The Sixth Sense.
Listen like thieves! Before Kobe and after Jordan there was an in excess, laundry list of swinging Shooting Guard and Small Forwards who where running the new era show of golden time basketball to become the next heir apparent in wing waiting. Sure Michael Jordan is the greatest of all-time and Kobe Bryant has been the best since and before King LeBron James NBA reign, but a former Heat and Laker was a star in South Beach’s Miami and California’s Los Angeles. When Jordan was swinging between baseball bats and bunnies named Bugs you couldn’t even find Space Jam on your NBA Live 96 video game (you could find a certain someone on ‘Shootout ’97’ though) and a young Bean named Bryant was months away from being drafted by the Hollywood Lakers via a Charlotte Hornets trade that saw L.A. centre Vlade Divac make way for the kid, the Big Fella, Shaquille O’Neal and the next dynasty of domination in the post-Jordan league of epic eras. Between all of the strike outs and air balls however there was a guy stealing basketballs like Mike wanted to do bases. A Bball babe like Ruth, taking the rock and rolling with the attention so much that even this young English writer saw his number 6 purple and white trimmed gold jersey everywhere whilst travelling in Paris on a childhood Summer vacation…and this was before Tony Parker was even old enough to draft graduate. Hey…maybe it was him!?
There went those old Showtime Laker jerseys that E.J wore, but we’re not talking about Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson here but the tricks of the trade of Eddie Jones. A player that represents more than tradition of transition but can be found in the NBA vault and Lakers history books between the times the M.J’s of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and then the 8 and 24’s of Kobe Bryant’s NBA rule. Whether wearing 25 (given up for great Gail Goodrich’s rafter retirement) or 6 (after who else but in honour of the good dunk Doctor Julius Erving?) Eddie had the Basketball sixth sense to steal and dunk his way to a new Showtime on the sacred ground of the fabulous Forum before it was hollowed out to be a new arena STAPLE along with a new jersey look led by the ‘fro of Kobe all the way to three-peating a dynasty over everyone including Brooklyn Jason Kidd’s old Net team. Before role playing big-three Robert Horry, Rick Fox and Derek Fisher came into town and backed a crowed all star unit of Shaq, Kobe, Eddie and Nick Van Exel that all made the West team that year (congrats on the All-Star most valuable E), fastbreak Eddie and Nick ‘The Quick’ made a best and beautiful backcourt for the mid-nineties Lakers team that featured guys like Divac, Cedric Ceballos, Elden Campbell, George Lynch, Corie Blount and much more talent in the late, great Bill Sharman era (around the time this then 11 year old kid from the land of Football became a fan). The stealing and scoring star Jones could have been an even bigger name in the city of angels if he was handed ther Kobe keys.
Even die-hard Laker fans where looking at Kobe’s drafted in scouting report and thinking ‘hey he’s 6 foot 6 like number 6 Eddie, similar weight too! Still, he’s a rookie and a high schooler at that I guess he’ll be backing up our man, but he sure looks talented’. Talented enough to make quite a twin wing tandem as dominant as those ‘twin tower’ duos, like Ryan Giggs and David Beckham in soccer for Basketball’s Manchester United. Still in the Hollywoodland of rock and movie stars this town was only big enough for one big picture highlight reel and Kobe stole the show in his warm-ups like he did on the lay-up line of his rookie Slam Dunk Contest. Then and now Eddie Jones represents the first of a lay-up get in line of talent that left the Lakers too underrated and too soon. These days you can add the likes of Caron Butler, Trevor Ariza, Devin Ebanks, Earl Clark and the Lamar Odom we knew plus many more to the Mitch Richmond, Aaron McKie and Jimmy Jackson like playtime time cut. Sure it would have been great to have Jons back up Kobe…and even Divac back-up Shaq for the ultimate inside and out, starting and bench, all-court domination but this wasn’t the big business age that we see before trade deadlines today. This was a time when the big contract of Shaq and the huge risk on a young rookie was big news for this big league about to go truly great and giant.
The Laker legend people forgot in a time where C.D.’s didn’t know iPods and your DVD’s stopped halfway through the film abruptly because you had to flip it over to the other side like a cassette. We’re making you feel old right? Can you believe this kids now 42? Still, thanks for the memories but the Lakers fall out meant Eddie ended up in the same place as Vlade as he headed to Charlotte to become a Hornet and sting opponents with his Bobcat out of the bag ferocious fire on both ends of the floor. Make no mistake though, Kobe didn’t kill Eddie’s career, just like Shaq didn’t Vlade’s despite the Shaqramento dethroning. Soon Eddie left Charlotte like the New Orleans ballclub before they became the Pelicans. The Florida native from Pompano Beach took his talents South to join a Miami Heat team of Alonzo Mourning, Brian Grant, Caron Butler (these last two future Lakers) and Tim Hardaway team that looked as hot as his one in Los Angeles, circa California ’95. Just like Kob’, there was a pretty nice team in place before the ‘Bron birth with Eddie’s house. The Temple college star brought his defensive body of work and second-option scoring skill to his veteran years of elite experience to another hot town team that was going to burn even brighter in a half decade, half light before anyone even knew or thought about it. This 10th draft pick was a top ten, no nonsense, do it all guy in a time where the new NBA entertainment age was dominated by Magic personalities or the Jordan/Kobe alpha male characteristics.
Still the three-time All-Star led the league in steals in his first season with the Heat in his Laker/Miami matched years that make him just as much of a Heat and L.A. legend like Shaquille. After a roll in the rock city of Memphis which saw him trade off talents like James Posey and Jason Williams back to the Heat, Jones returned to Miami before closing out his classic career as a Maverick. All-time averages of around 15 points, 4 rebounds and a shade under 2 steals made this guy an all-round talent. The type that get unamiosuly underrated but are still unquestionably unique. Mr. Jerry West, Laker legend and then General Manager knew though as he clutched this “pure athlete” from the ’94 draft to a log-jammed wing of backcourt players including names like Sedale Threatt, Anthony Peeler and Doug Christie before Kobe even came to town…and you thought he stole peoples jobs. Critics soon turned their ink to inspiration and even the dean of Los Angeles Times sportswriting Jim Murray got his hands on as many robbery references as the late, great legend could for this thick as thieves talent. Chick Hearn also took notice to a guy who could slam as well as he could steal, no contest. He flew high like his rap second-namesake Jim, a true dunking diplomat with defensive immunity. Power electric, spark-plug tandem tool guys like Josh Smith take note, like you Eddie Jones finished as many fast-breaks as he started, often doing it all himself. Those fleeting Forum days with Kobe are well worth a rarefied air out and dust off of the V.T.
Today Laker fans may be screaming “what have you done for me lately”?! In a raw and delirious frenzy of Mamba mentality, but they where shouting “EDDIE, EDDIE” like comedian Murphy’s girlfriend at a Forum of home games for seasons later. Nothing was funny though, as even a starting Kobe missed his mentor before Jordan’s Chicago Bulls running-mate Ron Harper took over that mantle a he came into LAX from United with the Zen of Coach Jackson. Even if Glen Rice’s sharp three-point shooting was brought in from Charlotte, Lakers fans still miss Mr. Jones today like he’s still playing. From Shaq’s ‘taco-neck’ Bell commercials today you can still see this guys legacy is part of Laker lore like his versatile, various legendary Jordan XI endorsed sneakers (his career was iconic no matter the colourway or shade of brilliance) that may have heated up along with the hurt Californian feelings once he decided to play for Miami. You’ll find no burnt Jones jerseys like James’ wine and gold however as all the Lakers fan family wish for was more champagne during his purple tape. He deserved the celebration at least. All he did was steal our hearts. A Basketball Jones for you to get a hoop high on, soaring higher than his flyest, falcon dunk of marvel at a Barry White drawled slow motion of instant, inspired replay. Just wind it back like your old tape decks with the heartfelt wrote on label…it’ll never really fade, like his hair or shot. It’s time to keep up with the Jones, a Laker legend amongst legends. You may not see it up in the rafters everyday, but you would have saw it on the Forum floor every game. That’s what Eddie did for the Lakers lately.