A local sports icon died last month. It's only fitting to offer Bill Jones a final tribute.
Jones was a member of the University of Toledo sports Hall of Fame and a pro basketball pioneer.
He also held several personnel jobs in the aircraft industry, had a prominent position with the Los Angeles Urban League, served as an education consultant for the superintendent of Los Angeles County schools and was a high school guidance counselor for more than two decades.
For 92 years, Jones lived life to the fullest.
"He lived a good life. I don't think he had any regrets,'' Roland "Red'' Jones said of his older brother, a Toledo native who died April 9 in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles, where he had resided since 1943.
William McNeil Jones was one of Toledo's first great basketball players.
He led Woodward High School to back-to-back city championships in 1929 and 1930.
A play-making guard with a deadly outside shot, he teamed with two-time All-American Chuck Chuckovits to help put the Toledo Rockets on the national map from 1936-38. Jones was inducted into the UT Hall of Fame in 1991.
Bill Jones played at the University of Toledo in the late 1930s. Some credit him as being the first black player to sign with an all-white pro team.
"I could score, but I liked to spread the ball around,'' Jones said in a 2001 Blade interview. "Basketball's a team game.''
Jones continued his basketball career after UT. In 1942-43, Jones was a part of history as one of 10 blacks to play for teams in the National Basketball League and integrate professional basketball.
A 1977 Cleveland Plain Dealer column quoted Wee Willie Smith claiming to be the second black to sign with a white professional team.
"Billy Jones, who played for Toledo a few years before, was the first,'' Smith said.
The NBL merged with the Basketball Association of America to become the National Basketball Association in 1949. In 1950 Earl Lloyd became the first black to play in the NBA.
Jones, who also played for the Harlem Globetrotters, was aware of the barriers he faced but did not allow America's history of segregation and discrimination to confine him or define him.
"I did not have a problem with fans, teammates or opponents,'' Jones said. "Integration was not a big deal because I had already gone through it at the University of Toledo.''
In everything he did, in all walks of life, Jones was quietly effective. As the first industrial relations director of the Los Angeles Urban League, Jones encouraged the Los Angeles transit authority to hire minority workers, and took satisfaction when the first minority employee was hired in 1946.
Jones, a 1939 UT graduate, never forgot where he came from. He loved UT and remained loyal to his alma mater.
He tirelessly - but unsuccessfully - led a push to get Chuckovits inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. He did, however, initiate a successful letter-writing campaign that resulted in the old UT field house being renamed Memorial Field House and personally attended the ceremony in 1997.
"I had acquired something of value in my life from my time at the University of Toledo,'' Jones said in a 1997 interview. "And I believe I have a duty to share it with others.''
Those who know nothing about Jones, who didn't realize that his early contributions to professional basketball paved the way for LeBron James and others to earn millions, should take a moment to reflect and honor Jones' life.
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