One of the most underrated players to play in both the ABA and the NBA was …Bobby Jones. He was a rare two way player he was excellent on the defensive end of the floor and was as unselfish and complete on the offensive end of the floor. To this day every coach looks for this type of player.
Bobby Jones was one of the most admired defenders ever to wear an NBA uniform; he was also considered one of the most virtuous. While most other players depended on the occasional thrown elbow, hip-check, or grab of the uniform to gain an advantage, Jones relied on hustle and determination. It was Jones’ stellar defense along with his other specialties such as leadership, that made him a standout sixth man. Opposing teams could ill afford to relax on defense when Jones came off the bench, and they also had to work a lot harder on offense to get the ball in or even near the basket.
Jones’s coaches used to marvel that he was so good at the things they had trouble getting many other players to do at all, such as block shots, move without the ball, hustle back on defense, tip passes, dive after loose balls, give up an open outside shot so a teammate could hit from inside—all the things that rarely, if ever, show up in a box score. Jones was as unselfish as a player could be, so much so that coaches had to implore him to take more shots.
“Bobby Jones gives you two hours of his blood, showers and goes home,” former Sixers General Manager Pat Williams told NBA Today. “If I was going to ask a youngster to model after someone, I would pick Bobby Jones.” Added longtime 76ers teammate Julius Erving, “He’s a player who’s totally selfless, who runs like a deer, jumps like a gazelle, plays with his head and heart each night, and then walks away from the court as if nothing happened.”
As for his almost polite approach to the game, Jones believed that anything less would have been downright un-Christian. “If I have to play defense by holding on, that’s when I quit,” Jones said early in his career. “If I have to use an elbow to get position, then I’m going to have to settle for another position. And if I foul, or if the official makes a mistake, there’s no use screaming about it. It won’t change things or make me happier.”
On one of the few occasions Jones did address a referee, it was to point out that the official had called a foul on the wrong player: it was Jones, not a teammate, who was the guilty party. The trusting ref changed his call and assigned the foul to Jones—his fifth of the game. Larry Brown, Jones’s coach with the Denver Nuggets, remarked, “Watching Bobby Jones on the basketball court is like watching an honest man in a liars’ poker game.”
The 6-foot-9 forward played with an almost boyish respect for the game, its rules, and its traditions. He always raised his hand when called for a foul. When Nuggets teammate Paul Silas showed him a less-than-legal way to get a rebounding position, Jones said no thanks. “For veterans like Paul, I consider that executive privilege,” Jones said. “But that’s not my game.”
Physically, Jones was lucky to be playing any sport at all. He suffers from asthma as well as occasional epileptic seizures and a chronic heart disorder, both of which require medication. Stricken by a seizure in his kitchen one day, Jones fell onto a butcher block and gashed open his head. The incident nearly led him to quit basketball for the clergy. His perseverance earned him Philadelphia’s Most Courageous Athlete Award in 1983.
While his limitations would have shelved many a player of lesser faith, they never forced Jones to appear in fewer than 70 games in any one season. And he never played with less than full commitment. With his long arms, lanky body, great leaping ability, and quick hands and feet, there seemed to be three of him on the court at the same time. Contemplative and unflappable, Jones rarely threw the ball away or took an ill-conceived shot. His career field-goal percentage of .550 is among the highest ever for an NBA forward.
In 1975–76, the ABA’s final season, Jones averaged 14.9 points and 9.5 rebounds and again topped the circuit in field-goal percentage at .581. He also played in the 1976 ABA All-Star Game and was named to the All-ABA Second Team. The Nuggets, with stars David Thompson and Dan Issel, finished with a league-best 60-24 record.
Jones made a graceful transition to the NBA with the ABA-NBA merger in June 1976, as did the rest of the Nuggets. Denver shocked the more established circuit by winning the Midwest Division that season and the next year as well. Thompson was an offensive machine, and Jones made solid contributions at both ends of the floor. In 1976–77 he averaged a career-high 15.1 points, ranked third in the league with a .570 field-goal percentage, and played in his first NBA All-Star Game. He also outpolled all other players in earning the first of eight straight selections to the NBA All-Defensive First Team. The following season Jones averaged 14.5 points, elevated his field-goal percentage to a league-leading .578, and returned to the All-Star Game.
Nuggets management, however, feared Jones would be limited by his health problems. After the 1977–78 campaign he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers with Ralph Simpson for forward George McGinnis. McGinnis lasted a year and a half in Denver; Jones went on to play eight seasons in Philadelphia.
Primarily a starter during his four seasons with the Nuggets, Jones was forced to make yet another transition after his first year with the Sixers. Coach Billy Cunningham thought Jones would be best utilized as a sixth man, coming off the bench for frontcourtmen Julius Erving, Darryl Dawkins, and Caldwell Jones. Cunningham was worried that the change would devastate Jones, but it took Jones about half a minute to agree to the coach’s plan.
Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday salutes one of basketball’s underrated players …Bobby Jones.
Denver Nuggets (ABA and NBA)
Career highlights and awards
NBA champion (1983)
4× NBA All-Star (1977–1978, 1981–1982)
ABA All-Star (1976)
All-ABA Second Team (1976)
8× NBA All-Defensive First Team (1977–1984)
All-Defensive Second Team (1985)
2× ABA All-Defensive First Team (1975–1976)
ABA All-Rookie First Team (1975)
NBA Sixth Man of the Year (1983)
No. 24 retired by Philadelphia 76ers
Consensus second team All-American (1974)
11,391 (12.1 ppg)
5,739 (6.1 rpg)
1,387 (1.5 spg