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Moses Malone (1955-2015) - "Chairman of the Boards," and the First High School Player Ever to Go Directly to the Pros


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Moses Malone passed away last week in his sleep at age sixty and was buried yesterday in Houston.  Charles Barkley, an ex teammate was asked by the family to give the eulogy and did so in a moving story, evidently so true to the many basketball players tha knew him.  A portion of the eulogy can be seen here.   Malone mentored Barkley, pushing goading and training with him to get Barkley to shed weight and become the player he ultimately did.

Malone is one of the all time greats.   He ranks very highly among NBA stars for a significant number of career achievements including:

  • points 7th
  • games 5th
  • minutes 6th
  • rebounds 3rd
  • offensive rebounds 1st  (the nba doesn't have stats on this for Russel or Chamberlain) 
  • free throws 2nd

In many lists of the greatest NBA players Moses usually ranks somewhere between 12 and 20th.   Locally Moses played two years for the Bullets in the mid '80's.  During those years the Bullets made the playoffs, probably mostly because of Moses.   He picked up the mantle  from Wes Unseld, as the fundamentally powerful center that dramatically improved the team, mostly doing it in ways that were neither exciting or breathtaking, but key to great basketball.

Where he was great was at being relentless on the boards and specifically the offensive boards.  Between his rebounding and shooting he drew an incredible number of fouls.   On that basis he knew he could compete with any center in history, as he knew he could draw fouls on them.   While he doesn't shine as one of the most exciting players one can see this relentlessness feature in old videos of Moses circa 1978-1984 when he was probably the best center in the game, (having surpassed Jabbar).  You'll see Moses on the boards, rebounding scoring, and getting defenders to foul him.   In an NBA championship series against the Celtics, before Moses was traded to the 76ers Moses had the Celtics big men (Parish and McHale) in constant foul trouble and made a seeming mismatch into a competitive series.

Moses played 2 years for the Bullets, during which I got to watch him a good bit, and before that he played for the 76ers in the same division, thus playing quite a few games at the old Cap Center.  Again I was privileged to see him play.   He simply dominated in the middle, always with a relentless style on the boards and with short simple shots around the basket.

He might well have been the least spectacular NBA star playing at such a high level, that simply added to his team's strength, while not pulling the ball or attention from other players.   That might have been his greatest asset to the team game.  During his hey day he was a 3 time NBA MVP...clearly being identified as having a dominant stretch probably from his mid 20's to the time he hit 30.

According to Bill Simmons in his epic book about the NBA, The Book of Basketball, per Simmons after watching endless old tapes of the NBA, Moses invented the Ass Attack.    While on offense and ostensibly being boxed out, Moses would circle around, go out of bounds, come back in under the basket and ass shove any defensive player out of his way to grab offensive rebounds.  Did he do that??   I don't know.  Haven't watched the tapes.   But boy if I were a coach of a big galoot without offensive skills I'd do what Simmons claimed he did and watch old tapes of Malone.   If Moses did do that, its pure basketball genius and I'd coach up any monster tall man to replicate that strategy.

Big Mo', a solid super star with a dominant streak and one who played locally albeit for two years.   An all time great.

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Big Mo', a solid super star with a dominant streak and one who played locally albeit for two years.   An all time great.

Don't forget, Moses grew up in Petersburg and played for Petersburg High School - this is one reason why he was thisclose to attending the University of Maryland (he also passed away in Norfolk).

Malone was also the very first high school basketball player to go directly to the pros (being drafted by the ABA Utah Stars); if it wasn't for this Supreme Court Decision, we would have seen him playing at the University of Maryland.

I know I said this somewhere else here, but when I was in 7th grade, John Lucas came to speak at my Junior High School (the Driesell children went there), and one of my classmates named Danny Boses - how I remember that, I do not know - asked him if he thought Maryland would sign Moses Malone. Lucas hedged a bit, but ultimately answered yes, he was pretty sure Malone would be at Maryland the following year.

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In early 1979 there was a terrific article about Moses Malone written by Frank Deford for Sports Illustrated and recently reprinted upon Malone's passing.  I vaguely recalled it when seeing it again and was struck by some of the description; specifically that portion that described Malone passing up college and U Maryland and going directly to the pros.  Then and since I've never liked seeing young guys go directly to the pros and either bypassing college or staying for just a year or two.  But that article defined how, where and why it made sense.  I too was a fan of U Md and deeply deeply disappointed when Moses went into the pros.   The article shown a different light on the situation.

By early 1979 Moses had probably surpassed Jabbar as the best center in the game and did redefine the position with his excellence and utter relentlessness on the offensive boards.  The article further describes that skill and value.   During the 1980's specifically I got to see him play a fair amount at the old Cap Center in Landover.   While with the 76ers he was still at his peak.  By the time he played for the Bullets one could see the beginnings of deterioration in his game.  It was a function of a loss of quickness around the basket, not a huge loss but somewhat observable.  At his peak, though, his focus on offensive rebounds, his quickness and understanding simply made his unstoppable.   Clearly one of the all time centers.  Easily of that group the least celebrated.  But at his peak he would have always held his own, simply because he did one thing better than any of the others....and he would pursue it all game long.

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Definitely under appreciated in the big scheme of things.

I got to see Moses play close up and almost actually got to play against him once. When I was a freshman at VCU I roomed with a member of the basketball team. Since I had been a high school player and could (at least to some degree) not embarrass myself on the court with guys who were way better than me, my roomie would sometimes take me along to summer pickup games at VCU's gym. Moses was there quite a bit working out and would sometimes play himself. One day had the team I was playing with actually won the game we were playing Moses was waiting for the next game. Alas we did not. This was when Moses was in his late 20's and at or near the peak of his game.

Moses was really wide, probably actually no more than 6'6" or 6'7". He was also quite soft spoken and seemed to try to avoid the spotlight.

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