NBA title is not lone summer highlight for James Jones

James Jones turns 32 in October and is entering his 10th season in the NBA. He played sparingly during the Heat’s NBA championship run against the Oklahoma City Thunder, averaging 10.8 minutes and 2.8 points.

As secretary-treasurer of the National Basketball Players Association and holder of a finance degree from the University of Miami, Jones is savvy enough to know those numbers don’t translate into job security.

That became even more apparent when the Heat went and signed free agent shooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.

But don’t think for a minute that Jones is ready to retire. Not a chance. Not as long as he is still in the running for a spot with his beloved hometown Heat.
He has two years left on his contract, and if he gets his way, he will end his career here. If the Heat starts talking trade, he might contemplate retirement. But as long as Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra want the 2011 All-Star Three-Point Shooting champ in camp, he’s showing up. He isn’t afraid of Allen and Lewis. He’s inspired by their presence and welcomes the challenge.

“Story of my life,” Jones said Monday. “I have always fought an uphill battle, always had to compete for everything. I’ve been around a long time, and I know that anything can happen in the summer. No one is untradeable, no one is untouchable. The only way for the team to get better is to increase competition. I am one of many great shooters in the league, and I have to keep improving if I want to survive.”

He insists he doesn’t worry about his stats.

“I’m not a numbers guy,” Jones said. “That doesn’t matter to me anymore. I don’t define myself by numbers. I used to, but that changed after my wrist injury three years ago. Low point of my career. A shooter with a broken wrist is useless. But I learned since then that it doesn’t matter if you score 20 points or six, it’s how efficient you are that matters most. I expect my numbers and minutes to decline with age, but I want to make sure I am as efficient as possible when I do go in.”
Jones spends three to four hours per day working out during the summer.

In the morning, he drops his three children (ages 7, 4, 2) off at day camp and then spends two hours in the gym doing strength and conditioning.

In the afternoon, he spends another hour and a half doing cardio and endurance on a bike and treadmill. Wednesday is his recovery day, his time for a massage and stretching and relaxing. The heavy basketball drills won’t start until late August or early September.

When he isn’t working out, Jones is running summer camps for local children.

This week, he has the Camp for Champions, a three-day, life-enrichment camp for 60 foster children. He teamed with the Florida Department of Children and Families on the project two years ago. He takes the kids to a Davie ranch to ride and groom horses. He takes them to the FIU North campus, where they do team building through ropes courses, volleyball, cheerleading, dance and football.

While he has their attention, he talks to them about life.

“These kids see me as a basketball player and maybe consider me a hero for that, but I want to teach them that basketball is just a job for me and it isn’t the end-all,” Jones said.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, I’m experiencing life, and that’s what they need to focus on, life. For many of these kids, just having someone take the time to notice them can make a big difference.”

Last week, Jones made an appearance at a camp in Little Haiti and shared the same message.

Next week, he will focus on basketball fundamentals at the 2012 Dibia Elite Basketball Skills Camp, which he runs with former UM teammate Brandon Okpalobi at Ransom Everglades High School in Coconut Grove for ages 8-18.

Jones’ dream, he said, is to expand his life-enrichment camps all over South Florida. He grew up in Miami, attended American High in Hialeah and is committed to this community.

He proved that when he accepted the league’s minimum salary to sign with the Heat in 2011 rather than make more money elsewhere. That, he said, is why the NBA title was extra special for him.

“It was more than I imagined,” he said. “When I lifted that trophy, it felt even better than I dreamed it would. To win an NBA championship at home, playing for the Heat, it doesn’t get any better for a Miami kid. I had never won any kind of big title before, not in high school or AAU or college. The next-best championship I ever won was districts in high school, and that was just a small plaque. There aren’t too many guys who get to win a title in the town they grew up in.”

“Only after you play so long in the league can you truly appreciate how hard it is to win that trophy,” Jones added. “It would not have meant as much if I won it early in my career. Everything means more the older I get.”

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