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Interview with NBA Champion Wali Jones

Posted on May 06, 2014 by Scott Huntington

I recently got to interview basketball legend Wali Jones, who won the NBA Championship with Wilt Chamberlain and the 76ers in 1967. We talked about some basketball history, as well as the Masters Basketball Association Tournament that’s going on this week in Florida. The MBA tourney features high competition across teams with age groups from 40+ all the way up to 70+. Enjoy this conversation with an NBA Champion:

wali1

Hi Wali! Thanks for taking the time to talk. First of all, you’ve had a very impressive history. I saw you went to the same high school as Wilt Chamberlain?

He was before me, but the team I played on after was very good.  My brother played on two champion teams with him actually. I played with Wayne Hightower, and we were 84-4 in high school. I went to prep school, graduated in February and played with some of the great public league players and we were 18-1.

What was it like then going to the NBA and having a lot more competition?

Well, first the opportunity to play at Villanova was a tremendous thing, with the big five. We accomplished so much there, and some of the great NBA players played on that team. Jim Washington, Richie Moore. Those are guys I played with who made it to the next level. Then to be drafted by the guy who was the first African American to play in the NBA, Earl Lloyd. I eventually made it onto the Baltimore Bullets where I made the NBA All-Rookie Team there as a rookie. Just a footnote, I just left the owner of the Baltimore Bullets, Earl Foreman. We just had a reunion with the Virginia Squires at Virginia Beach, so that’s where I’m coming from.

Oh cool! How was that?

Oh wonderful. Dr. James, Charlie Scott, and even my teammate from the Utah Stars Jumbo Aikens was there. So it was a big reunion reminiscing about things like what we were just talking about, the opportunity to play in the NBA and ABA. It was outstanding to play with some of the greatest ballplayers of that time. I think there were only 18 teams so it was a great opportunity.

What was it like to dethrone the Celtics?

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Well it was something for the whole league because for 8 straight years they ruled. And our team, which was named the greatest team  in the NBA’s first  25 years, defeated the Celtics and the Golden State Warriors. So it was a tremendous feeling, to win the championship first of all, but to dethrone a dynasty. That was a team that I looked up to when I was in college!

Did you feel like the whole league was rooting for you?

Oh everyone was! They were just so glad. I have films on it, where people are saying things like “Boston is Dead” and “The Dynasty is Dead.” It really helped the league having other teams be able to win. But they certainly were a dynasty.

What was it like to play with Wilt Chamberlain?

Well I’ll give you a comparison. I think I’m the only ballplayer to play with the greatest centers in the NBA. Walt Bellamy, Darryl Dawkins, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, and I actually played with Bob Lanier with the Pistons. I guess with all the 7 footers it gave me an opportunity to play intense defense knowing we had a big man behind. That’s the style of play we had where you always had the giant behind, protecting the basket. Not only that, he was able to play both ends, which was very important. He led with assists and rebounds. We were so good that we had maybe 7 guys with double figures, so he didn’t even have to score 50 points. It was tremendous to play with a giant, and a guy that was very intelligent.

What are some differences between the NBA then and now?

wali2

We were allowed to hand check. It was more physical. Because of the 3 point line, it was more wide open. It was very creative without being so much in the paint, so very entertaining.  It’s changed now because you’re not allowed to hand check, and there’s the 3 point line so it’s wide open. You have a lot of fast breaks.

How has the culture of the players changed?

Oh they’re excellent, outstanding athletes. This is the best playoffs I’ve seen, both in the Eastern and Western Conference. The skill level, shooting, athleticism, and the basketball IQ makes for a great game to watch. I even think it’s improved with the European players as they come into the game. It’s very exciting.

Let’s talk a little bit about the MBA tournament this weekend. How long have you been involved?

I guess I started playing when I was about 37 or 38 when I moved down to Miami. I’ve played with so many different teams and age brackets. It’s like a fraternity. I played against a lot of guys in the Masters tournament that I played against in the NBA. The competition is always there, since they have people come from all over the country and world. The competition is there in every age bracket, and I’ve been able to play up to the 65+ age bracket. It’s great to win championships even at that age.

Tell me about the talent level at this event.

Oh it’s great! A lot of these guys have played at each level. Not all in NBA, but a lot overseas, in college, and in the service. The Basketball IQ is there, and the talent is there. A lot of these guys play all the time. I don’t!

Who’s the oldest player to go to this event.

Last year they had a guy who must have been close to 80 years old. Still going strong.

That’s pretty impressive. Well it sounds like a great time! Thanks for taking the time to talk and enjoy the tournament!

Alright, thank you!

 

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As much as I enjoy watching the NBA now, it would have been amazing to be able to see some of those stars in their prime. This was back when players were talking about basketball instead of showing off their money or talking about business acquisition loans. It certainly would have been great to see. It’s also amazing that some of these guys are still playing basketball about 70-80 years old! I’ll be lucky if I can still walk at that age, much less compete at a completive level. We wish them the best in this upcoming tournament.

Scott Huntington is a writer and reporter who is passionate about sports history. Follow Scott at @SMHuntington


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