Los Angeles — Sometimes, even when you're looking at Bobby Jones, the 6 ft. 9 in. forward of the Philadelphia 76ers, you don't really see him. Jones has this unique quality that somehow allows him to do his job while blending in with the woodwork, or the crowd, or whatever.
But the Los Angeles Lakers, who have felt Bobby's presence constantly during the National Basketball Association finals, would just as soon he took his defense and rebounding skills elsewhere.
Jones is like the creaky step at the top of the stairs, the leaky faucet that starts to drip the moment you leave the sink, the "on" knob that keeps falling off the car radio. He is at his obnoxious best at all the wrong times -- for his opponents.
With teammates Julius Erving sky-walking among the stars, Darryl DAwkins acting like something out of a Salvador Dali painting, and Maurice Cheeks making baskets in which the ball comes down with snow on it, Jones frequently gets overlooked.
Oh, Bobby might be noticed if he showed up for a game in rubber boots instead of sneakers, except that Dawkins undoubtedly would pick that same day to wear a Richard Nixon mask.
What Jones does is head up the 76ers' Pick-and-Shovel Department. That is, he plays the tough defense; he rebounds with opponents' elbows sticking out of his ears; he dives for loose balls; and when nobody else can get a basket he gets one.
It was Bobby's clutch 12-footer in the closing seconds, for instance, that nailed down Philadelphia's 107-104 victory in Game 2, while his fine all-around play (11 points, 6 rebounds, and tough defense) contributed mightily to his team's 105-102 triumph in Game 4. And the Sixers will assuredly be counting on him for another solid job in Philadelphia tonight (May 16) as they battle to stay alive in the best-of-seven series, which LA currently leads 3-2.
Jones is so team-oriented that his family crest should be two workhorses plowing a wheat field in single harness. To describe him as merely unselfish is to refer to the Salvation Army as a group that sometimes helps people in trouble.
Watching Bobby playing basketball is like watching a pickpocket operate at a state fair. He is in and out of his victims' pockets and back in the crowd before they realize the ball they were just holding in their hands has suddenly disappeared.
When Dawkins says that jones is "the baddest white dude in pro basketball," Darryl is, in effect, paying Bobby the supreme compliment. What Dawkins means is that Jones can go into the air with any NBA player and have at least a 50-50 chance of coming away with the basketball.
Bobby, by the way, doesn't start for Philadelphia. His job is to come in off the bench; provide whatever seems to be lacking at the moment (defense, shooting , rebounding); and bring order out of chaos. Jones is the kind of guy who would probably render Howard Cosell speechless. How do you describe a shadow? How do you talk about a guy who keeps disappearing? How do you lasso fog?
Like thousands of other kids in the United States, Bobby learned to play basketball in the backyard of his home in Charlotte, N.C. The only difference between most backyards and his was that there was no cement or macadam to dribble on, only uneven dirt.
So whenever Jones put the ball on the ground it didn't necessarily come up the right way. Often he was forced to reach for it, and not always with the same hand, either. The result is that there are no bad bounces for him today, especially on the NBA's well-engineered floors.
What is Jones really like? Well, this is what he told a group of reporters recently who crowded around his locker.
"When I first turned pro, my wife and I decided we'd try to maintain a life style that we could still live with after I was through with basketball." Bobby said. "most of the friends we have made have either been through our church or through our neighborhood. Basketball is not something I will have to work to get out of my system when it's time to quit."