When we talk about a basketball legacy, we often focus on championships, individual accolades, and the athletes overall body of work. To put things into perspective, we can view the game as just a chapter or an introduction to something bigger in one’s life. My sit down with NBA veteran and Albany State University alumni, Major Jones, not only touches on the fun fact that six of the Jones brothers played college basketball but four of the six played in the NBA and two played in the Eastern Professional Basketball League. The story within the story is the remarkable relationship all seven brothers had with NBA Hall of Famer, the late Moses Malone. While several of the brothers had the pleasure of playing with Moses, the more remarkable take away was the bond and brotherhood that continued after their careers ended. I’m a firm believer that the people who come into our lives are not by coincidence but for a reason that will reveal itself with time. While my sit down centered around Major Jones, it also captures short stories about his dear friend Moses Malone.
“I’m a firm believer that the people who come into our lives are not by coincidence but for a reason that will reveal itself with time.”
Major Jones’s story begins in Wolfe Project of McGehee, Arkansas, where he was one of eight children. From youngest to oldest; Charles, Major, Caldwell Jr, Wilbert, Melvin, Oliver, the only girl Clovis, and Clint. For the Jones family, the game of basketball was truly a family tradition for the brothers. As Major shared, “Of course, before we can play, we had to ensure all of our chores were done and working on the farm was a full-time commitment when we were not in school.” The Jones family grew cotton, soybeans, corn, sugar cane, and much more. Major mentioned, “We had everything we needed on the farm, from livestock, vegetables, and we made our own bread. It was a rarity if we had to go into town and buy anything from the store.” The family lived in a close-knit community that looked out for one another and where the children respected their elders. As Major jokingly shared, “When we played basketball on our dirt court, the kids from the area that came to play were all well-behaved. I grew up in a time where if you were acting up, not only were your parents allowed to discipline you but the neighbors upheld the responsibility to do so as well. It was a double whoopin’ once you got home because your parents would find out from the neighbors and discipline you as well. Let’s just say, we did whatever it took to avoid that scenario from happening.”
While Major’s older brothers, Oliver, Wilbert, and Melvin, paved the way by earning scholarships to Albany State University. Major reflected, “If it wasn’t for basketball and the scholarship offers my older brothers received, neither of my brothers would have went to college.” Meanwhile back in Arkansas, Caldwell and Major were making their own history at Desha Central High School. In 1969, Major and Caldwell played together on the senior team and won the State Championship. That accomplishment alone was something his older brothers weren’t able to achieve. Major shared, “There were a lot of good high school teams within a 30 to 40 mile radius of Desha High School, such as Lake Village and Monticello. There were a lot of tremendous players in the state that didn’t go on to play collegiately.” When Major finished high school he played in all-star games against Leon Douglas, who went to the University of Alabama; Quinn Buckner, who attended the University of Indiana; Joe Bryant (Kobe’s father), who went to LaSalle University; Terry Furlow, who went to Michigan State University; and Fly Williams, who attended Austin Peay State University.
Major is just one of six brothers to have played collegiately and professionally. In addition to Major, his brothers Oliver, Melvin, Wilbert, Caldwell, and Charles all played for Albany State University in Albany, Georgia. His older brother Clint attended Arkansas AM&N at Pine Bluff but did not play basketball there. Historically four of the brothers, Major, Caldwell, Wilbert, and Charles all played in the NBA, while his older brothers Melvin and Oliver played in the Eastern Basketball League before serving in the military.
While Caldwell and Major were heavily recruited by hundreds of universities while still in high school, both kept the family tradition alive and went to Albany State University. An added bonus was being coached by their older brothers, Oliver and Melvin, and eventually playing with their youngest brother Charles. While Albany State was a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), Major recalls playing a special tournament in Portsmouth that had an HBCU all-star select team versus an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) all-star select team featuring John Lucas, Mo Howard, and several other notable stars from that era. Major shared the following memory with the biggest smile on his face, “Deep down, our HBCU team didn’t fear the ACC team and we had one goal in mind, beating them and punishing them in the paint because we were bigger and more physical than them. I remember John Lucas yelling at his teammates, ‘We can’t let guys from these little schools beat us.’ Let’s just say it wasn’t close. We dominated and beat them by double-digit points.”
Major reflects by saying, “My college experience at Albany State University was priceless! The campus life, the diversity of students from all over the country, and being able to play the game I love with my brothers is all I could have ever ask for.” From a young age, the values of hard work, respect, and humility were ingrained into Major from his brothers. Major shared, “My brothers taught me to be dominant in the paint, the importance of boxing out, floor spacing, the art of positioning, and just being relentless.”
Following the culmination of college, Major would play in several all-star games and wait for the NBA Draft. Major vividly remembers, “The general manager from the Portland Trail Blazers called, to let me know that they would be selecting me with the first pick in the second round of the 1976 NBA Draft. It was fantastic news but I had to get back to work to get ready for the pros.” In the off-season Major would work out with his brother Caldwell, Moses Malone, and many others at Fonde Recreation Center in Houston, Texas. This was the training ground for NBA players and local guys to work on their game and test their ability against some of the best.
During his brief stint in Portland, Major was taken under the wing of NBA Legend, the late Maurice Lucas. Maurice earned the nickname “The Enforcer” for his leadership, physicality, and intimidation on the hardwood as a Portland Trail Blazer and NBA Champion in 1977. Major’s NBA gratitude goes to Maurice who “was pivotal in grooming me as a rookie. Whether it was advice on the road, the importance of being on time, or the responsibility of being a consummate professional on and off the court. He would throw various words of wisdom my way during my rookie year. He’d stress that one can’t be soft in this league, that’s non-negotiable. He always preached the importance of establishing yourself early and often in the game. The last gem he dropped on me was, if it comes down to it and you have no other choice, be sure to hit them before they hit you. There were nights where he was in my ear about how to play certain guys or provided me with insight about what certain players like to do. Maurice was a true leader, dear friend, and someone I was blessed to have in my life, and as an NBA rookie. Back when I played, there were countless veterans that looked after us rooks coming into the league. Maurice had a heart of gold and the strength of a super human being. He’s truly missed by his NBA family and the community of Portland. I wanted to personally share my thanks and gratitude to his family and to him in spirit.”
“The tradition continued as Major was traded to the Buffalo Braves his rookie season, where the late Don Adams showed him the ropes of being a professional athlete. His career would eventually take him to the Houston Rockets where he had the pleasure of playing alongside Moses Malone. Don would tell me that ‘some guys are gonna try you, just hold your ground, and don’t show them any fear. Finally, don’t expect any calls from the referees since you are a rookie.’ Moses was a man of few words but when he spoke, you knew it was important to listen up. Moses always stressed the importance of having a good work ethic and outworking your opponent every single night. That was easy to embrace because that was a Jones family tradition growing up on the farm, where we pushed each other and learned from one another.”
Major’s NBA journey took him from Portland to Buffalo to Houston, to Detroit and then overseas, just outside of Venice, Italy. Major shared his proudest moment, “I reached the NBA Finals in 1981 with my dear friend Moses and was able to play with my brother Caldwell.” When I asked him at what moment he knew it was time to retire, Major shared, “You never know when it’s time. There comes a moment where your mind and heart says, you are going to have to yank me out this game, because you never want it to end. All jokes aside, you can slowly see father time catching up with your professional career and while you can prolong the inevitable, there comes a point where your body says it’s time.”
Present day, Major resides in Houston, Texas, with his loving wife, Renee Taplin-Jones. When I sat down with Renee, she reinforced a lot of the sentiments that Major shared with me when putting this story together. The relationship between Major, Moses, and their families held a special bond that most people aren’t aware of. Renee shared more insight about this bond, “They have been there for each other for years. When Moses’s mother passed away, Major was there. When Moses was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, we were there. When Major’s brothers, Melvin and Caldwell, and sister, Clovis, passed away, Moses was there. When Major retired from the City of Houston, Moses was right there. When Moses unfortunately passed away in 2015, Major was there and part of the service and program. Major not only lost a friend, he lost a brother.”
To pay homage to his dear friend Moses Malone, Major shared several personal short stories and reflections to provide a glimpse into the man behind the larger than life Basketball Hall of Fame persona. The brotherhood between the Jones family and the Malone family runs deeper than you can imagine. While Moses is no longer with us, his legacy is living on through his children, his contemporaries, and through the countless individuals on earth he has touched in his lifetime.
ABA Family—The Brotherhood of Caldwell Jones and Moses Malone
“When Moses entered the ABA, my brother Caldwell and Moses gravitated toward each other immediately as teammates with the Spirits of St. Louis. The ABA was a special fraternity and family. If you watched the two from afar you’d assume they were brothers. The ABA guys hung out with one another, ate together, looked out for each other, and were part of a movement that you ‘had to be there’ to understand. We had family in St. Louis and they would play and then go to my family’s place for dinner.
Fonde Recreation Center
“Fonde Recreation Center is truly a sacred building in Houston,Texas. This is where athletes show up to sharpen their game and play against some of the best. You can almost compare it to Rucker Park, the legendary playground in Harlem. I’ve often called Fonde Recreation Center the Rucker Park South. Legendary names like Elvin Hayes, Calvin Murphy, Don Chaney, Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone, Sam Cassell, and myself all graced the hardwood and on any given afternoon or evening it was a sight to see.
“We had a close-knit group of ten guys that were not in the NBA, so we ended up forming a summer basketball team. At the time, Moses and I were the only two pros on the team. Then Clyde Drexler, Robert Reid, Chris Morris, and a few others joined the team as well. Basketball was everything to us and many of our battles happened at the Fonde Recreation Center. Moses and I are both blessed with the recognition as honorees on their inaugural Wall of Fame.”
Who’s on First?—It was Moses (Local Houston Softball Team)
“In the off season, Moses had this idea about forming a softball team with the local fellas. Our team had local Houston Legends such as Clyde Drexler, Chris Morris, Robert Horry, Nick Van Exel, and Rodney McCray. I was the player coach and was in charge of putting the schedule together. We would always get invited to these tournaments and we’d get killed of course but boy did we have some fun together. Moses would hit and crush a baseball with ease. When he played first base for us, let’s just say you had to hit him with an accurate bullseye into his glove. Moses wasn’t looking to leap, stretch, dive, or do any splits to save an off-target ball thrown to him. In the early 80s, there was this open challenge that never came to fruition versus Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson’s softball team, but every time we see each other present day, we’d joke with him that we would have kicked their butts. Moses never missed a game when he was in town and genuinely enjoyed the quality time with the fellas and competing on the softball field.”
Moses “The Man . . . The Myth . . . The Legend”
“Once Moses got to know you, he would open up and, I promise you, you’ll never meet a funnier human being with a bigger heart than Moses. He would always carve out time to call and check on me and the fellas.
“When we were in public, people would go up to him and say, aren’t you that basketball player Moses Malone? Moses would look at them with a straight face and say ‘No, my name is Mike Williams.’ Other times he would tell people ‘I’m sorry my name is Major Jones,’ then point to me and tell the fan ‘That’s Moses Malone over there.’
“Our family was one. I’d call his mamma, ‘mamma.’ A while back, my brother Melvin was visiting me in Houston to see a doctor down here. That time Melvin was in town, Moses would scoop him up and they hung out every day and were out and about every night. Moses was family. He went to my mothers funeral, my brothers funeral, and my sisters funeral.”
His Love for His Family: Moses Jr., Michael, and Micah
“Moses absolutely cherished all of his sons and had a very close relationship with them. His legacy is living vicariously through all of them and I know personally it’s not easy to lose a father. I personally do my best to be there for his sons and I personally connect with Moses Jr. at least once a week, if not every other week. We talk about everything, from his father, life, or whatever comes up in general.”
His Legacy to the Legends of Basketball (Retired Players Association)
“The Retired Players Association held annual meetings each year in either the Caribbean or Las Vegas. Moses never missed a conference or meeting. He was one of the few, if not one of the only Top 50 Greats / Basketball Hall of Famers who attended all the meetings no matter what. If you didn’t know who he was, you can tell there was something special because everybody was always gravitating toward him. He would always open up around people he knew and felt comfortable around. He was always the center of attention and would have a ball cracking jokes and making others smile. He was super close with his fellow ABA Legends such as Artis Gilmore, George Gervin, and Julius Erving. There was a mutual respect among his contemporaries especially his ABA brothers.
“It’s with hope that the current players continue to recognize the legacy, struggles, and adversity we all endured to put them in a position today to play the game they love. We are making strides and need to keep the momentum of ‘gratitude’’ and honoring the legacy of the contemporaries that came before them. I’d love to see more collaborative efforts, events, and support between the alumni and the current players.”
“When Moses was in Philly, he gave it his all. He truly loved his time in Philadelphia: loved the city, loved the fans, and loved his teammates.”
Thoughts about February 8th—Jersey Retirement and Statue Unveiling in Philadelphia
“When Moses was in Philly, he gave it his all. He truly loved his time in Philadelphia: loved the city, loved the fans, and loved his teammates. When he first got there he was a little nervous because of the expectations. He would call me and we’d talk about whatever was on his mind. I remember telling him to go out there and play your game. You don’t have to fit in, just play your game and you’ll be more than fine. We all know how the story ends—Moses predicted a four game playoff sweep versus the three teams they would face. The famous Fo’ Fo’ Fo’ prediction would almost become a reality where they swept the Knicks in four games, defeated the Bucks in five games, and swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1983 NBA Finals in four games. While the famous Fo’ Fo’ Fo’ will go down in history as the prediction by Moses it was more like Fo’ Fi’ Fo’ in the end. Friday, February 8, 2019, will be a very emotional evening but I know he will be with all of us in spirit and it’s an honor that his family will truly cherish. Thank you, Philadelphia, for the love! I’m blessed to be in attendance to witness the ceremony with my lovely wife, Renee, with his family and dear friends.”
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