Exclusive Interview with Bobby Jones - 7/18/2011

Immortalized in the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center and the pages of basketball history, Bobby Jones will always be known as one of the best lunch-pail defenders to ever play the game. Over the course of a storied career that included eight straight NBA All-Defensive First Team selections, four NBA All-Star selections, the first NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award, an NBA Championship and an Olympic Silver Medal, Jones earned a reputation as a selfless, virtuous player while still being one of the most determined competitors on the floor. Sixers.com recently caught up with Bobby to chat about what he's doing now, his experience during an ownership change, his thoughts on the state of the game today and more.

Sixers.com: Outside of your family, what has been keeping you busy in recent years?

Bobby Jones: I coach basketball and tennis at Carmel Christian School [in Charlotte, North Carolina] and I run summer basketball camps at the school.

S.C: Are the kids aware that you were an NBA player?

BJ: I doubt it. Down here, a lot of parents will remember me from my college days so I’ll get some of that but not as much from my pro career.

S.C: What’s your favorite part about coaching?

BJ: I like the kids. They have great attitudes. They’re not super-skilled but they try hard and are very compliant. Plus, the older you get, the kids help keep it fun so it’s great to be around them and see their desire to try and get better.

S.C: A couple seasons ago, you visited the Sixers players and spoke to them about how winning the championship in 1983 formed a great bond with the members of that team. What was that experience like?

BJ: Maurice [Cheeks] invited me to come and talk. I enjoyed being around the team. I really felt like the players were good guys and had a desire to want to win over seeking the individual accolades which so often can disrupt a team effort. I told them the common goal the ’83 team shared (winning the championship) really did make a difference because we wanted to do something that would last for a long time. It did. It was special. I told those guys that as they continue to build upon what they have, there’s the formula and foundation for winning. I told them they just have to have the patience and willingness to sacrifice what they’re looking for their next contract and do what’s best for the team; maybe that’s give up a shot or two, set another pick, do something that they may not be comfortable doing or may not have done before.

S.C: Did you enjoy meeting up with members of the 1983 team for the celebration during the final game at the Spectrum in 2009?

BJ: It was fun. It was great to reminisce back on good times. I really appreciate the Sixers for that. I talk to other players in the league and their comment as I share those events with them is that ‘wow, our team has never done anything like that.’ I think there’s more of a sense of family with the Sixers than most of the other teams.

S.C: Were you sad to hear that the Spectrum was finally knocked down?

BJ: I was disappointed. It’s funny, before I got traded to Philly I had only been there twice in my life and that was when I was with the Nuggets so I didn’t know much about the city. Coming there was kind of a unique experience for me. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt like the fans were very appreciative of my work, very supportive and knowledgeable about basketball. Even though I didn’t score a lot of points, they would appreciate that I would hustle, try to play ‘D’ and get out on the break and do things that would help us get a win.

S.C: You weren’t ever a player who got wrapped up in individual accolades, but looking back, how impressive was your streak of eight straight NBA All-Defensive First Team selections?

BJ: That was something I felt good about. I actually made two First Team All-Defensive teams in the ABA so I really had 10 in a row. Those days were tougher because back in the old ABA there was Julius Erving, George Gervin, Larry Keenan and George McGinnis. It seemed like the ABA was filled with great forwards that I had to guard as a rookie and it was difficult but it was something that helped me figure out that playing defense was how I was going to stay in the league so that’s what I tried to concentrate on.

S.C: You were known for defense, but you also rank 14th in NBA history in field goal percentage and are the second-shortest player of the Top-14. Is that something you took a lot of pride in?

BJ: Every team that I was on, especially with Philly, had better offensive players than myself. I always felt like I had to take the open shot to keep the other team honest. I knew that Julius, Andrew Toney or Moses [Malone] could always get their shot and could impose their offensive will on their opponent. I couldn’t really do that but I could sneak out on the break and get a basket or I could get a tip-in. We would have maybe one play set for me where I would come off of the baseline to the elbow and get a screen from the center and get an open shot so that was really the only shot I worked on. I know shooting wasn’t my strength but I knew I could be effective if I limited what I tried to do. I don’t think I took bad shots, but if you look at my stats, I was 0-of-17 from the 3-point line but those were all end of the quarter, end of the half shots that I didn’t want to take but was forced to. I don’t think I ever took one legitimate 3-point attempt because I knew it was out of my range and I knew that I wasn’t going to make it, so I just avoided that area!

S.C: The first season you made the sacrifice of coming off the bench coincided with the first time the Sixth Man of the Year award was given out. Do you enjoy being able to say you’re the first player to win that award?

BJ: I was a great honor to receive that award and to be the first person to do so. When I look back on my career, there are certain things I remember and that was one of them. Another was that I was named to the All-Star team but I wasn’t a starter for Philly and I think I was only the second player to do that. I knew from my conversation with Billy [Cunningham] that even if I didn’t start, I was going to finish and I wanted to be a finisher. Even when I coach now, I tell my players that it doesn’t matter who starts and that if you want to know who’s valuable on this team, just look at who I’m putting into the game at the end. Starting for me didn’t matter.

S.C: How does the mindset differ between starting and coming off the bench?

BJ: It was really an advantage to me a little bit because I could sit there and scout out what the other team was doing and who was hot, who’s not on, who’s lethargic. I wasn’t physically the strongest player out there so that shortened the game for me so my intensity level could stay high and not have to be spread over a lot of minutes. I was taking medication for the epilepsy and all of that, so I couldn’t play 40 minutes a game. Not starting was better for me physically.

S.C: You experienced an ownership change during your time with the Sixers. How, if all, did that affect the players?

BJ: I think when you have new ownership it does energize the feeling that somebody really does care, really wants the team and wants to make something happen with the team. There’s a time span there where you feel like ‘let’s step this up a bit and see what happens.’ In our case, signing Moses was the big thing and that made a huge difference for our team. I think it’s different for the current team, but I think they have a good core of young guys and I hope they continue to develop them and add players as they can.

S.C: You were teammates with Doug Collins on the 1972 Olympic team, then again with the Sixers. What was your relationship like?

BJ: I’ve enjoyed being around Doug. Doug is a high energy guy and I’m a real low-key guy. We were in the same neighborhood in New Jersey and would often ride to practice together. He’s non-stop and I was more reserved but I enjoyed being around him. I loved playing with him in the Olympics and the free throws he made in the last game… you talk about being a clutch player; he always had that great desire to want to win whether it was scoring, passing, whatever and I feel like he’s instilling that on his team now.

S.C: Did you sense he could go on to become a coach down the road?

BJ: Oh yeah. He studied the game, he loved the game. Everything was basketball. When we were playing, he had a bad foot injury and that ended his career early but even then, I knew that wasn’t going to keep him from being involved in basketball. He just had so much knowledge and has been able to communicate it as both a commentator and a coach.

S.C: What was it like being rivals with Dr. J and eventually teammates with him in Philly? Were you relieved you didn’t have to go up against him anymore?

BJ: Absolutely! It was murder trying to guard the guy. Even though I felt I was a pretty good defender, he could just pull up and shoot over me. I remember one playoff game in the ABA, it was the last play and his team needed a basket to win it and I knew he was getting the ball. I was all over him. He must have jumped five feet backwards and I jumped with him. I knew I couldn’t get a piece of the ball but did enough to bother the shot but the ball just swished through and I was like ‘there’s not much more I can do!’ so I knew when I got traded to Philly I could check off a couple nights where I wouldn’t have to work quite as hard.

S.C: You were teammates with both Cheeks and Charles Barkley when they entered the league. Did you know right away that they were going to be great players?

BJ: I kind of did. I questioned Charles a little bit because I wasn’t sure his body could take the pounding. When he came into his rookie year, he weighed 305 lbs. and had a lot of blubber on him. I remember you would set a pick and he would sort of just absorb you. Both Julius and I talked about how Charles knees and back were going to withstand that constant pounding. He did lose some weight and was obviously a great player, but I was just amazed that his body could support what he did with the intensity of his jumping ability and his explosiveness off the ball.

S.C: As a player who was so grounded in fundamentals, what are your thoughts on the state of the game of basketball today?

BJ: There’s the mindset of just getting the ball up the court as fast as you can and take it to the basket or pull up for 3. There’s not a whole lot of mid-range things going on and there’s not a whole lot of set players where more than one or two people are involved. I think that’s why a lot of European players are more grounded is because they are more well-rounded. I see kids who come out of schools like Duke or North Carolina and they’re going to have that, but some of the other guys in the league really don’t. I will say that I feel the league has become much more defensive oriented and the players are held much more accountable to play their own man and also to give the help defense that’s necessary to stop some of these guys.

S.C: What’s the thing that impresses you most about today’s players in comparison to your playing days?

BJ: The physicalness of the game. The size and the way the guys can elevate and get up and down the court along with their lateral movement is just amazing. That’s changed more than anything else. One negative of that is it’s affected the shooting. When I was playing, there were 3-5 good shooters on every team, now there’s like 2, maybe 3. Overall, it would be scary to go out there with those guys now with the way they can get up and down the court and the reaction times they have are pretty impressive.