By Derrel “Jazz” Johnson
I attended the 2013 NHL Draft for the possibility of Seth Jones, an African-American and son of former NBA player and Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Popeye Jones, being selected with the number one overall pick. He would have made history by becoming the first African American to be taken with the first pick, and although he fell to the fourth pick after being selected by the Nashville Predators, Jones is looking to make history on the ice.
Jones made his NHL debut on his 19th birthday on Thursday, October 3, 2013, and scored his first point, an assist, in his third game the following Tuesday. Seth is a talented defensive man that many see having a huge impact on his team and in the NHL because of his size and skills, but what made an African-American kid with a dad who played in the NBA choose hockey?
A combination of things, Popeye says. “I think it’s more of his (older) brother, the city we were in, Denver, the suburban neighborhood, roller hockey, those things,” he said. The former NBA center was also a fan of the game himself. “I started being a hockey fan in 1993…I went to a Dallas (Stars) game when I was playing” for the Dallas Mavericks.
Popeye also points out there are similarities between basketball and hockey, some that he has grown to appreciate more and more with time. “It’s a team sport, you have to have spacing, there are give and go’s like basketball, picks like basketball.”
There is always an epiphany when a parent realizes a child has potential in sports, or anything else for that matter. I asked Popeye when he saw that in Seth. “I think probably when he was 12 or 13, because he had always played with older kids, and was still one of the most talented…his dream as a little boy was to be an NHL player.”
Like most parents, Popeye didn’t want his love of hockey to interfere with school. “I wanted to make sure that education was first. He’s a very smart kid, he graduated from high school in three years. He took the time to take online classes and take summer classes.”
Was there ever a time when Popeye thought his son might be under too much pressure? “When he was in Sports Illustrated at age 14, I thought it was too much pressure”, but, as Seth prepared for his first NHL season, Popeye says “I think he’s ready for it, he’s excited for it, I’m excited for it.”
Instead of entering college, Seth Jones decided to play a season in the Western Hockey League for the Portland Winterhawks, a season that ended in May with a loss in the Mastercard Memorial Cup. It was a successful season that saw him named Rookie of the Year. But when did Seth’s hockey journey begin to take shape? Seth recalls falling in love with the game of hockey at the age of 12 or 13. “I loved the game, the speed of the game and the competitiveness.”
Seth is very grounded and feels he shouldn’t be compared to an obvious icon. “I’m not Jackie Robinson.” Agreed, but, if Seth Jones goes on to experience a lot of success on the ice, especially if he is signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports, which has been rumored, Jones will be responsible for exposing millions of African American kids to the game of hockey, similar to what Tiger Woods did for golf. “Hopefully, me playing the sport will encourage other African-American kids to play hockey. It would be pretty cool to be a role model for little kids.” Seth Jones is well on his way to being that role model for African American kids.