Embiid, Jones Pay Tribute to Bryant

Two Generations of 76ers Help Honor Late Icon
by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

In the aftermath of Kobe Bryant’s untimely passing, the memory of the Lower Merion-grown legend has been ubiquitous. Tributes - both planned and impromptu - have sprouted up around the world. 

On Tuesday, it was the 76ers’ turn, as the organization formally honored Bryant, and the eight other people who perished in Sunday’s helicopter crash prior to the team hosting the Golden State Warriors.

Following a 10-minute pregame ceremony, Joel Embiid had another nod to Bryant in store. As the big man removed his warm-up gear, the sellout crowd at The Center began to murmur a bit, noticing something was different.

Instead of his customary no. 21, Embiid was wearing the no. 24. That the All-Star wanted to wear one of Bryant's numbers is only part of the story, though. 

No 76er had worn the no. 24 since May 11th, 1986 - the date Bobby Jones played the final game of his Hall of Fame career. His old number was formally retired several months later, in November. 

Before Tuesday’s tip, we had the chance to speak with Jones, who shared the story behind Embiid’s temporary numbers switch.

How did this number switch come about?

Jones: "I got a call from Joel. He explained to me how growing up in Africa, Kobe was a guy that he looked to as the star of American basketball at that time, and he is what made him want to play basketball. I shared with him that Kobe, in addition to doing all that scoring, was a 12-time All-Defensive player. I only made it 11 times, so there’s a lot of defense that goes into that no. 24, so I told Joel to play hard defense, because that what that number represents in my mind. I thanked him for the call, and I’m glad he and I had the chance to talk."

What did you appreciate about Kobe Bryant’s game?

Jones: "I remember him as an intense competitor. I would certainly want to have him on my team because he would never give up, he would never quit. For a guy who did all he did offensively, to also be named All-Defensive team, that just shows the level that he was playing at. The energy level, the effort level he gave. Those are the kind of guys, like Jordan the same way, who gave all he had and had the ability to do it on both ends of the court. I never had that ability. Just the rare person who can have that ability and also have the stamina and physical attributes to be able to do that, in Kobe’s case 20 years. It’s really mind-blowing."

Did you ever cross paths with Kobe?

Jones: "I did. I played with his dad, but I met Kobe maybe 15 years ago at a Nike event in Las Vegas. They were doing something for Air Force One - I was one of the original Air Force One poster guys. They brought us out there and did a shoot, and at the same time, Kobe was there for another shoot also. We were sort of in the same room, Kobe was coming through, and I just stood up and said, ‘Hey Kobe, I’m Bobby Jones,' and I explained I played with his dad. He said, ‘Bobby, I know who you are,’ and was just real nice and friendly. We talked briefly, but what struck me was that he was a sincere, down-to-Earth person. I really appreciated that about him."

What was your reaction to Sunday’s news?

Jones: "I was stunned. When somebody told me that I just picked up my phone and looked it up. I was just shocked, just…totally shocked. Life is hard. Life has a lot of ups and downs, a lot of surprises. Sometimes life isn’t great, and this is one of those times."

How does it feel that your number will in some way play a role in a tribute to Bryant’s memory?

Jones: "I feel good about that. He was one of my favorite players. I enjoyed watching him and the success he had. I think it’s certainly appropriate that Joel wears the number, because it meant so much to him." 

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