Joe Davidson

Hometown Report: ‘Jungle Jim’ Loscutoff played a fierce game, talked a fun one

Jim Loscutoff, third from left, huddles with Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach (left), before an NBA basketball game on March 28, 1963. From left, coach Auerbach, Frank Ramsey, Loscutoff, Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn and Bob Cousy.
Jim Loscutoff, third from left, huddles with Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach (left), before an NBA basketball game on March 28, 1963. From left, coach Auerbach, Frank Ramsey, Loscutoff, Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn and Bob Cousy. The Associated Press file

Jim Loscutoff was the most accomplished yet overlooked basketball figure with Sacramento ties.

But the man did have one honor all to himself. Loscutoff was the most loquacious fellow by any measure of fame to play in this area, a tag that stuck well after his playing days.

A San Francisco native born to Russian parents, Loscutoff attended Palo Alto High School, and from 1948 to 1950 he went to Grant Technical College in Del Paso Heights at the first site of American River College. He transferred to Oregon before becoming one of the game’s most feared forwards in the 1950s and ’60s with the Boston Celtics.

Known as “Jungle Jim” for his physical, active play, the 6-foot-5 Loscutoff spent his entire nine-year NBA career in Boston, winning seven championships. He died Dec. 1 in Naples, Fla., at 85 after a long illness. A memorial service was held Monday in Andover, Md., where Loscutoff resided for 50 years.

Loscutoff was the very definition of toughness in competition – snarls, sharp elbows and results.

“I’ll tell you what type of player I was,” Loscutoff told the Los Angeles Times in 1985. “If somebody stood in my way, I’d knock them down. Even if they didn’t stand in my way, but if they were bothering another player, they’d have to deal with me.”

Years later, Sports Illustrated deemed Loscutoff an early version of Dennis Rodman, minus the colored hair, tattoos and nose rings.

Loscutoff, naturally, disagreed.

“Dennis Rodman couldn’t carry my lunch,” he said. “He would be ice cream today – for me.”

It was that sort of attitude that attracted Celtics coach Red Auerbach to Loscutoff. Auerbach picked him third overall in the 1955 draft out of Oregon, where Loscutoff still holds the Ducks’ single-game rebounding record of 32.

Loscutoff was Boston’s enforcer, surrounded by skill and grace. Auerbach would throw a ball out onto the floor for a practice drill and yell, “Go get it!”

“I’d go diving and rolling onto the floor for it,” Loscutoff said years later. “Effort was my game.”

Loscutoff averaged a modest 6.2 points and 5.6 rebounds during his NBA career, though he had some memorable moments. As a rookie in 1955, Loscutoff grabbed a team-record 26 rebounds, later broken by Bill Russell. Loscutoff’s free throws in the closing seconds of the 1957 NBA Finals sealed a 125-123 double-overtime victory over the St. Louis Hawks for Boston’s first championship.

Loscutoff was known for figuratively rolling up his sleeves in a sleeveless sport. During the 1962 playoffs against Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia Warriors, Celtics star John Havlicek told Sports Illustrated in 1995 how a fight nearly erupted.

“This was the game where Wilt Chamberlain came after Sam Jones, and Sam picked up a wooden stool and said, ‘Wilt, I’m not going to fight you fair.’ Jim Loscutoff chased Guy Rodgers (of the Warriors) right into the stands, right into the promenade,” Havlicek said.

Auerbach never ordered Loscutoff to knock opponents around or to “get” a man.

“He let me use my own discretion,” Loscutoff recalled. “I didn’t look for trouble. I never backed away from any, either.”

Loscutoff was touched when the Celtics wanted to retire his No. 18 jersey, but he didn’t want to deny future players a chance at the number. Instead, the Celtics raised a jersey to the Boston Garden rafters with “Loscy” on it in 1977. “This is the proudest moment of my life,” he said tearfully.

With his wife, Lynn, they founded the family-operated Camp Evergreen for children in Andover, Mass.

Although Loscutoff’s name is almost never mentioned among Celtics greats, his legacy is secure, former teammates said.

“Loscy came to us just at the right time,” Celtics legend Bob Cousy told the Boston Globe this month. “Our greatest need was rebounding, someone to help fuel our transition game, and he was the first cog, followed by Tommy Heinsohn and Bill Russell.”

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