SI Vault
Curry Kirkpatrick
November 29, 1971
For some time now the refrigerator in Jim Chones' 17th-floor apartment on the edge of the Marquette University campus in downtown Milwaukee has been a subject of considerable interest as well as an object containing questionable nourishment. A few months ago Marquette Coach Al McGuire looked into Chones' icebox, as he called it, and made the numbing assertion that "If I were him I'd take the money and run."
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November 29, 1971

The Big One Who Stayed

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Members of the Chones family still pronounce their name the correct way—Kones—several years after Jim told the public-address man at a high school game that Kones was not "sporty" enough and please say it Chones, just like it is spelled. By then the family had lived in eight different houses in Racine but never severed their roots at the First Church of God, a Baptist house of worship on the north side that originated in the garage of a neighbor. The senior Chones always made sure his brood was neat and clean, ate on time and stayed away from likely sources of impending mischief.

Barbara McNair, a local girl who was to make a name for herself on the musical stage and in the pages of Playboy, once rocked Jim in her lap while baby-sitting. Later, he sang in the church choir through junior high school. He seemed a model child until J.W. found his son's absences from home increasing every day after school. When the old man investigated, he found Jim playing basketball on the playgrounds. His doubts dispelled, he went to a high school game where his son received an ovation. That night Mr. Chones came to the boy's bedside, confessed great pride and broke down in tears.

Young Jim had started basketball only after withstanding extreme embarrassment over his skinny arms and legs. In the 10th grade he was 6'6" but weighed only 155 pounds. As a result he never went without long sleeves even in 105� temperatures. Heavier, and with that obstacle surmounted, he had a fairly successful junior year at Washington Park High before suddenly transferring in the spring to St. Catherine's, a much smaller parochial school whose teams played in the tough Milwaukee Catholic League. Rumors abound about the switch: Chones was flat-out recruited, stolen away; Chones left after being beaten up by a gang of racist toughs when he wouldn't contribute to some turmoil they were planning; Chones was disgusted at the unequal opportunities afforded black and white athletes at the public school.

"Some of this is true," he says. "The black guys I hung with got no motivation, no encouragement to try and make it at a big college somewhere. Our white athletes always got a chance to go to Big Ten schools. I was being hindered and held back." It is also true, however, that Chones was not applying himself at the public school; where about one-third of the student body was black. Neglecting studies was something J.W. would not stand for, so he packed Jim off to the nearest nuns and the discipline at St. Catherine's.

Over the following summer, as a counselor at Ed Macauley's camp at Oneida, Wis. he met and played against pros: Oscar Robertson, Terry Dischinger, Guy Rodgers. "It was the first time I'd been away from home and had exposure to white people," he says. "You get these misconceptions and I was afraid. I'd never been around them before. I met different people. We'd spend every evening talking about social problems. It opened up a whole new world for me." (Chones was so taken by his camping experience that two years later he spurned a birthday party that was to be given him by the neighborhood and used the money instead for an annual Campership Fund for underprivileged kids in Racine. Financed by local businesses, he is now able to send 10 to 15 children to camp every summer.)

Chones returned to St. Catherine's his senior year and led the team to a 26-0 record and the state championship. His ability was no longer a secret. Several major universities beckoned and it looked like Chones would go to Michigan State. But J.W. had become seriously ill with lung cancer and Jim was feeling the responsibilities demanded of the head of a family. He decided that he couldn't go far from home and began to think seriously of Marquette, only 30 miles away.

"One night I drove up to Milwaukee and talked for hours with George Thompson about the school," Chones says. "I remember he kicked his girl friend out of the room just to talk to me. He touched everything—classes, campus, Coach Al, winning seasons, the intensity of the games here. I decided right then. I felt such a weight off my back I sat down and cried. The next October my father died and I thought about leaving school. Marquette couldn't solve all my problems. We needed stability and my sisters weren't too worldly. I didn't want them going wild or my mother falling apart or my brother going into a shell. I didn't see how we'd make it if I stayed here, but we have."

Presently Marvin Chones is a 6-foot sophomore guard at St. Catherine's. Mrs. Mamie Chones has learned to drive a car for transportation to her job at a Racine restaurant and to watch her son play in Milwaukee. Sherry, the second of Jim's four sisters, has reached the age (19) where her presence is in demand at the same parties Jim frequents—a difficult situation that is made more so by Sherry's striking 6'2" beauty and the inevitable wails of "Fox, Fox" every time she enters a room. The remaining sisters are equally attractive.

When Mrs. Chones drives her family up the highway to the Milwaukee Arena this season, they will see a vastly improved version of their famous relation. The sharpest change should come at the free-throw line where Chones shot a miserable 53% last season. He blames this particular failure on a lack of concentration. "I was always thinking about defense on the inbounds play," Chones says. "Half the time I didn't know who to take; in the middle of my shots I was always asking somebody, 'Man, where do I go after this?' I got better the second half of the season—at least I was over 50 percent. The game is going to be easier this year."

There will be progress in other areas as well, McGuire says. "In the two months following the end of last season, Jim improved every part of his game by double," he says. "I don't know what it was—the confidence from the tournament or what. But he's heavier now (230 pounds), stronger, and he's starting to go to the steel. There were only sprinkles of authority last season but now Jimmy knows he's the man. When we first got him, his biggest fault was a lack of instinct. He had to think first about everything, then go. This year he'll be starting down lower and driving a lot more. He's beginning to do it all naturally and when that happens, look out. The man is my aircraft carrier and he's smelling the roses." As usual, McGuire's metaphor is mixed but the general idea is there.

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