*Remember an NBA forward from the 1990s named Popeye Jones? If you don’t, don’t worry too much about it.
He was one of the league’s journeymen, a competent frontcourt body who carved out a twelve-year career on sheer grit and determination, bouncing around from Dallas to Toronto to Boston to Denver to Washington to Golden State.
Like a lot of professional athletes, he had a son who developed into a promising athletic prospect in his own right. Think Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Kobe Bryant, Jalen Rose, Eli and Peyton Manning – all sons of stars.
The difference between the rest of those players and the young 18-year-old Seth Jones, though, is that he isn’t following his dad into the sport he played. Quite the opposite. In fact, Seth Jones is one of the brightest young prospects in a game that you wouldn’t expect an 18-year-old African-American kid from Plano,, Texas to play – he’s a top-notch defenseman. In hockey.
Yep, it’s true. Check out the full story here on NHL.com. To summarize, Popeye got interested in the game while sharing stadiums with different hockey teams over his career, and passed that interest on to his three sons. Seth developed into a huge prospect, good enough to be ranked second overall on a recent list . Jones was the linchpin of a young American juniors team that won Gold medals at the World under-18 championship in 2012 and the World Junior Championships in 2013. He’s set to be a big star once he’s drafted this April.
Let’s hope that Jones’ ascendance brings some more attention to the game by the African-American community. Granted, Jones is a defenseman – so he won’t put up flashy, Gretzky-level statistics – but the uniqueness of an African-American being selected so high in the NHL draft should bring a lot of attention to the sport. There really hasn’t been a black American star in the game – most of the great black players in the league are Canadian. In fact, as the New York Times pointed out in this article, only a dozen African-American players have taken to the ice for the NHL in its entire history.
With numbers like that, there’s little wonder why African-Americans don’t tune into hockey. It’s a shame, because – as anyone who has ever tuned into a Stanley Cup playoff game can attest to – it’s a fantastically exciting sport. Maybe Jones can bring some more attention to the NHL from an audience it could certainly use.