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Jones Imparts Wisdom of the Ages : Western Conference: Spur center, 39, has added David Robinson to the list of young stars he has nurtured during his 16-year NBA career.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The oldest player in the NBA says there is only one car he likes, the Mercedes-Benz 560SEL; one preferred breakfast, chili dogs; and one reason he is still with the San Antonio Spurs.

“It’s Be Kind to the Elderly Year,” says 39-year-old Caldwell Jones, who is playing his 16th and final season of pro basketball.

Well, sort of playing. The 6-foot-11, 225-pounder, one of four centers on San Antonio Coach Larry Brown’s roster, has played only six minutes in the series against the Portland Trail Blazers and did not play at all in Game 3.

Says Jones: “It’s a coach’s decision.”

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As long as Jones has been around, he has learned the cliches as well as anyone. But he also has proved himself valuable to Brown because of what he is able to teach David Robinson.

When the Spurs try to even their Western Conference semifinal series against the Trail Blazers at two games apiece this afternoon, Jones will once again be at the end of the bench. But he will have an on-court role, through his advice to Robinson.

“He’s been a tremendous help to me,” Robinson says. “And you know, he’s still a solid defensive player. He’ll tell me things like which side I should lean on against certain guys, when I need to play straight up or switch.

“You know he’s not the biggest guy or the most-muscled guy, but experience means a lot.”

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Jones also isn’t the oldest of the children in the Jones family of McGehee, Ark. Clinton, 48, is the eldest of the seven Jones brothers, and one Jones sister, Clovis, is the shortest sibling at 6-3.

Jones’ parents, 6-3 Caldwell Sr. and 5-11 Cecelia, sent four sons to the NBA. Wilbert played for the Indiana Pacers and Buffalo Braves; Major played with the Houston Rockets and the Detroit Pistons, and Charles is still with the Washington Bullets.

San Antonio is Caldwell’s fifth NBA team, and he also played with three teams in the old American Basketball Assn.

Oliver Jones became the first brother to leave the family farm when he went to Albany State in Georgia, establishing a Jones pipeline to the school. Five more Joneses followed Oliver to Albany, which meant there was a Jones playing center for the Rams for 18 consecutive years.

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Caldwell broke into pro basketball in 1973 with the San Diego Conquistadors of the ABA. When the ABA merged with the NBA, Jones was with the Kentucky Colonels, but he held a “futures” contract with the Philadelphia 76ers, who had drafted him before he chose the ABA.

Thus began a career during which Jones eventually replaced Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the league’s oldest player.

“I guess that means I did something right,” Jones says. “Or else I’m very lucky. Or else someone is watching out for me.”

Jones played six years with the 76ers, who made three trips to the NBA finals during his tenure. From there, he went to Houston, along with the 76ers’ No. 1 pick, in a 1983 trade for Moses Malone.

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Then it was on to the Chicago Bulls in 1984 and to Portland in ’85. The Spurs signed him as a free agent last year.

Jones and Malone are the only active players who played in the ABA. Jones, a member of the NBA’s all-defensive team in 1981-82, is No. 4 in games played with 1,299; third in blocked shots with 4,317, and No. 8 among active players in rebounds with 7,663.

Jones has not changed much over the years, especially when it’s time for dinner.

“The perfect meal for me would be fried chicken, red beans and rice, with greens,” Jones says. “Always has been. I love chili dogs, but only in the morning. That’s breakfast food.”

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Such dietary habits obviously have served him well during his long career, which has made him a mentor to young stars.

“Let’s see, I had Michael Jordan breaking in at Chicago, Ralph Sampson in Houston,” Jones says. “David Robinson here. I tutored Doc (Julius Erving) in Philly. That’s a pretty good team right there.”

There will be no more tutoring because Caldwell plans to be back home in Philadelphia next fall in retirement.

“Caldwell Jones was put here for a purpose,” Brown says. “I was afraid David was coming into the league under pressure, and there would be nobody around to take some of the pressure off him. Caldwell showed him the league.”

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Soon, the show will be over. Jones is considering his options. He probably will do some bowling--he has a 150 average--and play softball, which he learned to love growing up on the farm.

“We used the smokehouse on our farm as the backstop,” Jones says. “That smokehouse caught a lot of balls over the years.”

There might be one other avenue for him, though.

“I’ll probably get into baseball,” he says. “At my age, I can be a DH or pitch like Nolan Ryan. After all, he’s even older than I am.”

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