From fringe to Finals for Jones


HOUSTON -- He has never been a star, he has committed more personal fouls in his career than he has points, and just over three months ago he was at his Washington home thinking that his professional basketball career was over.

But yesterday, Charles Jones, the former Washington Bullet and former Philadelphia 76er, was in his Houston Rockets practice uniform discussing the finer techniques of using his 215-pound frame as an obstacle to the 300-pound Shaquille O'Neal.

"The one thing I can do is try to hold him, stay in his way and make it tough," Jones explained. "At least in order for him to get to the basket he'd have to run over me. Hopefully he won't break anything."

And with that, Jones laughed.

"It's all good," Jones said. "I've enjoyed it."

Enjoyed it because that physical abuse is about to pay off in what's been an unbelievable ride for Jones. Before this season, Jones had played on just two teams with winning records (including three minutes in one game he played with the 76ers while on a 10-day contract in 1984) in his 12-year career, and now he is one win away from being on an NBA champion.

"This feels real great. I could have never imagined this happening," Jones said. "Right now, I try not to think about it too much because I want to stay focused on winning this one last game."

Don't buy that. He's thinking about it. And with the Rockets one game away from winning the title, the Jones brothers -- all from Albany State -- are beginning to flock to Houston.

Major Jones, a former Rocket, runs a recreation center here. Flying into town for tomorrow's game are Caldwell (also a former Rocket), Wilbert (won a championship ring for Kentucky in the old American Basketball Association) and Oliver (coach at Albany State).

While he has played just 42 minutes and scored two points in the series, Jones has been a factor. He's been called off the bench to spell center Hakeem Olajuwon in certain situations and while he can't match up physically with O'Neal, Jones is making the Orlando center work for his shots. After Olajuwon picked up his second foul in the first half of the Rockets' 106-103 victory Sunday, he was switched to power forward and Jones played O'Neal.

"Everybody can't be an offensive threat," said Jones. "I've chosen to make my career playing defense."

And he represents the type of player that coach Rudy Tomjanovich adores. Jones was an eighth-round draft pick in 1979 by the Phoenix Suns, but didn't make it to the NBA until that 10-day contract with the Sixers in 1984. The next season he played briefly for the Chicago Bulls, before being waived. Washington signed him in 1985, and he wound up playing nine seasons there.

"Once you get a spot on this level you don't want anybody to take it away from you," Jones said. "Players who aren't drafted, who've been through the CBA, can't take anything for granted. So once you get a shot, you really appreciate it."

And he's lucky that, in what may be the end of his long career, Jones is close to walking away with a championship ring. Not bad for a guy who, before signing a contract with Houston in TC March, was at home enjoying life after basketball. Often ridiculed in the Washington area for his lack of offensive skills, Jones is about to get the last laugh.

"I'm more delighted for C. J. than perhaps C. J. is delighted," said Wes Unseld, who coached Jones with the Bullets.

"If you judge a person's contribution and ability just by looking at a stat sheet, then you would never have a person like C. J. on a team," Unseld added. "But if you judge it on how many games you win, you better have at least one or two."


ORLANDO MAGIC vs. HOUSTON ROCKETS (Rockets lead series, 3-0) Game 1: Rockets 120-118, OT

Game 2: Rockets, 117-106

Game 3: Rockets, 106-103

Tomorrow: At Houston, 9 p.m.

Friday: At Houston, 9 p.m.*

Sunday: At Orlando, 7:30 p.m.*

June 21: At Orlando, 9 p.m.*

*-If necessary; TV: Chs. 11, 4

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