Extra MustardSI On CampusFantasyPhoto GalleriesSwimsuitVideoFanNationSI KidsTNT

Escape From Jonestown

How basketball gave life to a son and grandson of the infamous cult leader Jim Jones

Posted: Monday December 24, 2007 12:36PM; Updated: Thursday December 27, 2007 11:25AM
Print ThisE-mail ThisFree E-mail AlertsSave ThisMost PopularRSS Aggregators
Had Jim Jr. (left, with Rob) been in Jonestown at the time of the mass suicide, he likely would have died.
Had Jim Jr. (left, with Rob) been in Jonestown at the time of the mass suicide, he likely would have died.
Robert Beck/SI

By Gary Smith

Tell me, does it get sweeter than this? The big handsome kid gliding to the glass in warmup drills, that's your son. He's the best high school player in the city. One look at the visitors, who've come from 40 miles away, tells you all you need to know: He's the best player in the house tonight.

Better still, your two brothers are in town, right beside you. All three of you grew up together on a basketball court. All three of you were starters on the same team. You can see it on their faces. They're reliving it too.

Everyone filing in, it seems, calls or waves to you, the friendly father of the star. Your kid looks up and gives the slightest nod. He's dedicating this game to your side of the family. Got to love that too.

You all rise for The Star-Spangled Banner. Then your son and the other team's big man crouch at midcourt for the tap. Your eyes, like your brothers', like your son's, lock on the basketball. As if you owed your lives to that thing. Which all four of you do.

O.K., there's something else going on here. The kid's dedicating this game to your sister -- his aunt, Suzanne -- who just died of colon cancer. No, not a pretty way to die, but more dignified than face-down in the mud on the edge of a South American jungle, like your mother, father, wife, unborn child, two brothers, a sister, four nephews and a niece.

None of you here tonight should exist. Not you, Jim Jones Jr., the one who carries that name. Not your brother Stephan, the one who carries that blood. Not your brother Tim, the one who carries the visual memory of your relatives and friends among the 910 bloated bodies lying shoulder-to-shoulder, the largest mass suicide in modern history.

And no, not your son down there, the Reverend Jim Jones's grandson.

You were spared that day: Saturday, Nov. 18, 1978. You, Stephan and Tim were teenagers, 150 miles away, playing against Guyana's national basketball team. You were saved by this sport.

But then... if you hadn't been away that day, maybe you could've stopped it. Maybe you'd have stood up to your father when he ordered everyone in the Peoples Temple to drink the cyanide-laced powdered grape punch in Jonestown, Guyana. Maybe you could've saved your family, saved everyone. You were cursed by this sport.

His son controls the tap. Archbishop Riordan High begins to run a play. Jim Jones Jr. looks around the gym. This is the last place he dreamed he'd be in his mid-40s, in December 2006. This is the last sport his child was supposed to play.

1 of 9