Riding Off Into the Sunset

Veteran Sharpshooter James Jones — the Man Known as “Champ” — Calls it a Career

On Wednesday afternoon, former Cavalier and 14-year veteran James Jones announced his retirement from the NBA and his immediate transition to the front office, where he’ll be VP of Basketball Operations with the Phoenix Suns.

Last night, a cavalcade of well-wishers – including LeBron James and Dan Gilbert – reached out to show their gratitude and appreciation for the man called “Champ.” And I want in.

I’m always really reluctant to write a “personal experience” piece, but Champ’s retirement is a special case.

For starters, there’s two things about a nickname: One, you can’t give it to yourself. You can’t try to be a “T-Bone” if you’re just a “Coco.” And Two, the nickname you’re given has to fit. And if it fits perfectly, it’s probably yours forever.

While still with Miami, Jones won the Three-Point Shootout at All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles in 2011. (Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving would go on to win the next two.) And, of course, he won back-to-back World Championships alongside LeBron with Jones’ hometown Heat back in 2012 and 2013.

Other players have accomplished as much or more, but the nickname “Champ” fit James Jones like a glove. He was and is the pro’s pro.

That ultimate professionalism is what led LeBron to label Champ as his “favorite teammate of all-time.”

Already well-versed in the playbook and before going to pregame chapel, Jones would often sit in his locker placidly reading a book about international finance or some other topic that nobody in the locker room – players, coaches, media – could likely understand.
Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

James said that after a 35-point destruction of the Magic in Orlando; a night when James Jones drove the bench – by then including the starting five – completely insane, canning four straight fourth-quarter triples with his trademark dead-eye demeanor.

Regardless of how many minutes he got, Jones teammates always saw him as a leader. Like LeBron, he led by example – always working on his shot, fine-tuning his footwork, hitting the iron in the weight room.

Champ could quietly pile up a week of DNP-CDs, suddenly get a spot-start or an early call off the bench and go 3-for-5 from three-point range. He was always prepared.

A star on the floor and off at the University of Miami, Jones was recently inducted into “The U”’s Sports Hall of Fame. He was selected to the Big East All-Academic Team during his first three years and was part of the prestigious Verizon Academic All-American team as a senior. A National Honor Society member, Jones carried a 3.41 GPA at Coral Gables.

As a pro, Jones was the acting secretary-treasurer of the NBA Player’s Union before announcing his retirement.

Already well-versed in the playbook and before going to pregame chapel, Jones would often sit in his locker placidly reading a book about international finance or some other topic that nobody in the locker room – players, coaches, media – could likely understand.

Jones was kind enough to do a “Finals Blog” for Cavs.com over the past three seasons – and it’s not just the in-house media with which he was always accommodating. From international journalists who struggled to get out a question to the NBA’s most experienced beats, Jones would answer thoughtfully and with excellent insight.

“There may never be another NBA player quite like him.”

Cavs.com’s Joe Gabriele

When Jones speaks to you as a reporter, he looks you dead in the eye and means everything he’s saying.

He used that combination of intensity and intelligence on me as we traveled to the OSU-Michigan game this year – and by the time we hit Columbus, he’d convinced me that the pivotal pass interference flag against Miami versus the Buckeyes in the 2003 actually WAS a B.S. call. I don’t even know how he did it.

Though he was a three-time NBA Champion, hailing from a hometown known for its flash and a university known for its swag, James Jones was the opposite of ostentatious. He had one of the sweetest, yet most understated rigs on the entire team, but it was a 2012 – and he insisted that he’ll have it forever.

James Jones retires from the NBA as the 39th-ranked three-point shooter – percentage-wise – in league history, percentage points above Ray Allen and Glen Rice. The proud father of three retires as a three-time NBA Champion who reached the Finals in each of his final seven seasons in the league.

All that’s left to do is say: Thanks, Champ.

There may never be another NBA player quite like him.

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