(Editor's note: This is the latest installment of CavsRank, a ranking of the 20 greatest Cavaliers of all time as ranked by members of the Cavs writing community. You can read about how this all works right here. If you missed David's piece on Craig Ehlo you can read that here.)
My knowledge of Jim Chones before this exercise was pretty limited. I knew he played for the Cavs in the mid to late seventies, and I know that he does a great job as the Cavs color commentator on radio broadcasts. That was about it. I mean, I was born in 1987, how could I have seen him play? So, with the help of looking up stats, and the rankings of some more senior viewers, as well as people I know who are a lot older, I ranked Jim Chones way, way, way, way too low.
I didn't recognize this until about 20 minutes before I picked up the phone to give him a call. Like I said, I never saw Chones play, so I figured the best way to impart to you all just who he was, and is, was to ask the man himself. Kevin Hetrick, the brave soul who has done the bulk of the organizational work for Cavs rank, responded to a group think email I sent out wondering if anyone had anything interesting to ask him with this: "We ranked the guy who is 6th in rebounds and 5th in blocks in franchise history behind _______ and _______".
Yeah, great. Here I was, some 26 going on 27 year old kid, getting ready for my first interview, and it was to call a Cavaliers legend who was top 10 all time in two statistical categories and ask him what he thought about not being in the top 10. I had no idea what to expect. My intent was to just take 15 to 20 minutes of his time, and get a good feel for the Miracle of Richfield team he played on, and what kind of player he was. Maybe some tie ins to the Cavs of today. I ended up talking to him for about an hour, and it probably could have gone on a whole lot longer, he was certainly willing. I wish I would've taken him up on it, because he is really wonderful to talk to.
After some cordial greetings, and Jim asking for some background on Cavs Rank, I had to bite the bullet. "You came in at 14, which in hindsight might not have done you justice, can you tell me how we did you wrong?" The response was pretty awesome: He laughed. Not in a bad way, just a few chuckles, before telling me that he has never worried about rankings or any of that stuff, that just being remembered, and his NBA championship are what is important to him.
"14? 14 is fine, I don't get caught up in that stuff. I have my ring. If you look at those other guys, do they have a ring? I started next to Kareem."
Jim reminded me that in the early 90's, the writers who watched him play rated him as the best Cavs center ever, which of course prompted me to ask if he could take fellow legend Brad Daugherty:
"Absolutely. I couldn't stop him in the post, but he wouldn't stop me. I could put it on the floor, shoot the jumper....he wouldn't stop me"
That kind of typified the most impressive thing about Chones that I picked up on when talking to him. There is no false sense of bravado, or tearing down a later or current player to raise up his game, it was all very matter of fact: Jim Chones was a great basketball player. He knew he was a great basketball player, and he would put that up against anybody. He had the numbers, jewelry, and game to back it up.
- Like he said, he had his ring. Playing with Kareem and Magic, and helping carry the Lakers to a title in 1980.
- He was also the second player ever to leave College early, and started with the the New York Nets of the ABA.
- Jim's family is also the only one in history to have 6 members play division I sports.
- Chones being one of the six, he also has a son playing in Germany, and daughters Kareeda (Milwaukee) and Kaayla (Minnesota) both work in the NBA. Kaayla also played in the WNBA.
- He is 6th in rebounds and 5th and blocks in Cavs franchise history, and he made sure I knew it was in only 4 or 5 years.
There was one more question that had to be asked, the one that has been asked a million times before: "If you don't break your foot in the Miracle of Richfield series against the Bullets, do you win the title?"
"I think so. We beat Boston that year, we beat Phoenix. We won those series in the regular season. I was too athletic for Alvin Adams and Dave Cowens.....We were hot at the right time. "
He reminded me just how stacked that team was, believing it is probably the best Cavs team of all time. Chones, Austin Carr, Campy Russell, Jim Clemons, Jim Brewer, Bingo Smith, Foots Walker, and Nate Thurmond, among others. Chones averaged 15.8 points a game leading the team in scoring in that magical 1975-76 season, and was second in rebounds at 9 per game. When head coach Bill Fitch let him know that the team was bringing in legendary big man Nate Thurmond, who played his position, Chones was okay with that:
"Fitchy told me, 'Jim, we're bringing in a center' and I was just happy to not get beat up all time. I would start at center, and then Nate would come in and I'd move to power forward.... he could still cut off the lane"
That foot injury.... that pesky foot injury....
Sports isn't where it ends though. Like you all know, Chones works with John Michael to put together great commentary for the Cavaliers Radio Broadcast, but there is even more beyond that. Jim works as a motivational speaker, and it is incredibly easy to see why. Early in our conversation, he quoted William Faulkner when speaking to me about the human experience being predicated on learning through experiences and patience, and needing to make mistakes to be good at anything. He spoke of various hobbies and interests that he took up after basketball, some which people told him he couldn't do. "Why not?" was the response to all of them. He started writing, and got pretty good at it, writing several books. A lover of Jazz, and music in general, he taught himself to play the bass, and is even looking to get a group together to play Midtown. Even though he doesn't play them, when I brought up my past playing the violin, and a little piano, he knew almost as much about them as I do. He talked to me for 20 minutes about these things, and the mental approach to conquering them, and I felt ready to take on the world.
We talked about the current Cavs too, but I will put that in a separate post, there is a lot there. I will leave you with the thing that I really took to heart, despite not being an overly religious person myself, when I asked Jim if he could still take Austin Carr or Campy Russell today:
"Probably not, but I'm really not into that kind of macho stuff anymore...I'm just trying to be the best me I can be be, the best Jim Chones... I have a saying 'Pray all day'. Everything I do every day is my prayer, and I do everything the very best I can"
After spending an hour talking to him, I certainly believe it, and Jim if you're reading, my sincere thanks, and I'm taking you up on the offer. You'll see me in your booth very, very soon. Hope I did you justice this time.
--Keep up with Jim on his website JamesChones.com!