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Basketball Jones
Phil Taylor
December 01, 1997
While the spotlight shines mostly on Kobe and Shaq, it's Eddie Jones who's been lighting it up for the Lakers
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December 01, 1997

Basketball Jones

While the spotlight shines mostly on Kobe and Shaq, it's Eddie Jones who's been lighting it up for the Lakers

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Team

PLAYERS/PPG

RECORD/POSTSEASON

1966-67
CELTICS

Sam Jones/22.1
John Havlicek/21.4
Bailey Howell/20.0
Larry Siegfried/14.1
Bill Russell/13.3
Tom Sanders/10.2

60-21/Lost to the 76ers in the Eastern finals

1969-70
BULLS

Chet Walker/21.5
Bob Love/21.0
Clem Haskins/20.3
Jerry Sloan/15.6
Bob Weiss/11.5
Tom Boerwinkle/10.4

39-43/Lost to the Hawks in the first round

1980-81
NUGGETS

David Thompson/25.5
Alex English/23.8
Dan lssel/21.9
Kiki Vandeweghe/11.5
Billy McKinney/10.7
Dave Robisch/10.4

37-45/Did not make the playoffs

1997-98
LAKERS

Shaquille O'Neal/24.5
Eddie Jones/21.7
Nick Van Exel/17.1
Kobe Bryant/16.3
Elden Campbell/10.9
Rick Fox/10.5

11-0*

*Through Nov. 23

Source: Elias Sports Bureau

Eddie Jones arrived at the beach in a black stretch limousine. Very Southern California. He looked out the tinted window at the lights and cameras that were set up in the sand, waiting for him, and he wondered if it was too late to back out of this session. Maybe he could just turn around and go home, the way he did when he was 11 years old and decided that football wasn't the sport for him. One day in the middle of practice he just took off his helmet, pads and jersey, dropped them on the grass and left.

His mom still teases him about that, but Jones doesn't regret doing it. You have to know who you are and who you are not. For instance, he is not the limousine type—the surfing magazine for which he was doing this photo shoot sent the vehicle—and even though he grew up in Pompano Beach, Fla., he is not a beach guy either. In fact, anyone who had stumbled across this scene would have been surprised to find that the Los Angeles Laker in the back of the car was Jones. They might have guessed that Shaquille O'Neal was making a guest appearance on Baywatch, perhaps, or that Kobe Bryant was shooting a sneaker commercial that required him to walk on water in his Adidases. Jones prefers to lead a simpler life, which is why John Chaney, his coach at Temple, admiringly calls him "plain old ordinary Jones."

But the people from the magazine were ready for him, and camera crews from several television stations were waiting, so Jones, the Lakers' 6'6" fourth-year shooting guard, climbed out of the limo. It wasn't long before he was paddling into the Pacific and standing on top of a surfboard for the first time in his life, and, suddenly, everything felt right. "I loved it," he says. "There's something about riding that wave that I can't even describe. It's like you have control, but not really. It's the wave that really has the control. After a while you figure out that you just have to go with it, that the only way you're going to stay up is if you give yourself up to the wave."

Jones and the Lakers have been riding the crest of a tsunami this season. After a 119-102 victory (in which Jones scored a game-high 28 points) over the crosstown Clippers on Sunday, they were 11-0 and the league's only undefeated team as they headed into road games, on Tuesday against the Miami Heat and on Wednesday against the Boston Celtics. Already the Lakers have proved they can beat good teams—among their victims are the New York Knicks, the San Antonio Spurs, the Houston Rockets and the Utah Jazz (twice)—and that they can win close games on the road, as they did in San Antonio, Houston and Utah. At times they have been, as a surfer dude might put it, totally awesome. The Lakers' 118-93 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Forum on Nov. 19 turned into in exhibition of their almost frightening athleticism. Just before the halftime buzzer Jones grabbed a desperation shot by point guard Mick Van Exel and, all in one mo-ion, jammed in a dunk with his jack to the basket. The 19-year-old Bryant scored on a variety of double-dumping, gravity-defying, reverse layups. The 7'1", 315-pound O'Neal somehow maneuvered his gargantuan body through a maze of defenders and scored on a nifty little layup, which he punctuated with an imitation of San Francisco 49er Merton Hanks's spasmodic "chicken dance," although it looked like a loss of all motor control.

"There's a reason why the Lakers are the best team in the league right now," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said after his team's loss. "It's because they are very, very versatile. They have an outside game, they have an inside game, and they play a lot better defense than they did a year ago." Through Sunday the Lakers were leading the league in scoring, averaging 111.9 points, far ahead of the Phoenix Suns, who were second (103.6). Los Angeles might also be the deepest team in the NBA—six Lakers were scoring in double figures (chart, page 59)—which is why it has kept winning despite the fact that O'Neal, Bryant, forward-center Elden Campbell and forward Robert Horry have already missed games due to various ailments.

Thus not even the news last Friday that O'Neal would be sidelined for at least 10 days after aggravating an abdominal muscle strain could detract from the good humor among the Lakers. ("I feel like punching someone," said a deadpan Shaq after his upcoming absence was announced. "Any volunteers?") "We know this could be a special season for us," Van Exel says. "I've been here five years, and I've never seen the Forum rocking like this so early in the season."

Jones, an All-Star for the first time last season, has been vital to the Lakers' fast start. He has sprinkled himself all over the stat sheet, leading the team in steals, with an average of 2.64, and in minutes played (37.7) and ranking second to O'Neal in scoring (21.7) at week's end. He had a particularly impressive line against Minnesota: 31 points, six assists, four steals, three rebounds and two blocked shots. Jones's accomplishments have been all the more impressive given the distraction of a persistent rumor that he was about to be traded to the Sacramento Kings for guard Mitch Richmond. Jones wants so badly to stay in Los Angeles that he spoke openly to the media about it, saying, "I don't want to go to Sac." For the soft-spoken Jones, that was the equivalent of a tirade.

The rumor has died down now that Jerry West, the Lakers' executive vice president of basketball operations, has twice assured Jones that he would not be traded; moreover, the Lakers' early-season performance has made it all but certain that the team won't make any major changes in the near future. But Jones admits that the trade rumors stung him. "Every day I kept hearing it, over and over again," he says. "It makes you start to think, Can I trust what I've been told? Maybe [the Lakers] really don't want me. It's something you can't get out of your mind, especially when you're away from the court. You tell yourself to just play, because trades are something you can't control, but it's not easy." In other words, sometimes it's hard to give yourself up to the wave.

"Hello?"

"Coach? It's Eddie."

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