They are past their prime now, old men in a business that scorns age. Julius Erving is 35 with tinges of gray popping up in his hair. Bobby Jones is 32 and has to elbow his way into his locker because of the crowds surrounding youngsters Andrew Toney and Charles Barkley.
But the old men of the Philadelphia 76ers aren't through yet. They have their one championship ring, the one from 1983, but each would love another before going off to sit and rock by the fireplace.
That was never more evident than this afternoon in the half-empty Spectrum as the 76ers backed the Washington Bullets to the brink of elimination with a 113-94 victory. Most of the raves and roars went to Toney and Barkley, but if truth be told it was Erving and Jones who made sure there would be no Washington comeback today.
"Sometimes it's tough to keep playing hard on defense because the other guys aren't always doing it," said Jones, who has done this for a living 13 years now, two fewer than Erving. "In college (North Carolina) there was so much discipline that you knew if you overplayed or went for a steal, you'd get help. Here, that's not always true. But today it was. I think when you turn the ball around like we did today it gives everyone a lift and makes all five guys want to play hard on defense."
Pro basketball players love to talk defense but many rarely bother playing it. Jones has always been the exception, the defensive artiste in a league that glamorizes offense.
Today, it was Philadelphia's defense that kept the Bullets from making this a game. All day, Erving and Jones were popping out to attack perimeter passes, helped by the stellar job done inside by Moses Malone against Jeff Ruland.
"Moses did the dirty work inside against Ruland," said Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham, puffing on a cigar so big Erving might have had trouble gripping it. "That helped the perimeter, especially the way Bobby and Doc were playing it, and that got our open court game going."
Open court is a dirty phrase to the Bullets when they play the 76ers. They can't afford a wide-open game. That's what the second half was today and Washington's shooting -- 16 for 50 as opposed to 23 of 39 in the first half -- was a reflection of the pace forced by Philadelphia.
"Concentration is the key for us," said Erving, icing both knees and one ankle as he spoke. "Today, when we got up, we didn't bog down, we kept going right at them. When we get a couple of easy deuces off our defense, that takes a lot out of us and lifts everyone, including the crowd and our bench."
For much of the game the crowd -- a euphemism for 9,612 -- sat and watched. But in the fourth quarter, the old men got it going.
It was still a game, 89-80 Philadelphia, with eight minutes left when the Bullets' Cliff Robinson tossed an ugly brick from the left corner. Jones rebounded and fed Barkley, who found Erving for a layup. After a Jeff Malone basket, Erving hit from 18 feet. Then, after Ruland missed a foul shot, Erving pulled down one of those one-handed rebounds that still leaves 'em gasping. When Toney missed a jumper, Jones went around Greg Ballard as if he were a statue for the weakside rebound and layup that made it 95-83.
Then came the finishing touches: on Washington's next three possessions, Erving caused a turnover with a popout deflection and Jones twice caused turnovers, once by stripping Ruland, once by forcing him to throw a bad pass. After the second one, Jones got the ball to Erving, who was fouled.
He made the free throws to make it 98-84 with 5:25 left and for a brief moment the building sounded full as the crowd stood to salute the old masters.
"I've read articles about them (Erving and Jones) saying that they're aging," Jeff Malone said. "I think they're still both doing pretty well for themselves. They're still playing great."
Erving shot nine for 16 for 23 points; Jones seven of 11 for 16 points, with eight rebounds.
"There have been a lot of questions asked about this team even though we won 58 games," Erving said. "We haven't proven anything yet. This is one round and it isn't over yet. But today, we played the way we're capable and that was encouraging."
Does Erving think about the fact that the clock is running on his career? "Never," he said. "I can still play and that's a blessing."
And Jones? "If we hadn't won a championship I might think about it more," he said. "But we got rid of that extra pressure two years ago. Now, we're playing loose. Right now, this team's got a lot of enthusiasm."
Jones smiled boyishly. "That's a feeling I still really like having."