In this episode of our #ThrowBackThursday we take it all the way back to the mid-seventies and eighties as we take a closer look at one of the most renowned US players to ever grace the Belgian courts: Jon Heath.
The lanky athletic forward started his professional basketball career after he finished his studies in geography at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, UNNC or better known as the Charlotte 49ers. His geography degree probably came in handy when in the summer of 1975 his agent approached him with an offer to start his basketball career in a small, pretty much unknown country in Europe. And so Heath pulled out a map, packed his bags and moved across the ocean to settle down in Belgium, more precisely at Antwerp where he would spent the first 2 years of his career.
After 2 impressive seasons with Antwerp, Heath again moved in the summer of 1977, this time headed south… to Fresh Air Basketball Jette in Brussels. It proved to be an excellent choice as he immediately helped the team to a new Belgian Championship title, their last title dating all the way back to 1938! And Heath was only getting started. The following season (1979-’80) the music-loving, guitar-playing and card-tricks performing ball magician again helped Fresh Air Jette to pull off a repeat performance as he averaged 24.8 ppg, 12.1 rpg & 3.8 spg on his way to his second consecutive Championship title.
It’s then that an up-and-coming team decided Heath would be a nice addition to their line-up and so in 1980 Heath moved to the coast as he signed with Sunair Basketbalclub Oostende. That is to say, he joined the team but did continue to live in Brussels as the Ostend night scene just wasn’t up to par to his standards. None the less, it proved to be a mutually benificial transaction as in the following 3 seasons he helped Sunair to no less than 6 new trophies (3 Championship titles & 3 Belgian Cup titles) alongside other Belgian basketball legends such as Mark Browne, Donald Verslycken, Eddy Lenaerts, Philip Wintein and a Rik Samaey in his prime. In those 3 seasons with Oostende Heath put down his best numbers in the 1981-’82 season when he recorded averages of 26.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.2 apg & 2.5 spg as they managed a 22-4 record during the regular season and went on to defeat Toptours Aarschot in the finals, winning the best-of-5 series 3 to 2.
His performances at Oostende hadn’t gone unnoticed in the rest of Europe and for the 1983-’84 season Heath was acquired by the Italian club Italcable Perugia. Unfortunately he ruptured the ligaments of his left knee, cutting short his season in Italy and a return to Belgium was in order to relaunch his career. And so in the 1984-’85 season he again graced the Belgian courts, this time signing with Hellas Gent where he would average 22.7 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.0 bpg and an astounding 4.3 spg.
Heath would continue to play in the Belgian First Division for the following two seasons, first with Merksem and in 1986-’87 with Spirale Liège but was unable to add any more trophies to his honors list. All in all he performed at the highest level in Belgium for 11 seasons, getting multiple Player of the Year awards, 5 Championship Titles and 3 Belgian Cup titles until – at 35 years old – he took a step back from professional basketball and moved to the Belgian Third Division with Deurne and (finally) acquired the Belgian nationality. He would continue to play in the lower Belgian leagues up to his early fifties and also tried his hand at coaching, most notably with the girls at Charles Quint Fémina Brussels who he led to 2 consecutive titles in the Belgian First Division and also 2 Belgian Cups.
We at TIB salute him with this little highlight reel we made with archive images from his successful period at Oostende.