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It's A Mighty Good Road
Alexander Wolff
October 17, 1983
Basketball is the route by which the six brothers Jones, all 6'8" or taller, have traveled from home in McGehee, Ark. to Albany (Ga.) State and beyond
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October 17, 1983

It's A Mighty Good Road

Basketball is the route by which the six brothers Jones, all 6'8" or taller, have traveled from home in McGehee, Ark. to Albany (Ga.) State and beyond

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It was a bitter end to Caldwell's college career, especially since the pros hadn't rated him highly. Still, Philadelphia picked him in the second round, and even though the Sixers were coming off the worst season in NBA history—9-73—they balked at his $40,000-a-year contract demand because Coach Gene Shue and General Manager Don DeJardin thought him too light at 215 pounds.

So Caldwell turned late to the ABA, whose Virginia Squires had just traded his rights to the San Diego Conquistadors. Caldwell signed with the Q's after one day in camp and, playing for Coach Wilt Chamberlain, was beaten out by Swen Nater in Rookie of the Year balloting. When San Diego folded in 1975, Caldwell stayed in the ABA, first going to Kentucky and then joining Malone in St. Louis. In the ABA Caldwell was known as a stalwart defender who could score; he averaged 15.8 points per game in three ABA seasons. Meanwhile, Pat Williams had taken over as the 76ers' general manager; he finally signed Jones to a future contract set to begin in 1977-78 but got him a year early when the NBA and ABA merged. The team Caldwell joined in Philly—Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Lloyd Free, Doug Collins, Joe Bryant and the rest—was one on which everyone wanted and needed the ball. Shue didn't even have to say it to Jones: We need you to sacrifice your scoring for rebounding and defense.

Over the six seasons Caldwell played in Philadelphia, no individual, not even the sainted Erving, better epitomized the team's fate of doing well but falling short: three trips to the NBA finals with no championship ring. Jones would simply do his job and the Sixers usually won, but on those rare occasions when he played poorly they often lost, a circumstance he accepted philosophically.

But just because Caldwell had the stoic constitution to cope with defeat didn't mean he acquiesced to it. A reporter once asked him to name his greatest thrill as a pro. Caldwell, who is a cartoon aficionado, whimsically replied it had been a Saturday morning, the day The Flint-stones went from a half hour to a whole hour. Yet he chafed at another writer's suggestion that, win or lose, he was content with Fred and Barney once a week.

Cut to the aftermath of that fishing trip, the one that turned into a ducking trip. It fell to Vann to break the news of the trade to Caldwell over the phone after he had returned home. "He just said, 'Solid,' " Vann says. "Like someone had told him his shirts were ready. That night we went out, and I was staring in my beer, moping. And he said, 'Wait a minute. We came to praise C.J., not to bury him. Hey, Dave, it's just a business.' "

Exit Jones to the Rockets, a collection of marginal talents that Major has likened to "a dispersal draft." Houston started Caldwell in the middle, used Major occasionally off the bench and went 14-68. Something about it was unnatural. In one Rocket-Sixer game, Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham found himself yelling instructions to C.J. by mistake. "It was the longest season I've ever had," Caldwell says.

For Major it was longer still. One evening in Houston, after overindulging a taste for beer, which he shares with his brothers, he was picked up for drunk driving and spent a night in the Harris County Jail, which isn't to be confused with former Coach Del Harris' doghouse, though Major got to know the inside of that, too.

Major had drifted among teams in the CBA, the Western Basketball Association and the All-America Basketball Alliance after abortive tryouts with Portland, Buffalo and Atlanta in 1976 and '77. Meehan, then general manager and president of the WBA's Fresno Stars, drummed up some NBA interest in Major after he averaged 21 points and 14 rebounds a game for Fresno in 1978-79. But he tore up his knee on the eve of a tryout with the Celtics the next season, and not until he got a shot with the Rockets in 1980 did he hook on for good.

Of all the brothers, Major had the most enthusiastic high school notices and the most rugged body. And he withdrew his name from the NBA hardship draft after his junior year at Albany State, but not because he felt a commitment to academics or to his brother the coach. He did it for Charles, the most countrified of the Joneses. Before Charles had run his first windsprint for the Desha Central freshman team, his name had appeared on several scholastic All-America lists. Scouts and writers passing through to see Major assumed Charles would be the family's next star.

"Anytime Charles would do something wrong," Oliver says, "the coach would say, 'If that had been Major...' or 'If that had been Caldwell...' One day Charles said, 'O.K., you find yourself another Jones,' and walked out."

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