The following is a book excerpt from Make It Count: The Life and Times of Basketball Great JoJo White, by Mark Bodanza. You can buy the soft-cover or e-book version at Amazon.com. The book also has a Facebook page. This is NOT a sponsored post, but rather a suggestion: buy the book and read it.
Deborah White was parked on the roadside. Her trip home was interrupted by a cell phone call from her husband’s doctor. He asked her to pull over before they talked. It didn’t take a whole lot of instinct to know that the news wasn’t good. The doctor had a diagnosis for what had been plaguing her husband JoJo White, a former basketball player for the NBA’s Boston Celtics. It was early May of 2010, and JoJo had been sick for more than six months. Originally the doctors thought his twenty-pound weight loss and an inability to hold food down was the result of a gastrointestinal virus. Mrs. White was not prepared for the news she was about to hear.
JoJo had a brain tumor. The doctor’s words hit with a thud and echoed long after the call ended. Deborah sat alone and prayed. She asked God to help him. The tumor was walnut sized. An athletic body, well conditioned even after retirement, helped compensate for deficits caused by the growing tumor. There wasn’t any time to delay surgery, which was scheduled for a week later. The doctor suspected that the tumor was not cancerous, and his theory proved correct.
While his beloved Celtics were on a playoff run that took the team all the way to the seventh game in the NBA finals, the former Celtic point guard was recovering in a Boston hospital. Few people knew about JoJo’s illness or the seriousness of it. A fixture at the Boston Garden, the former Celtic was absent from his row eight loge seats. The Celtics made sure that he could follow the team and quietly had a fifty-inch television installed in his hospital room. JoJo didn’t want anyone to know about his illness, especially during the Celtics postseason. That wouldn’t surprise those who knew him best. His approach to life has always mirrored the way he played basketball, with a quiet determination. No one will ever accuse JoJo White of unnecessary discourse, self-promotion, or a thirst for the limelight.
He faced the challenge of his surgery and convalescence with faith and the support of his family. JoJo and Debbie White knew that their test, God willing, would someday be their testimony. Week by week and with each passing month, JoJo’s gaunt frame, which despite his illness still retained a hint of athleticism, slowly gained strength. More than a year has passed since his surgery, but JoJo is thankful for the opportunity to continue his rehabilitation and a chance at life.
Many years have passed since the former NBA star directed fast breaks on the parquet floor of the Garden, but one fundamental remains unchanged. Long before he was a Boston Celtic or a college star, JoJo was given a scrap of paper by his mother. Scrawled upon the page was a poem she wrote. He has spent a moment reflecting on those words every day since. Elizabeth’s gift to her son was the simple recognition that each day was an opportunity to do good, a gift from God to make someone’s day a little better.
That piece of heartfelt advice has guided JoJo not only through a basketball career that started on the neighborhood courts of St. Louis but also through all the challenges that life creates away from the world of competitive sports. On the court, JoJo learned early that basketball success had as much to do with mastering fundamentals as with the application of raw talent. Whether shooting baskets through a homemade hoop fashioned in boyhood or learning the intricacies of the game under the tutelage of his coach at Kansas, JoJo treated every day as an opportunity to get better.
That attitude was an extension of lessons learned in a close-knit family. Mother and father guided their children with a firm adherence to faith. Whatever they lacked of material trappings was more than made up for by an abundance of love. There is nothing that JoJo would change about a childhood he remembers with great fondness.
Growing up with six older brothers and sisters, JoJo was the little brother. From boyhood the youngest White was intensely competitive. Yet his entry into any contest was marked by a quiet determination as much as any competitive spirit. Three decades after his retirement from professional basketball, reflections on childhood or the earliest years of his basketball career, like a lifetime of pleasant memories, prompts but few words but always the flash of a warm smile that lights up the room. The expression itself speaks poignantly without more.
JoJo’s story is a compelling chronicle of a sports career complete with drama, triumphs, and losses as well as an affirmation that hard work has its reward. More than that, JoJo’s story is interwoven with ours as a nation. His basketball days witnessed, were shaped by, and in a few cases helped shape events of monumental importance. Race relations, the war in Vietnam, and political tumult across the land punctuated White’s years as both a Jayhawk and a Boston Celtic.
Through his years on the court, the point guard from St. Louis maintained a steady contribution to the game that became his passion while still a child. With each passing game, season, or team that formed a part of his playing days, JoJo stayed true to principles learned before he donned his first high school uniform. Each of those days no more or less than another has been a gift. In life as in basketball JoJo White’s approach to each opportunity that a new day presents has always been the same: make it count.