exhibit Services president, Bill Nixon, was a long-time high school history teacher, and also one of the most accomplished prep athletic coaches in Massachusetts history.
Mr. Nixon was a standout prep football and track & field coach, but he achieved his highest distinction coaching basketball. As varsity boys’ basketball coach at Oliver Ames High School in Easton MA (the town in which Willwork is headquartered), from 1970 through 1994, he built a record of 332-175, with 11 league championships, and several of his Tiger teams went deep into the state tournament.
As well, consider that for 17 years prior to taking over as head coach of the Oliver Ames (OA) program, he coached the OA junior varsity – and also with a high level of success, compiling a win-loss mark of 222-49.
Here is some math: over a 41 year period, Mr. Nixon’s basketball teams went 554-224, a 71.2 winning percentage.
Teams coached by Bill Nixon were known for their up-tempo offense, and for scoring. As he developed winning teams, so did he many individual high scorers. The type of game he coached, and basketball culture he molded and nurtured, was one that was hospitable for players who could shoot accurately, and were not reluctant to shoot.
“There is a 30-second shot clock in Massachusetts high school now,” Mr. Nixon said. “We really only needed a 10-second clock.”
Bill Nixon, always motivated by a challenge, earned distinction for seeking out the best competition for his teams, and scheduled games against big city schools, at their gyms. As evidence, over the years, Mr. Nixon’s OA teams played Brockton High School six times – all at the BHS gym – and all during a period when Brockton High had one of the largest high school student populations in the east. Over the those six games, the Tigers and Boxers split at three games each.
Bill Nixon’s competitiveness, winning, and how he improved the lives of countless young people is remembered, honored, and rewarded.
He is a member of the Massachusetts Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, Stonehill College Athletic Hall of Fame, and Oliver Ames High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
Sam Jones was born in 1933, in Laurinburg, NC, to Samuel and Louise Jones. Laurinburg is about as far south as you can travel in the state without crossing into South Carolina.
Samuel Jones died when his son was four. Louise Jones supported her son through domestic work, and raised him in a small home near the Laurinburg town center.
“We didn’t have a lot, but we had enough, and there was always food on the table,” said Mr. Jones. “As for society, well, in the part of the country where we lived, segregation was just the way it was – and, early on, it was what I knew. There was a white section of town, and a few black sections. Blacks and whites didn’t mingle much. Although black and white kids and teenagers did get together to play different sports, on a pickup level.”
Laurinburg had two secondary schools – Laurinburg High School, which is where the white kids went, and Laurinburg Institute, where the black kids attended.
“I received a good education at Laurinburg Institute, which already had a reputation for fielding strong basketball teams,” said Mr. Jones. “I actually was a starter on the varsity as a freshman, and would start varsity for four years.”
Sam Jones was also a standout quarterback in football, and was very good in baseball. He wanted to play basketball in college, and had the talent to play anywhere, but in 1951, the year he graduated from high school, there were not many major college basketball programs recruiting blacks.
Yes, it was a different time.
“The best option for me to go to college, and to play basketball was at a black college – also called a historically black college. I wasn’t going to college without a scholarship, for we had little money. I was fortunate to have been recruited to play basketball by the men’s basketball coaches – both great coaches, John McLendon and Floyd Brown – at North Carolina Central College, which was a black college, and not far from where I grew up.”
Sam Jones enrolled at North Carolina Central College (NCCC).
William F. Nixon was born in 1928, to Frances and Joseph Nixon. He grew up in the Ward 2 section of Brockton – which is located in the southwest section of the city..
“My father worked for the city, and then went to work in the shoe industry in Brockton. My mother also worked in the shoe industry.”
Bill Nixon was a talented athlete at Brockton High School. He played halfback on a football team that finished 10-0-0, and played guard on a basketball team that lost in the semifinals of the Eastern Massachusetts Class A post-season tournament. He was on the BHS track team, and was one of the top quarter-milers in the state.
In a way, Bill Nixon knew what Sam Jones knew – a segregated society, yet one in which he was a member of the privileged set.
“I did not have much interaction with blacks growing up – mainly because I didn’t get outside of Brockton much, and back then Brockton had few black families,” said Mr. Nixon. “There were only a few black families in the city – and they lived on the east side.”
“Of the 465 students in my graduating class, only five were black. I had no black teammates on either the football or basketball teams.
“When I graduated from high school, I signed up for an 18-month enlistment in army. I did my basic training at Fort Lee in Virginia, and then was stationed in Germany.”
Bill Nixon served in the army in 1946 and ’47, when the U.S. Armed Forces were still segregated, as it was not until 1948 that President Harry Truman signed the order to desegregate the military.
“When I completed my service, I knew I wanted to go on to college, but I thought I needed another year of prepping academically, so I took advantage of the GI Bill, and used it to attend Wilbraham Academy – which is now Wilbraham & Monson Academy – for a year
“That year was valuable for me academically, and culturally, and I played football, basketball, and ran track – the quarter-mile and half-mile. “
Bill Nixon finished his post-secondary-school year at Wilbraham Academy in the spring of 1949. The following September, he enrolled at Stonehill College, a small Catholic liberal arts college, located in the town of Easton, which borders Brockton. At the time, Stonehill College was a start-up in education having only opened its doors the previous year.
“One of the reasons I chose Stonehill College to go to school was that it had been planning to start a football program. But that didn’t happen, not while I was there, and not for a many years after.”
When Bill Nixon graduated from Stonehill College in 1953, with a bachelor’s degree in history, he set his sights on landing a high school teaching position.
As the 1953-54 school year started, Bill Nixon began his practice teaching at Oliver Ames High School.
It was also about this time that Bill Nixon met another man beginning his teaching and coaching career at Oliver Ames – and the two would become the closest of friends, and form a highly successful and long enduring coaching partnership that resulted in an era of sports dominance for the school.
“I was beginning my practicum teaching at OA at the start of 1953-54 school year – and that is when I met Val Muscato, who was in his first year teaching and coaching at OA. Val was teaching biology, was assistant football coach, and the head coach of the boys’ varsity basketball team, and assistant track & field coach.”
For Sam Jones, the 1953-54 school year was his junior year at North Carolina Central College.
While he had already started two seasons for the Eagles, and, as a sophomore led the conference in scoring, and was named to the all conference first team, his junior season was a true breakout year, one that would attract the attention of NBA scouts,
“I was doing well academically, and athletically,” said Mr. Jones. “I was learning a lot playing under John McLendon and Floyd Brown. Our team was improving – we had gone 17-7 when I was a sophomore, and went 24-7 the next year.”
Sam Jones and his college studies and college basketball career took a two-year hiatus. That was because Uncle Sam needed him for that long.
“I was drafted into the army during my junior year in college. Back then that is what you did. We had the draft – even though the shooting in the Korean War had ended in the summer of 1953. And, back then, the only deferment that you got by being in college is that you could finish the school year before your induction.”
It would be in the U.S. military that Sam Jones would know a desegregated society for the first time.
“When I entered the army in the 1954, it had been about six years since President Truman had desegregated the military.
“I did basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. What I thought about being in the military was that it was just what you did – you served your country. Everyone got along – blacks and whites. We were serving our country together. During that time, if you were a male and healthy in mind and body, you were going to get drafted. You could be a star pro athlete and still get drafted. Just about every guy that I knew who was around my age served in the military.”
Following basic training Sam Jones was transferred to White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico (renamed White Sands Missile Range in 1958), a 3,200 square mile military test compound that would become known as the “Birthplace of America’s Missile and Space Activity.”
“It wasn’t the most difficult service – again, there was no war going on. And we had a very good base basketball team. When you have a draft, military sports are highly competitive. Other army teams we played against included Frank Ramsey, who already had a year behind him with the Celtics, and also Al Bianchi, Bobby Leonard, and Frank Selvy, all who would have excellent NBA careers.”
Sam Jones was in the army, and Bill Nixon was now a full time teacher and coach at Oliver Ames High School.
“Yes, it was the 1954-55 school year that was my first as member of the teaching staff at OA,” said Mr. Nixon. “I also coached the boys’ freshman basketball team, and served as the assistant varsity boys’ basketball coach. The following year, Val Muscato became the head football coach, and took on the assistant job in that sport as well.
“We learned a lot, together – Val and I. We attended coaching clinics, and we worked at summer sports camps. What Val and I agreed on, early on, is that in games, there are some thing we can’t always control; for example, we may get out-talented, and sometimes even out-coached – you can’t always control those areas. But an area we could always control is that we should never allow ourselves to outworked.”
In the late 1950s, when Val Muscato was working for Celtics great Bob Cousy at his basketball camp in New Hampshire, and for Syracuse Nationals star Dolph Schayes at his camp in upstate New York, he started to think about running his own camps. He would launch his enterprise with day camps.
“Val made connections at these camps, and he studied how to run camps. He co-founded a summer day camp with the DeCouto family in Easton; the camp was called Camp DeVal. It was a general recreation and sports and arts and crafts camp for kids. And soon he started, with Dolph Schayes, and with the Fordham University men’s basketball coach Johnny Bach [who later was an assistant coach with the Chicago Bulls), a summer day camp that was hosted at OA.”
While in the army, Sam Jones was drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers, but upon completion of his service he chose to return to college.
“I had made a promise to my mother that I would graduate from college. And when I returned to school, my name went back in the NBA draft hat.”
As a senior, Sam Jones was, without argument, one of the best shooting guards in collegiate basketball – any division – and quite possibly the best. He again led the conference in scoring – and again made all conference.
Sam Jones finished his NCCC career scoring mark with 1,745 points. He did those over 98 games, a per game average of 17.81.
Almost 60 years after he graduated, Mr. Jones is the second the leading all-time scorer for the Eagles.
In the 1957 NBA draft, the Boston Celtics used their first pick,, the eighth overall in the draft, to select Sam Jones.. This selection was historic in that he was the first athlete from a historically black college who, in a pro sports league draft, a team selected with its first pick.
Another first (and in this case, an “only” as well) is attached to the drafting of Sam Jones in that he was the first player Celtics coach Mr. Auerbach ever drafted whom he had not seen play.
How Sam Jones became a Celtics draft pick resulted from a trip that Red Auerbach made to North Carolina to scout players from the University of North Carolina team that had just won the NCAA crown. While in North Carolina, Mr. Auerbach met up with Wake Forest University coach Horace “Bones” McKinney who told him that the best player in the state was not in Chapel Hill but a few miles away in Durham, at North Carolina Central College.
Bones McKinney knew what he was talking about.
Red Auerbach didn’t get over to Durham. But he had enough respect and confidence in Coach McKinney to act on the recommendation.
But, curiously enough, Sam Jones wasn’t thinking much about a future in playing basketball.
First off, he and his college sweetheart, his classmate, the former Gladys Chavis, had just married, and were planning to start a family.
“I had responsibilities, and I was focused on becoming a high school teacher. The NBA seemed like a big risk. This was not a time in which signing your first pro sports contract could make you set financially for life. Back then, a rookie signing an NBA contract meant that he would be set financially for the season – and after the season he would get a summer job.
“How about a signing bonus? What signing bonus? And, here’s the thing, the Celtics had just won their first NBA championship, and the team was returning 11 players. Just making the team, I felt, would be very difficult – and even if I did make the team, I was just about sure I wouldn’t see much playing time or have much of an impact.”
As it turned out, it came down to money – $500 – that resulted in Sam Jones trying out for the Boston Celtics.
“I had job lined up, in North Carolina, at West Charlotte High School, to teach, and to coach the basketball team. I was offered a salary of $5,000 a year. I asked for $5,500 – and was firm on my request. Well, I was told that the school would like to pay me the extra $500, but it just didn’t have it.”
Sam Jones decided to try to make a go of it in the NBA.
In tryouts, Red Auerbach saw in the rookie, speed, intelligence, a keen shooting touch, and full out hustle and determination. Coach Auerbach chose to name Sam Jones a Celtic.
Of 11 players on the 1957-58 Boston Celtics, Sam Jones and Bill Russell were the only blacks.
Sam Jones and Bill Nixon first met in the summer of 1960.
“I met Sam at Oliver Ames High School,” said Mr. Nixon. “Val brought Sam in to give shooting lectures, and lectures on other aspects of the game. Now, remember, this was 1960, and while Sam was starting to make his name with the Celtics, he was not even a starter yet, and surely not a star. But, right away, I was impressed the way he taught shooting, and much he cared about teaching, and making sure that kids were learning the right lessons and in the right way.”
Sam Jones played very little as a rookie. However, the next year his playing time doubled, and he averaged 10.7 points per game. In his fourth season, he made the starting lineup.
During the 1960s, which included seven of the eight straight seasons (1958-59 through 1965-66) and nine of ten seasons, the Celts won the NBA crown, Sam Jones was a league star.
Sam Jones was a star for a team based in a city that held a bad rap around the country, in terms of racial harmony and tolerance. Yet Mr. Jones said he didn’t encounter much racism in Boston. Then again, he says, he was not inclined to experiment in his travels in the city.
“My first two years in the league, we lived in Roxbury [a Boston neighborhood], which was largely black. Different sections of the city had different make-ups – racial and ethnic makeups. During the day, there was mixing of races and people of different ethnic backgrounds. But, at night, it was best to stay in your own neighborhood.”
In 1960, the Jones family moved to Sharon, MA, a town located about 25 miles south of Boston.
“We were looking for excellent schools, and Sharon was recommended to us. We bought a home right across the street from Lake Massapoag. It was a wonderful choice. Sharon was a wonderful place in which to bring up a family.”
Sam Jones was a pioneering athlete, and advanced civil rights, although he didn’t build a high profile in that area.
He was good friends with Robert and Ethel Kennedy, both leaders in the cause of civil rights. Mr. Jones played tennis many times at the couple’s home in Virginia.
In fact, Mr. Jones and his wife were in Los Angeles on June 4, 1968 – on a layover in returning from Hawaii where they had been on vacation – the day that Senator Kennedy won the California and South Dakota Democratic presidential primaries.
“That day, I had received a call from one of Senator Kennedy’s staff – of course the senator and his staff were in Los Angeles that day – inviting Gladys and I to a party later that night, a celebration.”
A little after midnight, on June 5th, in the Ambassador Hotel, Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated.
Two of those who rushed to the senator’s side when he was shot, the pro football player, Rosey Grier, and the writer, George Plimpton, were also friends of Mr. Jones.
Sam Jones knew U.S. Senator Ed Brooke well. Senator Brooke, of Massachusetts, was the first African-American U.S. senator.
Mr. Jones maintains a friendship with another civil rights icon, Andrew Young.
Sam Jones is tied to important episodes of race and civil rights, and the battle for equality.
In 1961, while in Kentucky for an exhibition game, Mr. Jones, K.C. Jones, and Bill Russell were denied service at a restaurant. All three refused to play in the game, and flew back to Boston.
There were other instances of disrespect that Sam and his black teammates had to confront because of their race.
Yet there were episodes of triumph and strides forward – however measured.
On December 26, 1964, in St. Louis, Sam Jones and four of his Celtics teammates: K.C. Jones, Willie Naulls, Bill Russell, and Satch Sanders made history when they lined up for the opening tap against the Hawks. History was made because it was the first time an NBA team started five blacks.
“Sam had become a Celtics superstar, and it was a honor to be able to work with him, and learn from him during the 1960s at the day camps in Easton,” said Bill Nixon. “Then in the late 1960s, Val and Sam started an overnight camp at Stonehill College. Soon they would run more weeks of overnight camps during the summer.”
Sam Jones and Val Muscato started one of the first girls’ basketball camps in the U.S. northeast.
From the late 1960s through the 1970s, during the summer months, Mr. Nixon worked at basketball camps throughout eastern Massachusetts, including camps that Sam Jones ran, or at which he was a chief clinician.
Bill Nixon would become one of the camp directors.
“Those summers and the camps were so much fun, and I think of those days fondly – as do my children. They all spent summers at the camps as well. Sam’s children and my kids, especially my sons. Billy and Jimmy, became friends. To this day, Billy and Jimmy can’t stop talking about the camps.”
“And, through the years, many NBA players, some now in the Hall of Fame, gave lectures at the camp. On staff were high school and college basketball coaches. At some of the camps, we even had Celtics draft picks working, who, following the camp would attend Celtics tryouts and pre-season workouts.”
“Bill Nixon loved the game of basketball, and had a gifted basketball mind,” said Sam Jones. “We talked a lot about shooting and fundamentals and strategy – and also how to best teach fundamentals and strategy. Bill cared deeply about the game, and I respect and honor that.”
Sam Jones retired following the 1968-69 season.
Of course, he went out a winner, scoring 24 points in the Celtics 108-106 road win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the seventh game of the NBA finals.
On retirement from playing, Sam and Gladys Jones and their five children moved to Maryland.
“We would have stayed in Sharon, because we loved the community,” said Mr. Jones. “But the New England winters are too cold.”
Two seasons after Sam Jones retired from the Celtics, Val Muscato retired as coach of the OA varsity boys’ team, and Bill Nixon took over the program.
Mr. Nixon would steward an era of tremendous and widely renowned success with the Tigers.
How successful – how good – was Bill Nixon at his job?
Here is one testament. Today the Oliver Ames High School boys’ and girls’ basketball teams play their home games at the William F. Nixon Gymnasium.
No longer an NBA player, Sam Jones entered into the same work field of his friend Bill Nixon.
In the 1970s, Mr. Jones coached the men’s basketball team at Federal City College (now University of the District of Columbia) in Washington, D.C. for three years, and then the men’s basketball team at his alma mater, North Carolina Central College, for a year. He also worked for a season as an assistant coach with the New Orleans Jazz.
And, during the summers, he was back up at Stonehill College at his basketball camps, teaching and coaching and guiding youth. As well, for a couple summers, he and Val Muscato ran a basketball camp at Lake Sebago in Maine, at which Bill Nixon was a director.
True to his desire to teach, and his love of working with kids, in the 1990s and for a few years into the 2000s, Sam Jones substitute taught in public schools.
On March 6, 2015, North Carolina Central University retired Sam Jones’s collegiate number, 41.
Today, Mr. Jones and his wife live in Jacksonville, FL, and are enjoying the nice weather.
Two men. Two lives.
Sure, vastly different, those lives.
Yet, still, two basketball guys – and two coaches. Two lovers of basketball. Two men devoted to improving and helping young people.
Much shared experience.
And also, much, in the lives of both men, to be admired.