Bobby Jones: Computer’s Choice, 1977

[I couldn’t resist this article: the computer’s choice for the NBA’s most-complete player. Pretty cool that the 1970s computational gods spit out the name Bobby Jones. Of course, when Jack Ramsay coached the Philadelphia 76ers, he rented time on a mainframe computer, with all those punch cards whirling and sorting, to find the perfect player in the 1970 college draft. Well, whirl-sort, sort-whirl. Presto, Ramsay’s mainframe spit out the name: Al Henry. 

Remember Al Who, as they called him in Philly. Henry was a 6-feet-9 borderline starter at the University of Wisconsin known for his shot blocking ability. If not for the computer (confirming the boffo recommendation of a 76er scout), Henry might have gone much later in the draft. And with good reason. Henry, no-cut contract and all, was basically a one season-and-done pro. 

In the case of Bobby Jones, however, the mainframes were on to someone. He could play with the best of them, and his memory as one of the ultimate team players has stood the test of NBA time. There just aren’t a lot of articles about him on the web “from back in the day.” So, let’s add one right now. This article comes from Pro Basketball, 1977-78, a paperback basketball yearbook, not a magazine. No byline. So, here you go—Bobby Jones: Computer’s Choice.]


As dependent as a computer may be on the human hand which feeds it, the hunk of inanimate machinery often has a mind of its own, so to speak, when it comes to making a decision.

Let people select the NBA’s most valuable player, and the perennial choice is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Ask a fan who is the most-exciting player to watch, and inevitably the answer is Julius Erving. You want to know the scoring champion, all you have to do is look at the statistics.

But ask a computer, which has never so much as seen a game, to determine the most complete player in the league, and you’re letting yourself in for a shock. A computer was asked to do this recently for the 1976-77 season and, digesting only the facts without allowing a degree of emotion to filter in, came up with quite a revelation.

Bobby Jones of the Denver Nuggets, whose common name and unassuming personality stamp him as “Mr. Anonymous” to many fans around the country, was judged to be the “most consistent and most productive” player in the NBA.

Surprised? So was Bobby Jones, who has trouble gaining attention on his own team, which last year included David Thompson, Dan Issel, and Marvin Webster. “Yeah, I was surprised,” admitted the forthright forward. “I didn’t think there was any way I would win.”

Yet, the hard, unemotional facts showed that Jones led Abdul-Jabbar, the runner-up, in five of the seven categories upon which the ratings are based. Abdul-Jabbar, the official MVP for the fifth time in seven years, outdistanced Jones in scoring and rebounding, but Jones was superior in assists, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, steals, and blocked shots.

“I really had my best year as far as overall categories,” Jones said. “And while I was playing less and trying to produce as much as I could in that time, Kareem’s a little more of a floor leader. Even when he’s not scoring, he’s on the court doing other things and building confidence in his team just by being there.”

Perhaps it took a machine to emphasize what a thoroughly complete player Jones is. Although he averaged only 29.5 minutes per game, Jones ranked third on the Nuggets in scoring (15.1 points), second in rebounds (678), first in steals (186), blocked shots (162), and field goal percentage (.570), and fourth in assists (264). In addition, he was the leading vote-getter on the All-Defensive team, all of which prompted Chicago coach Ed Badger to proclaim Jones “the most-complete forward I’ve ever seen.”

“I feel I have an advantage over the others by not playing as much,” Jones said in explanation of his performance. “I’m a little more intense as far as output of energy goes. I know I’m not going to put it in a full game, and I pattern myself to the point where I expend all my energy to the limited time.”

If it still comes as a surprise to you that a guy named Bobby Jones was judged to be the most-complete player in the NBA, a couple of other insights into the big guy might startle you. The first is that he took his award money, every penny of the $10,000 and gave it away. And the second revelation is that Jones has accomplished what he has despite a heart irregularity.

A deeply religious young man from Charlotte, NC, the 26-year-old Jones gave the money awarded to him by Seagram’s Seven Crowns of Sports to various Christian groups and to Brad Hoffman, a former teammate at the University of North Carolina. Hoffman’s wife had given birth to twins prematurely, and their medical bills were costly.

“I just felt first of all that God gave me this talent I have and the ability to play this game for a purpose,” Jones explained self-consciously, “I felt part of the purpose is to win money and give it away. I felt it wasn’t mine to keep. My body is the holy temple of the Lord, and I felt I could not use that money in any way but to help others.”

Jones, who does not touch alcohol, said he wasn’t sure if his actions would have been the same had the money come from other than a whiskey manufacturer. “I decided when I won the monthly award that if I won the whole thing, I would give the money to the Lord, because He gave me the ability,” Jones said. “I really feel like I haven’t had to work that hard for it.”

As for the heart problem, Jones first suspected trouble when he would feel fatigue and experience difficulty breathing during games. Yet, during his first two years with the Nuggets, when they still were in the ABA, he missed only one game.

In the summer of 1976, Jones went to a doctor for extensive tests, at which time the problem was traced to his heart. “At first, they thought I had a loose valve or a two-way valve,” Jones said, “but they couldn’t find one, so they performed other tests. The doctors explained that a heart has one primary pacemaker, and when I exercised, one of the secondary pacemakers was taking over.

“They gave me something to put my heart pacemaker, my natural one, under control so the number of beats can be regulated in a natural way without fluttering, and it would go up naturally as I exercised. All it amounted to was my pacemaker had a slight irregularity.”

Jones emphasizes that there is no real problem with his heart, and this has nothing to do with the fact he sat on the bench an average of 18.5 minutes a game last season. “The heart doesn’t affect my stamina or anything like that,” he said. “Basically, Larry [Brown] was trying to play everybody a little less to get ready for the playoffs. He didn’t want the team to wear down like it had in previous years. We have so much talent, everybody was given a lot of time.”

Indeed, only Thompson and Issel saw more playing time with Denver than Jones, and in Issel’s case, it amounted to only 88 minutes more. “I wasn’t unhappy in my situation,” Jones stated. “I was very satisfied with the time I got. I don’t really care if I get more this season. It’s just a matter of how I can help the team.”

Brown feels one way Jones can help the team is by adding bulk to his 6-feet-9, 212-pound frame, a suggestion Bobby doesn’t particularly cherish. “I might try to put on a few pounds, but that’s the weight I feel comfortable at,” he said. “I have a lot of quickness, and that’s my main concern. He {Brown] feels with more weight, I’ll be more of a factor under the boards. He’s the coach, and he has the interest of the team at heart.”

Although he doesn’t have the flair of other power forwards, such as Erving, George McGinnis, Maurice Lucas, and Larry Kenon, Jones is well respected and deeply feared by rival players. “The guy is one of the best defensive players I’ve ever seen,” marveled Bill Bradley before he retired from the Knicks. “He’s very unselfish, a great competitor, always knows where the ball is, can really rebound, end is a very good passer. In many respects, I’d say he’s their key player.”

Brown said of Jones, “He doesn’t play with the ball like Julius Erving. He sneaks about, and before you know it, he’s got 15 points and rebounds. The average fan may not realize he’s in the game.”

All well and good. But Bobby, don’t you want to be fawned over by the fans? Don’t you feel, well, anonymous? 

“I don’t really know . . . I don’t know or care. I had a lot of publicity from my high school days, mostly locally, some nationally, and it’s not that I’m tired of it, I never really pursued or wanted it. I don’t care about it. My game isn’t really that spectacular. I do the job they’re paying me for.”

With such a common name, a religious background, and a desire only to blend quietly with the general team effort, you get the feeling Bobby Jones might remain Mr. Anonymous even if he gave away $10,000 every week.

Blessedly, there’s this sharp little computer that thinks otherwise.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: