In their time with the 76ers, Julius Erving frequently referred to Bobby Jones as “My vice-president.’’ But Jones, the selfless forward, was no politician. He was, in fact, all that was right and good about basketball. He never sought out statistics or headlines. He was there to do a job to the absolute best of his ability. More often than not, that meant he was a prime factor in helping his team win.
He spent eight seasons with the 76ers, earning his way on to three All-Star teams with them, winning the NBA’s first Sixth Man Award in 1983 and contributing mightily to the 1982-83 championship. But those are only some of the reasons he is being inducted in to the Philadelphia Sports Hall Of Fame.
“The bottom line on Bobby is his integrity,’’ said Pat Williams, a senior vice-president of the Orlando Magic and a former general manager of the 76ers. “He took a bold stance about his faith and he never stumbled. His walk and his talk always matched. With Bobby, there has always been an absolute, rock-solid consistency. He was the ultimate team guy. He didn’t talk a lot; he performed. He gave you everything he had, then shower, dress and go home.’’
Jones’ numbers never jumped off the page at you. In 774 NBA games, he made just 123 starts, averaging 11.5 points and 5.5 rebounds. But he was named 1st Team All-Defense 6 times as a member of the 76ers. On so many of those electric fast breaks with the unflappable Maurice Cheeks leading the way and Erving, the spectacular Dr. J, on one wing, Jones was often on the opposite wing, riding shotgun in case he was needed.
“Before I can even talk about him as an athlete, I would say that Bobby is a great man with strong character, a great father and husband,” said Doug Collins, the current Sixers coach and a former teammate. “He was the best teammate anyone could ever have, and he was the best defender at his position when he was playing. We went through the trials and tribulations (of the 1972 Olympics in Munich, when the U.S. lost to Russia after a series of controversial calls), and we got very close. Then we got reunited with the Sixers; he really was that final piece to go along with Julius that put that team (in the 1976-77 Finals).”
There was a memorable playoff night in Milwaukee in ’83 when he took only four shots, scored six points, had three rebounds and one assist. His only free throws came on two technical fouls. But in the final minutes, he stole an inbounds pass, blocked two shots—chasing one from behind on a Bucks’ fast break-- and the 76ers won 87-81.
That was the night the late Chuck Daly, then a broadcaster and now a Hall Of Fame coach, told Daily News columnist Stan Hochman “He is the most dangerous player in basketball, the last three minutes. He might be 0-for-6 up to that point, but he will hit the shot, make a steal, get a rebound. He is just a spectacular player.”
“I like to get back (on defense),” Jones said that night. “On the break, I like to go through. Then, if I don’t get the ball, the next man has a chance. I think I set fairly good picks. I try to move the ball. I do keep track of ‘bothered’ shots. There are some guys who refuse to let a shot get blocked. They’ll just heave it up there.”
He was the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association’s Most Courageous Athlete of 1983. But for courage, he referenced his wife, Tess, who was with him through the diagnosis of a rapid heartbeat, three epileptic seizures and the wrenching trade that sent him from the Denver Nuggets to the 76ers for George McGinnis. The deal was made because the Nuggets were convinced Jones could not be productive and consistent while taking medication and trying to perform in the thin Colorado air.
Carl Scheer, the Nuggets’ general manager at the time, later said “That trade helps me keep a perspective on life. The one thing I go back to is, whatever circumstances existed at the time, it was an awful decision to trade Bobby.”
When Jones was named the award winner, then-coach Dean Smith said “He is a man at peace with himself, who doesn’t depend on what anyone else says or thinks about him. It’s what I term internal affirmation, and in Bobby, it’s strong.”