K.C. Jones brings calming influence, winning ways to SuperSonics bench

October 07, 1990|By Mike Kahn | Mike Kahn,McClatchy News Service

SEATTLE -- Some things are obvious about K.C. Jones. He has a grin that explodes from ear to ear, and his eyes twinkle in lighter moments.

When it gets to harsher times, those eyes narrow and glare with laser force.

"But the one thing you'd better know is K.C. always notices everything," Bernie Bickerstaff said. "You may think he's not paying attention. You may think he's bored. But he's got it. You think he's distracted. But if he sees it or hears it, then he's got it. For good. That's just one of the things that makes K.C. special."

Of course Bickerstaff has a prejudiced viewpoint. The two have been volleying compliments and job opportunities for 17 years. Now it has come to this. Jones has taken over as coach of the Seattle SuperSonics for Bickerstaff, who now is the general manager of the Denver Nuggets, after a six-week interlude as vice president of basketball operations for the Sonics.

"Oh, we're different," Bickerstaff said. "But I'll let other people assess that. All I can say is anyone who has any intelligence at all will stop and listen to what K.C. Jones has to say about basketball. You can't beat his track record."

Yes, the record. Make that 463-193 in his eight years as coach of the Capital-Washington Bullets and the Boston Celtics. His teams finished second only once during that time; the rest were division champions. The detractors said Jones had great teams and did little coaching.

"That's ridiculous," Celtics assistant Jon Jennings said. "We still have offensive plays he devised in our offense. The man is a basketball genius. Anyone who has spent a lot of time with him . . . has to know that."

And that's why Bickerstaff and Sonics president Bob Whitsitt sought Jones prior to last season. He stepped down after six years at the Celtics helm and became vice president of basketball operations for the Celtics for the 1988-89 season. He went off on scouting trips and viewed the league with a different sense of purpose.

"I wanted to get away from coaching," Jones said. "I thought I had had enough. I felt like an old man. Then when I was away for that year, I realized the fires were still burning. I missed being back on the bench. And Bernie was the only guy I knew I could be an assistant for."

Back on the bench he was. While Bickerstaff jabbed and danced with officials, pounded scorers' tables, left every emotion on the floor, Jones would sit on the bench and watch. Think. Occasionally stand up and point something out to Bickerstaff.

If it was the peptic ulcer that drove Bickerstaff out of coaching, it is the sense of calm that has allowed Jones to remain in the game.

"Making a coaching move is like making a major player move, but we're fortunate because K.C. was here a year," Whitsitt said. "What could have been a difficult transition should be an easy one. There won't be that year adjustment period. He knows the players, the referees and all the coaches.

"Everybody has his own personality, but K.C. is obviously more relaxed than Bernie. Where Bernie would react to every play and every call, K.C. will sit there and nod at what's happening. Bernie may not sit down a whole game."

And therein may be the biggest benefit for the Sonics. The continuously anxious Sonics that struggled to a 41-41 mark last year shouldn't be as stressed out.

"It will mean a big difference for me," Sonics reserve center Olden Polynice said. "There were all these promises, and Bernie just jacked me around. I never knew when I would play or what he was thinking. How could I get a comfort zone?"

Said point guard Nate McMillan: "You know there will be a big difference with K.C. There won't be this looking over your shoulder like everybody was doing last year."

Enough about the difference between the two. In his 58 years on this planet, K.C. Jones has spent nearly 50 of those in basketball. Before he was 10 years old, he was moved all over Texas by his father, who found work in oil fields and as a cook whenever and wherever. Softball and football were the games he learned first.

Then everything changed. His mother Eula took the five children to San Francisco where 11-year-old K.C. grew into a man at the recreation center of the projects. That's when he fell in love with basketball, although football remained close behind.

"The rec center gave me a new life and a lot of it centered on basketball," Jones said. "Every day we used to run up this hill at Hunter's Point near Candlestick Park for 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 games. I was developing a natural instinct for hustle and determination that I would never lose. But I never even knew I was doing it."

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