Moses Malone, first of his name

Three MVPs, a member of the Hall of Fame and banished to oblivion. One of the most underrated players in history, with the era and last name as convictions.


Time can be cruel. Above all, if you go ahead, if you are one step ahead. Then, pissed off, he tries to hide you in the last recess of his dimension. Pass sentence and condemn you to oblivion. What fault would Malone have for his genius. To anticipate everyone, to jump at the right time. An intelligent center (much to the dismay of some), a close friend of spaces and with an impossibly better calibrated counter to wrap the ball after contact with the backboard and the ring. His only mistake was standing out too early. He cultivated the soil, along with Magic, Bird and so many others like him, so that the modern NBA, the best league in the world, would flourish. An explosion as positive as it is irreverent with those who were overshadowed. Then the other Malone, Karl, came to finish trampling him. To condemn him to disappear from the imagination of the youngest. 3 MVP, 12 All Star NBA, 1 All Star ABA, 6 seasons of rebound leadership and an absolute monopoly on offense that rarely make a dent in present memory.

2003 is a year recorded as a commandment on the board in the memory of any fan of the NBA and basketball in general. Michael Jordan was definitively saying goodbye to the competition and, after him, a very young LeBron James arrived. Whims of the narrative. He did it accompanied by one of the best litters in history (Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh ...), but still standing out. For many reasons. Among them, the fact of coming directly from the institute. He was 18 years old, but he had already signed a 90 million contract with Nike and made the cover of Sports Illustrated. The biggest hype in the history of the competition, when it was not yet mainstream. Without so much noise, before him, other legends had already done it, such as Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant or Tracy McGrady. All of them, touched by a wand that Moses Malone carried precociously.

"I think they are taking advantage of Moses," said Lefty Driesell when he learned of Moses' arrival in the ABA, professional basketball. It was the summer of 1974 and Driesell, coach of the University of Maryland, was one year old after the gigantic steps of Malone, a 19-year-old center who, at 12, was already 192 centimeters. He had everything to stand out early on, although his first contact with basketball was later than usual. Over low heat, with fine irony. He was not curious about the sport until after he was thirteen, but once he touched the ball, he no longer let it go, rethinking Newton's postulates and opposing that sweat that smells of the street, the neighborhood, basketball: the effort no longer he would give up, not even that strange attraction he felt for the ball. Or the ball towards him, what else will it give. As he explains in several interviews, the hours of his following months would be covered by rings, nets and boards, only interrupted by the wear of shoes that he could rarely change. His basketball appetite became insatiable and he even played against inmates at a nearby prison. "That's where I went to college," he said, in statements collected by the NBA's own page.

Moses Malone grew up far from idyllic. At night, when it was not cool, he climbed on the roof of the farm where he lived. Naive, he gazed at the stars, not knowing that he would end up playing with them. Behind him, there was a dilapidated building, with holes for windows and a lighting system that failed more than necessary. "They were ruined. The house didn't even have any paint. The whole neighborhood was like that, extremely poor," explained Larry Creger, who would end up taking Malone to the Utah Stars, to sports writer Terry Pluto, who picks up the quote in the book Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association.

Through those same four walls, to call them in some way, one scout after another would pass. The articles of the time place at 300 the university offers that the young Malone would come to have on the table. Not all basketball, some would advise baseball as the fastest way out of poverty. A folly that would have acquired dimensions as legendary as the player himself.

Each of them would be justified. Moses had led his hometown high school, Petersburg High School, to two consecutive state championships; adding, in one of them, 50 victories without interruption. His mother, Mary Malone, who struggled for much of her life with serious health problems, and who had to evict her husband from home for alcoholism, would accompany him in most cases. They were very close, they lived alone and mutual support was the only thing they had. Mery, in a constant struggle to stay on her feet while financially nurturing the household, never allowed her son to have his hands dirty. "I did not like the idea that he had to go to work from a young age. He knew how difficult it is to get up in the morning and I did not want him to do it too," he explained, in 1979, to the journalist Frank DeFord.

In an interview for Playboy, Malone remembered that time as the exception to the rule. Like the illusion of the child that never was. "Pressure? Pressure where? It was fun! I traveled every time I had a break. I visited at least 26 universities. I grew up thinking that Petersburg was the best part of the world; but when I started visiting other states, I realized that Petersburg was the only part of the world that I had seen. It did not change my feeling about Petersburg, but things were very different on the West Coast, in the Southwest, in Hawaii, everywhere, "the magazine reports. The world was open to his eyes. Whole. With all its possibilities and dangers.

Maryland was chosen, albeit for a short time. It was a good option, the one that allowed him to stay closer to his mother; but money, a hook for anyone, was a blessed trap in his circumstances. He walked in classrooms for three days, until he got the call from the Utah Stars. It had suited Larry Creger. He had convinced history: he was 19 years old and he was heading to the ABA, to professional basketball, without having made his debut in the university league. Like LeBron, like Kobe, like Garnett, but much earlier.

From the ABA to the NBA: weaving the history of the competition

In 1967, the Philadelphia 76ers broke with the greatest temporal hegemony in the history of the NBA: after eight consecutive rings, the Celtics of Bill Russel, John Havlicek, KC Jones and company hammered knee. The whimsical script of the best league in the world would like that, 16 years later, the Sixers themselves were the executioners of the iron duopoly between Boston and Lakers; but it still needs to be done.As Bill Russell conceded his first, and only, loss in an NBA Finals, businessman Dennys Murphy ventured into creating a new basketball league: the American Basketball Association (ABA). The what was clear and the how, too: to compete with the NBA for the monopoly of professional basketball through a more carefree game, subjected to the tyranny of the show and the packaging. "Long live showtime!" Does it ring a bell? The ABA, despite its disastrous decline in the attempt, would significantly influence the NBA we know today. We owe her the three-point line (the NBA adopted it in 1979) or the dunk contests (they didn't reach the NBA until 1984). Things of destiny, or not, Julius Erving, Dr. J, would take the first victory in the competition of flights and crushing.

Here came Malone, with a million dollars under his arm and a five-year contract that, even if he had wanted, he could not have respected: it was 1974 and the ABA only had two more years to live. Ideal for someone whose stages always burned.

In his first and only season with the Stars, he averaged 18.8 points, 14.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. At 19 years old and less than 100 kilos, hardly anyone could shade him under the hoop. As tall as he is special, he slipped into the ideal rookie quintet and began to write a basketball chapter of which he is the author, but of which he also signs the prologue and the epilogue: "When we hired him we knew he had a lot of talent, but not as to do what he is doing now. He has the ability to be the best offensive rebounder in history, "Bucky Buckwalker, coach and visionary, would say back then. He finished the season as the leader in offensive rebounds and fifth in the total standings.

From Utah he moved to Saint Louis, where he would only play half a season. Rare year. For all. In the Spirits, his benefits would drop significantly, going to 14.3 + 9.6 + 0.7, playing power forward and in a league that was drowning in debt. New York Nets, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs were exiled to the NBA, in a kind of merger with the ABA and, along with these franchises, Rick Barry, David Thompson, George Gervin, Artis Gilmore, Connie Hawkins, Billy Cunningham, Spencer Haywood or Doug Moe. A new constellation was beginning to orbit. Some returned to what had been their first home, others stepped into the NBA for the first time. Enter the seconds, Erving and Malone.

Doctor J would land "straight" on the Sixers. The quotes, the product of a mess that marked the history of the Knicks forever. The New York franchise would reject him as a piece of compensation for a lawsuit against the Nets, who were asking $ 4.8 million for one, in marketing terms, 'unfair competition' in the Big Apple. The Knicks, to no one's surprise, were wrong and the Sixers, as a last-minute guest, took their services, remunerating the Knicks and freeing the player from an uncompromising Nets with his salary. The 76ers already had their first piece for the assault. The second, Malone, would take five more years to arrive.

Houston would be his "first" abode in an NBA that began its way to the Olympus of the leagues, but was still moving on the earth. Filled with mud, too. New quotes, new farce. Moses, now 21, would be selected by the Portland Trail Blazers in fifth position. It was not a regular Draft, but rather an event intended exclusively for ABA players who had been released. Maurice Lucas and Bill Walton would close the doors to him in Oregon, later conquering the ring and, quickly, he would be traded to the Buffalo Braves (now the Los Angeles Clippers; at that time, based in New York). Testimonial. After two games and no minutes, he would finally reach the Rockets, where he would meet again with Tim Nissalke, who had replaced Buckwalker during the season in Utah. "He was as fast as lightning and seemed to know where each rebound was going. I saw a playoff game in his rookie season where he captured 38 rebounds, 23 of them from the offensive glass," he would later say about his first stage with Moses.

With such a precedent, trust could not be less than blind. Feeling that would take little time to spread to the rest of the team, which had players of the stature of John Lucas, Mike Newlin and Rudy Tomjanovich; all of them, subscribed to double digit nights. Also Calvin Murphy, who would perfectly represent what the arrival of Malone to the team meant. "Coach," Murphy complained to Nissalke after Moses arrived, "you've created a monster. Is this guy going to be our star?" "I think he's a star," he would rectify three games later.

In Houston, Malone began his love affair with the All Star. He would make his debut in the All-Star game in his second season and would not abandon it until 1988-89, wearing the Atlanta jersey. All of them, added to the one he had already achieved in his rookie season in the ABA, would result in 13 participations, the same as Wilt Chamberlain or Bob Cousy; one more than Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, his black beasts. In the results and in the history.

The pre-80 NBA was a bleak desert. It had been imposed on the ABA, but it was by no means a part of everyday American life. It is known history. Economically, it stood on the edge of an insurmountable precipice, drugs were so or more present among the players that society and televisions did not see it as a profitable product. According to a study in Sports Illustrated magazine, between 1977 and 1978 you had to go down to position 442 of the most watched programs to find an NBA game. Then came the saving rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, as timely as it was irreverent with those who had been paving the way and their peers. Pete Maravich, Walt Frazier, Elvin Hayes, Bill Wlaton or Bob McAdoo were overshadowed for later memoirs. Moses Malone, also.

In his first season in Texas, he would end up averaging the same points as rebounds: 13.5 and 13.4, respectively. In his second, a fracture in his right foot would only allow him to play 59 games and, in his third, he would be MVP, at 23 years old, the youngest up to that moment and only one year older than Derrick Rose, the most precocious ever. . 24.8 points and 17.6 rebounds that would mark the unlikely parameters in which he was going to move during the next few years and that left Houston on the brink of glory in the 80-81, a Larry Bird of Larry O'Brien , one step away from a crown that would not find its first rest until thirteen years later, in Hakeem Olajuwon.

The tireless Gary Bender and Bill Russell himself were in charge of giving voice to the feat. The Rockets, led by Del Harris, reached the playoffs with a ridiculous 40-42 record, the worst in years for a qualifier, and faced the reigning champions Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. Kareem's Lakers, Jamaal Wilkes, Norm Nixon and a sophomore named Magic Jhonson, who arrived after his exhibition in the previous Finals, but after having missed much of the season due to injury. Three-game eliminator solved by the minimum advantage, 31.3 average points and 17.7 rebounds for Malone and momentum to overcome San Antonio and Kansas City. No Goliath could with David, until Bird arrived. Defeat, victory, defeat, victory ... defeat and defeat. With 27 points, Larry gave the final thrust, faithfully accompanied by Robert Parish and, anecdotally, guided by a Cedric Maxwell who would end up taking the MVP of the Finals. The duopoly took the first round.

“Fo, fo, fo,” says the legend

When Moses dodged college, it sparked a debate that continues to this day. In 2005, the NBA decreed a minimum age to be able to go to the Draft, to be part of professional basketball: no one under the age of 19 could make the leap. A measure full of controversy, which was intended to prevent arrival in the league without the toll of higher education. The part of the regulation dedicated to international players could not make its intentions clearer: between graduation from high school and nomination to the Draft, players must allow at least one year to pass. In 2018, there were rumors of lowering the restriction to 18; in 2019, with the "Zion phenomenon", it increased. At the moment, it remains.On the other hand, and for the most ill-thought-out or economists, it is also possible that the reason for being is that the NCAA, the university league, is the source of a huge amount of income. Players, without considering professionals, generate a lot and receive (almost) nothing. In 2015, according to USA Today data collected by El Independiente, 24 universities received more than 100 million euros; In 2011, the NCAA sold the rights to the sports broadcasts to CBS and Turner for $ 10.8 billion. Of all this, those who dribble the ball see nothing; Imagine if, as in the NBA, they received 49% of the amount ... After the last decision of the NCAA board of directors, which will allow its athletes to obtain benefits through the image, the situation changes; but it is still far from professional sports in its essence.

Currently, ratio B is even more feasible than A; But the truth is, when Malone took the shortcut, the A was heavy. "Malone is not particularly expressive, in fact, in his deep voice, impregnated by the slang of his impoverished southern subculture, the words are confusing," DeFord would write when speaking of the young center. Moses would not be a great student. Loneliness and the conditions of life would push him towards a silence that would oxidize his words, selected with a dropper and emitted in fits and starts. A fact that would cost him the nickname "Mumbles" Malone, signed by a Utah radio journalist, and that would make his threat fall into mockery before the 1983 playoffs, already with the Sixers jersey. "Four, four, four" he would say, referring to the fact that the series would be counted by full victories; "Fo, fo, fo", remained in the imagination of the public, due to his peculiar accent. "He believed in college for 99 percent of the players in the country, but not for Moses. What was he better prepared for, to sit in a class or to play basketball? Also, what did his family need most, Moses? sitting down or any immediate financial help? "Larry Creger would declare over the years.

Malone came to Philadephia in the 1982-83 season, being twice MVP and after a season of 31.1 points and 14.7 rebounds. There, he would "meet again" with an Erving bent on bringing a ring back to Philadephia. The last, the work of Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Chet Walker and Billy Cunningham was already far behind (1966-67) and, the previous one, had still been baptized under the water of Dolph Schayes' Syracuse Nationals. It was time to renew. He would fail alongside Doug Collins, Lloyd B. Free and George McGinnis; but he would find in Moses, Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney what he needed. Above all, Moses, whose prediction, later nuanced, would only be invalidated by a lone loss to the Bucks. "I am not saying that we are going to sweep everyone in four games, I am just saying that, if we have an idea of winning the championship, the best we can do is win it as quickly as we can," he would clarify later.33,333,365 victories in the regular season (the second best mark in franchise history) backed them. Malone and his 24.5 points and 15.3 rebounds, too. "I understood that he was the man and when he came to Philadelphia, he came to win," Billy Cunningham, coach and ring liaison, would recall over the years. "He gave us what we needed to make the leap in quality. We played with an advantage, we had the best pivot," would recall Doctor J. Big words. Above all, if one takes into account that, in Los Angeles, one of the players considered in the shortlist for the best of all time: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. On this occasion, Malone was to be his kryptonite.

The Lakers reached the 1983 Finals after overwhelming Portland (4-1) and San Antonio (4-2); the Sixers, with Malone's "advice" almost pristine, 4-0 to New York and 4-1 to Milwaukee. Nothing suggested that Moses' threat would go that far, until the ball began to bounce. It was revenge. A back to back in the Finals that was not seen since 68-69, between the Lakers themselves and Boston. Present and intergenerational rupture. Carat lunge, albeit perennial, to the greatest rivalry in history.

The fourth game between Lakers and Sixers would be the one chosen by Canal + to welcome the year 1999. "Philadelphia had a very important novelty in that season, which was that player," journalist Antoni Daimiel would say, while the cameras focused on Moses . The Lakers, against the ropes and with the losses of Norm Nixon (he averaged 19 points in those playoffs), McAdoo and James Worthy would sink in the fourth quarter, to the rhythm of lost jumps and denied spaces. Up to 23 rebounds would capture Malone at The Forum. Ten of them in the fourth act, which was 11 points down. "We gave them life and then we took it from them," Erving rejoiced. Moses, MVP of the Finals and of the season (the only player to get two in a row on different teams), would finish the series with 25.8 points, 18 rebounds and 1.5 blocks, absorbing the magic of Jhonson, directing traffic in the heights, with many prohibitions for Kareem, and with a 4-0 burned. Literally. "Fo, fi, fo" (four, five, four), would be inscribed on the inside of their rings.

In 1984, a certain Charles Barkley landed in Philly. He would arrive after being selected in fifth place in the Draft and would leave averaging 23.1 points and 11.1 rebounds, being an MVP project (he would get it the following season in Phoenix) molded by Moses. "I have not found any basketball player who has worked as much on this aspect of the game as he has. If there was an offensive rebound, Moses would go and take it. Always impeccable," recalls Barkley on the Vintage NBA program.

"El Gordo", nicknamed this way because of his unmistakable physiognomy, would change the chip at the blow, and blows, of Moses. He went from averaging 14 points and 8.6 rebounds, in his rookie season, to 20 and 12.8, respectively, in that of sophomore. "Until before that (Malone), I hadn't worked hard. He made me a warrior," he confesses. From the worn sneakers to his three MVPs, the work never left Malone. Especially, the one who usually likes the least: "Nobody wants to take the blows. They don't want the hardest. You have young children who look at high school kids, high school kids who look at university students and they who look at professionals. They all imitate what you see, and there are not many players who want to do the job there (in the zone). One center has to do everything. He has to worry about the other inside, the forwards and the outside. The other positions can only worry about his man , but the center has to do all the dirty work, "Moses would point out in his lesson book.

Moses Malone was recognized as the NBA's Top Rebounder six times, five of them in a row. 16,212 saves after contact with the board make him the fifth-highest rebounder in the history of the competition, behind only Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Elvin Hayes. Far ahead of Dannis Rodman (11,954), who, years later, would take to the chair the discipline that Malone understood as a carefree art. "I just sat down and tried to analyze and react. I was really paying attention to the angle of the ball and the trajectory it was following. You had Larry Bird, who was going to give his shots a lot of curve. Magic, who could give it effect too. When Michael (Jordan) was shooting, I would position myself in a certain way. Now, the ball hits the hoop and goes over there. I aim it, so I have to go to that side. Boom, now here. Now to the other side. side. Boom, then to the one over there. I point out that now here. So I basically started to learn how to position myself so I could get hold of the ball, "explains" the worm "in The Last Dance. Moses would simplify it much more: "I get up and go to the board."His was a quasi-natural relationship. Especially when it comes to the offensive side, where he occupies the first position: with 7,382 rebounds, he leads anyone in an insulting way. Next on the list is Artis Gilmore, with 4,816. Beyond the total, he is the player with the best average in a career (5.1), also in a season (7.2 in 1978-79), the one who achieved the highest level in a course (587 in 1978 -79) or the one who holds the record in a single match (21). "The offensive rebound is the hardest part of basketball. In my opinion, Moses is the best offensive rebounder there has been in this sport," said Red Auerbach. The data, from the side of the second most awarded coach in history; the visual, of an idiosyncrasy rarely seen throughout history. His basketball could be described. Wild, out of control, part of that chaos that tends to order, that hides patterns in the midst of the indecipherable. A fractal. He jumped more than anyone and failed like few others, at the same time that the opposite happened. The simplest simplicity is the one that usually hides, behind the curtain, the most complex complexity.

Although he would deny it, many claimed that Malone missed his shots on purpose, knowing that the rebound would be his. He used it as a resource to advance until he found a comfortable shooting position. And it would. With 27,409 points, he is the ninth leading scorer in NBA history. In large part, thanks to his academic commitment to shooting from the personnel line: he knew that his trips would be many and he did not stop until they became insurance. He finished his career with a 76% success rate on free throws, going from 61.2% in his second professional season to 83.1% in 1990-91, in Atlanta. All this makes him, along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Elvin Hayes, one of the only four NBA players who have accumulated more than 25,000 points and 15,000 rebounds during their careers.

"Mumbles" Malone was left behind to make way for "The Chairman of the Boards", the boss of the boards. He had sold his soul to Cronos: he was in the right position when the clock handles were on the dot, not a second too much, not too much. "You can spend all your time out of the zone, the important thing is that when the ball falls it is yours," explains Charles Barkley. Lesson Learned.

With your permission, Karl

"It is with a deep sense of sadness that the Sixers family mourns the sudden loss of Moses Malone. It is difficult to express what his contributions to this organization, both as a friend and as a player, have meant to us, the city. of Philadelphia and its loyal fans. Moses holds a special place in our hearts and will always be remembered as a genuine icon and pillar of the most storied era in Philadelphia 76ers basketball history. No one has conveyed more in so few words, including three of the most iconic in the history of this city. We will miss his generosity, imposing personality and incomparable sense of humor. We will keep his family in our thoughts and prayers and when we are reminded once again of the preciousness of life. " . On September 13, 2015, in a Virginia hotel, Moses Malone was leaving this world. According to the forensic report, due to a cardiovascular disease that, days ago, had already warned him. This was informed by Kevin Vergara, a close friend of the player, to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. That same day, he was scheduled to participate in a charity golf tournament; but, after not showing up for breakfast or answering calls, his body would be found, lifeless, in his room.

Gone were 21 seasons of basketball at the highest level. After Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Milwaukee and San Antonio would arrive. A career of 20.3 average points and 12.3 rebounds spoiled by the end of his marriage, with Alfreda Gil, between restraining orders and accusations of adultery and threats. The facts would never be clarified, but they would not deprive him of the affection of his children: "He taught us to work hard and respect people, to love his family and to always do the right thing. He was a good person. He was always there to help. to the people. He cared about the people who had less than him, "one of his two sons, Moses Malone Jr., would declare after his death.

Now, his 24 hangs from the Toyota Center and his 2 from Wells Fargo, along with Allen Iverson's 3, Chamberlain's 13, Cunningham's 32, Barkley's 34 or his beloved Erving's 6. "He was not a man of many words," the latter began in 2001, when Malone was inducted into the Hall of Fame, "but behind those eyes was a brilliant mind. He was ahead of everyone for most of the time. time. "

Up to the time itself. He won the game and he got mad at him. Neither his premature death (at age 60) nor the endless stream of personal recognitions (remember, 3 MVP, 12 All Star NBA, 1 All Star ABA, 6 years leader in rebounds ... in addition to 8 All NBA or 2 All Defensive ) nor its inclusion, in 1996, among the 50 best players in the history of the NBA (selected for the 50th anniversary of the competition). Not even his last shot as a player, one-handed, over the horn and from his own field, magnified a legend whose echo in eternity does not correlate with his weight. From time to time, it appears, as in Fred VanVleet's 54 points against the Orlando Magic, a mark that surpassed the maximum of annotation of an undrafted player, established by Moses in 1982 (53); but his name is not as common as that of others. And his last name, which resonates more frequently, is monopolized by Karl, also the Hall of Fame and 2 times MVP of Utah. Another legendary player, who deserves all the recognitions he has received and for having ... but who is second in his lineage. At a minimum, in lineage chronology.

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