Eventually, Cleveland Cavaliers fans will look back on the last three years of basketball and not only appreciate it, but somewhat regret the fact that they took so much for granted. Taking LeBron James’ greatness for granted. Taking the Big Three for granted. Taking Kyrie Irving’s unbelievable handles for granted. I could go on and on, but it’s true. The only thing Cavs fans will never take for granted is the championship, the one that the wine and gold brought back to Cleveland for The Land’s first major sports championship since 1964.
Another aspect of the wine and gold that fans have taken for granted is James Jones. Not because of what he brought onto the court in terms of the stat sheet, but because of all the intangibles he brought to the Cavs in his three seasons with the team. Named the Phoenix Suns Vice President of Basketball Operations on Wednesday, Jones has officially retired from the NBA, at least as a player. He will return to the team where he spent two seasons as a player from 2005-07.
There’s a reason why his nickname was Champ. Not only due to him being a three-time NBA Champion, but because of the way he acted and portrayed himself both on and off the court. Whether it was helping his teammates on the bench, being counted on to hit that crucial three-pointer, or never (and yes, I mean never) being negative even when he didn’t receive any playing time for weeks on end, Jones was a true champion of the game and one that every basketball player should aspire to be.
In just 93 regular season starts (709 games) during his career, he never averaged double-digit points per game, he was never a star, he may have never even been considered even a top-5 player on any team he was on, but Jones’ importance was more than just the points he had or the threes he made. With the Cavs, he averaged just 3.7 points per game in 153 games (four starts), but what he brought to the wine and gold was far more important than that. His intelligence of the game, his demeanor, and his leadership were something that never showed up on any box score. He may have always been considered a player in Cleveland, but he was all but certainly an assistant coach that just got to play in games. An extension of the coaching staff, he was able to do so much for each Cavs player to improve their respected games. Whether it was the best player on the roster in LeBron or the 15th roster spot, Jones did everything he can to help his teammates improve whether it being on the court, in the film room, or just their intelligence of the game itself.
When he was counted on to score, it seemed as though Jones knocked down every three at the most crucial times. Although that’s obviously not true, it sure seemed as though it was. Even if he had been sitting on the bench the entire game, it was like Champ was already warmed up and can knock down the three-pointer late in the game.
There’s a reason why LeBron demanded that the Cavs signed Jones when No. 23 came back to Cleveland in 2014. Let’s be honest, it wasn’t because of what Champ brought on the court. The King knew that a player like Jones was important for the locker room and for team chemistry, along with plenty of other things.
He may not have filled up the stat sheet, but Jones was the ultimate pro, one that every professional basketball player should strive to be. There’s a reason why he took part in seven straight Finals appearances and it wasn’t due to his on-court production.
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert may not be well liked around Cleveland right now, given that the Cavs front office is still lacking a general manager (and president), but even he realizes just how important Jones was to the Cavs during his time with the team. Here’s what he had to say, per a release from the team:
Congratulations to James Jones on what has been one of the most successful NBA careers a player can have. Being widely known as one of the best teammates ever is possibly the greatest tribute a player could receive and he has earned that reputation with hard work, incredible consistency, dependability, strong character and trust. He is a champion and role model on the court, in the locker room, in the community and as a mentor and friend to many across the NBA. “Champ” is one of those special people that helps create success wherever they are, in many different ways, with character and brains that are on un-paralleled levels. We wish “Champ,” his wife Destiny and their children, J.D., Jadynn and Jodie, the very best as they move into the next phase of their basketball journey and life in Phoenix. We also thank Champ and Destiny greatly for the positive impact they made as Cavaliers and in the Cleveland community as well.
Just 36 years old, he can be quite an important piece in an NBA front office for years. The Suns got a good one that will (most likely) immediately help their franchise going forward. I mean, if only the Cavs had a spot open in their front office. It would have been awesome to keep Jones in Cleveland, right?
From all of Cleveland: Thank you, Champ. Here’s to hoping you have as much success in the front office as you did as a player.