Legendary Sixer Bobby Jones on his love for Philly — and its spaghetti

The “gentleman of the NBA” is being inducted into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame.

Retired Sixer Bobby Jones (center) at the jacket ceremony for his Hall of Fame induction

Retired Sixer Bobby Jones (center) at the jacket ceremony for his Hall of Fame induction

Cam Smith / for Billy Penn

When the Sixers won the NBA championship in 1983, Bobby Jones was pumped. But there was one downside: he had to give up his favorite dish.

The legendary sixth man, who was known as the “Secretary of Defense” for his talent guarding the rim, is being inducted into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame this week. As Jones reminisced about his time in Philadelphia, where he spent the majority of his career, the subject of food came up.

Arriving in Philly on a trade from the Denver Nuggets, it wasn’t cheesesteaks that caught his fancy, he said. It was the city’s red gravy parlors.

“I loved the Itallian spaghetti in Philly, they had so much garlic,” Jones told Billy Penn. After the team won the title, “my wife banned me from going there because of the garlic on my breath!”

On the court, Jones’ tenacity was renowned. His efforts earned him 11 all-defensive selections, making him fifth all time, ahead of other Hall of Famers like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Gary Payton. His no. 24 hangs in the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center.

At 6’9″ and 210 lbs, the forward was “a guy who wasn’t afraid to get up in your jersey,” sportscaster Eddie Doucette said at the Hall of Fame jacket ceremony in Springfield, Mass., on Thursday.

Jones said he earned to be tenacious on the defensive end while playing at the University of North Carolina (he’s a Charlotte native) and early in his career with the Denver Nuggets.

“If a guy was cutting in front of me I’d grab him and hold him rather than give him two easy points,” Jones said. “I felt like for what I wanted to do, I had be aggressive. I remember fouling out in the first half of one game — I got six fouls against the Bulls in the first half at Chicago.”

A ‘gentleman’ who earned respect from refs

Despite that tenacity, the most memorable thing about Jones may have been his attitude. In short, he didn’t have one.

Jones has often been called the gentleman of the NBA. During his career, the soft-spoken devout Christian made sure to never compromise his morals for basketball. That meant talking to officials politely — not berating them, like many players do. That earned him some respect from refs across the league, he said.

When a ball bounced out of bounds into then-Sixers head coach Billy Cunningham’s hands during a home game, Jones blocked the view of the official.

“The official comes up to me and says, ‘Did you touch it?'” Jones recounted. “I said, ‘Yeah,’ [and] immediately started running away because I knew Billy was going to [be upset] and Billy started stomping his heels and saying, ‘Bobby that’s his job!’ Let him make the call!'”

Winning the title in 1983 came as no surprise to Jones. The Sixers had made it to the finals the previous year, and that summer they traded for All-Star center Moses Malone. Jones knew Malone would separate Philly from the rest of the league.

“His intensity at a level on both ends we just didn’t have at the position,” Jones said. “I knew barring injuries that was gonna be our year and it was.”

Jones often reminisces about the victory parade, the Sixers’ most recent. He remembers how in awe he was riding down Broad Street from the Art Museum to Veterans Stadium with his 3- and 5-year-old sons.

“[Winning] one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had, but I think the parade was better than winning the title, honestly,” Jones said. “It was something I’ll never forget. I was blessed to play for Philly.”

bobbyjones-sixersbasketballhof-02
Cam Smith / for Billy Penn

Thanks for reading another Billy Penn story

Seems you’re the kind of person who really digs in. Want more? Sign up for our free morning newsletter, the easy way to stay on top of Philly news.

Thanks for reading Billy Penn

Like the story above, everything we publish is powered by our members. If you enjoy reading, join today: Just $5/month makes more difference than you’d think.

Thanks for reading! We need you.

Reader donations power our newsroom. If Billy Penn helps you feel more connected to Philly, we’d love to count you as a member. Will you join us?

Lock in your support

Reader support powers our newsroom. A monthly membership helps lock it in.

Can we count on you as a Billy Penn sustainer?

Winning the local journalism game

Thank you: Member support powers our newsroom.

Know someone else who might like our work? Invite them to sign up for our free morning newsletter.