Toronto Raptors broadcaster mourns loss of dad after historic season
September 4, 2019
In the midst of the Toronto Raptors championship run, there was a lot weighing on the mind of longtime broadcaster Paul Jones.
On the day the team went to Philadelphia for Game Three with the series tied, his father -- Hugh ‘Vern’ Jones -- was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. Released a few days later, he was back in hospital where he died on June 27.
With the city celebrating its first National Basketball Association (NBA) title and the massive parade that followed, Jones had little time to mourn the loss of the family patriarch who was born in Calabar, a port city in southern Nigeria, in the summer of 1925 to Jamaicans teaching in Africa.
Raised in Jamaica from age 10 by his grandparents and educated, ironically, at Calabar High School where he was a member of the soccer team that won the Manning Cup for the first time in 1943, the devoted family and church man was crowned Jamaica’s flyweight boxing champion before coming to Canada in February 1958.
Jones was just four months old when his mom – Marjorie – reunited with her husband in the Greater Toronto Area. His younger brother – Mark – who has been a sportscaster with ABC and ESPN since 1990 after working with The Sports Network (TSN) – was born three years later.
Married for 61 years, his parents met while his dad was working at the Clarendon tax office.
“They were together for so long and that’s the hardest thing for my mom,” said Jones who was the Raptors first radio analyst. “We are trying to keep her busy.”
A DeHavilland employee for 37 years, the senior Jones was a regular vocal spectator at his son’s basketball games for Oakwood Collegiate Institute and York University and he adopted all the boys on the team as his own sons to the point where Paul and Mark would often go home to find their dad sitting with one of their teammates enjoying some food and a beverage and having a chat.
“What my brother and I will remember most about our father are the things he left us in terms of doing things properly,” Jones pointed out. “He drove until he was 92 and he was sharp until the end. We are very lucky because we have friends that go to visit their parents who don’t know who they are. It’s hard that he’s gone, but he lived a full life. If I could sign up for 94 and do everything he did and they say, ‘Son, here’s the date’, I will sign right now.”
He was buried on his 94th birthday on July 22.
Making the play-off every year since Masai Ujiri became the president of basketball operations six years ago, the Raptors were swept in the second round by the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017 and 2018.
The disappointment led to some drastic changes with the firing of Coach of the Year Dwayne Casey and the acquisition of 2014 Finals Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard in exchange for DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl and a top-20 protected pick.
The trade for a superstar paid instant dividends.
Having covered the team from the inception, Jones is overjoyed with their success.
He said Leonard’s absolute professionalism and equanimity were sights to behold.
“My lasting memory of the season is Kawhi’s business-like approach and the way coach Nick Nurse fed into it,” Jones said. “I watched Kawhi walk off the court after Game Four in Oakland when his team was leading 3-1 in the series. By the manner in which he strode off, you couldn’t tell if he had won the $100 million Powerball or just murdered 15 people in cold blood. He was so calm. The flip side of that was seeing him celebrating when he actually accomplished his goal.”
For Jones, his love for basketball is infinite.
A high school standout at Oakwood where he graduated at age 17 which was a year younger than the rest of the graduating class, Jones was the Most Valuable Player on York’s Ontario Universities Athletic Association championship side, two-time Canadian representative at international tournaments and an assistant coach for three years at Western University where he acquired his Master’s in Sports Psychology.
He spent 22 years with the Toronto District School Board, rising to Principal before taking a two-year leave of absence in 2004 and finally resigning two years later to become the Raptors play-by-play voice on the FAN 590 radio broadcasts.
Jones’ passion for teaching emanated from his love of sport.
“It allowed to me to go to New Zealand, France, Japan, England and all over North America,” he said. “Had it not being for sport, I wouldn’t have seen those places. Sports have been good to me and it was about trying to show other people what it could do for them. I wanted to coach and the place you do that with kids is at a school. It then occurred to me that I should get my teaching degree which I did. After that, I started coaching and things were good. I was told I could have a bigger impact if I went into administration and become a Vice-Principal and Principal. I did for a while, but the download on those people in education is unbelievable. Eventually, the politics took me away from what I loved which was to teach and coach kids. I decided I had had enough of that. The media thing was appealing because I could stay involved in the game, although in a different way, and have a different level of stress.”
Prior to joining the FAN, Jones was an editorial and production assistant with TSN’s news and programming departments where he became associate producer of the network’s Blue Jays Show. He also served as an associate producer for CTV’s 1992 Barcelona Olympics national broadcast, anchored the University of Toronto men and women basketball team’s radio broadcast for four years up until 1993 and teamed up with the Raptors first play-by-play voice – Mike Inglis is the Miami Heat English Language radio voice for the last 21 years -- to broadcast World Basketball championship games in Toronto in 1994.
The play-by-play voice for the Raptors on Sportsnet 590, the FAN and TSN 1050 and NBA TV host/co-host/reporter/analyst has missed just one game in his 24 years covering Canada’s only NBA team. That was 16 years ago at home against the Phoenix Suns on February 21, 2003 when his third and last child – Michael – was born.
“That’s work ethic that my brother and I got from mom and dad,” said Jones who was inducted into York University’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.
That same year, he and his brother who also played hoops at York, were the recipients of the university’s ‘Redefine the Possibilities’ award for demonstrating leadership and success that embodies the academic institution’s motto, ‘Redefine the Possible’.
York University, said Jones, played a major role in shaping the brother’s lives.
“We were ripe to be moulded when we came here and being around people at the university, the coaching staff and teammates helped enhance that process and reinforce character qualities our parents instilled in us such as working hard, acquiring a solid education and community engagement,” he said.
Jones said Bob Bain, who coached at York University for 38 years, was a key part of his growth.
“The foundation for my sports background was formed at Oakwood and when I got to York, Bob was there at a great time in my life,” he noted. “I was kind of finding myself and growing and he was the right guy. He was very firm but fair. He gave boundaries and guidelines that you could explore, but you knew where the limits were and that was on and off the court.”
Preparation and planning are vital components of effective teaching.
So too are they for sports broadcasters who are counted on to inform and educate.
“My dad always said that by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” said Jones who enjoys playing golf to support charitable causes. “You just don’t want to be surprised by anything and you try to be on top of things. Knowing stories about people, the history, rules and statistics are very important. You need to be able to tell your listeners and viewers what happened.”
On Game Day, Jones spends almost four hours preparing.
“When we are on the plane between a back-to-back, my computer is open,” he pointed out. “I go to the shootaround before the game and talk to people about the opponent. There’s a lot to it. It’s like any other job. There are some nights when, let’s say, you get to Dallas at 3 a.m. after the third game in four nights and you are extremely tired. This is what I signed on for and I am still enjoying it. I will continue to do it for as long as they have me.”
Jones, who has two children – Justine and Andrew – that play volleyball for York University where they are pursuing Kinesiology & Health Science Studies, plans to write a book.
“At some point, I will do it,” he added. “I have to decide who to do it with and what we are going to put in it. There are a lot of stories and tales over the years. I know where a lot of bodies are buried.”