Jo Jo White, the former Kansas star guard who went on to NBA fame with the Boston Celtics, died Tuesday. He was 71.
White’s 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.”
Joseph Henry White, a St. Louis native, was a seven-time NBA All-Star and played for league championship teams in 1974 and 1976, when he was the NBA Finals MVP.
Ted Owens, who coached White at Kansas, said he got the news from White’s wife, Debbie, earlier Tuesday.
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“I was stunned today when she called to tell me that he had passed away,” Owens said. “He made an incredible contribution to Kansas basketball. People have asked me what was Jo Jo’s greatest strength? His greatest strength was he had no weaknesses.
“He was the absolute complete player. So unselfish. His teammates loved playing with him. He would play great on defense, distribute the ball, think about his teammates first and his own shot later.”
Owens remembered a game at Oklahoma State when White scored just three points, “and he had totally dominated the game on defense and getting the ball on defense. I said it was the finest game I’ve had a point guard play.”
White had his No. 10 jersey retired by the Celtics, and his Jayhawks jersey hangs in the Allen Fieldhouse rafters. White was one of the greatest players in KU history. He was a leader on two NCAA Tournament teams and one NIT team and was at the center of a memorable moment in NCAA Tournament history.
In the 1966 Midwest Regional championship game against Texas-El Paso, then known as Texas Western, White appeared to have hit a game-winning shot from the deep wing. But an official ruled that White’s foot was out of bounds before taking the shot. The Miners went on to win 81-80 and defeated Kentucky for the championship a week later.
White started his college career at midsemester that season. The Jayhawks won the Big Eight championship for a second straight year in 1967 and reached the NIT finals in 1968. Because White started his career at semester, it ended there, midway through the 1968-69 season.
“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 also played on United States teams that won gold medals in the 1968 Olympics and 1967 Pan American Games.
After finishing at Kansas, White was a first-round draft pick of the Celtics. He averaged 17.2 points over 12 NBA seasons. He finished his career with the Kansas City Kings in 1982. In retirement, he had served as a community ambassador with the Celtics.
In 2015, White was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and thanked Owens and assistant Sam Miranda during the ceremony.
“I always tried to be the best,” White said. “I had two great mentors at Kansas, Ted Owens and Sam Miranda. I love you. I had so many wonderful teammates and I want to thank them all.”
Owens said White often returned to Lawrence to work Kansas basketball camps.
“He would sit in the lobby for hours and visit with the kids,” Owens said. “The highlight for a lot of kids in camp was to get that one-on-one time with Jo. He was not only a special player but a very special person.”