Ended 21-year career as all-time offensive rebounds leader
POSTED: Sep 14, 2015 1:06 AM ET
A look back at a Hall of Famer, whose work ethic and relentless pursuit of excellence defined his two decade-long career.
Moses Malone could be among the NBA's most taciturn players, yet he produced one of the league's most famous quotes ("Fo', fo', fo'," his prediction of a 1983 Philadelphia 76ers' postseason sweep through what back then was three rounds of best-of-seven series. He missed by only one game.)
He was notorious for missing shots at or near the rim (No. 17 all-time in field goals missed), yet he turned that into a skill to be celebrated, grabbing his own and others' misses until he ranked No. 1 in combined NBA/ABA history in offensive rebounds. Nine times Malone led his league in that category, five more times he ranked second or third. By the end, his total of 7,382 offensive boards dwarfed all others' -- that's 35 percent more than No. 2 man Artis Gilmore grabbed and more than the combined totals of Tim Duncan (3,744) and Karl Malone (3,562).
Moses Malone Career Retrospective
Look back at the career of an NBA legend: Moses Malone.
Malone stands among the NBA's elite, part of a double-Mt. Rushmore -- eight men -- who were named Most Valuable Player three times or more. He even did it while three of the other seven -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and LeBron James -- were active. And yet Malone played for 10 different franchises, nearly as many as those seven other legends combined.
That might contribute to the nagging sense -- with the news that Malone had passed away Sunday at age 60 in Norfolk, Va. -- that the hard-working, 6-foot-10 center wasn't fully appreciated. As impressive as Malone's career and statistics appear in hindsight, from his three MVP trophies, 13 All-Star appearances and eight all-NBA selections to his 29,580 points (seventh all time) and 17,834 rebounds (third), his name often gets mentioned as an afterthought when lists of the game's greatest big men are compiled.
But those who played with or against Malone know full well how formidable and relentless, banging and sweating in close proximity to the paint, he could be.
"You had to be ready to play," Jack Sikma, the great Seattle and Milwaukee center who battled Malone for all 14 of Sikma's NBA seasons, told NBA.com Sunday. "Fierce competitor. It was usually a long night. Probably the most tenacious player I ever competed against.
"He was really quick after he shot it. He'd hit the floor and go get it. He was a great scorer in a bunch of different ways, but in his offensive-rebounding prowess, he stands alone in the time I played."
After Malone powered Philadelphia to its 1983 title, winning the Finals MVP while averaging 26.0 points and 15.8 rebounds in the playoffs and outrebounding Abdul-Jabbar 72-30 in the championship round, coach Billy Cunningham made the big man's value clear to all. "Let's not make believe," said Cunningham, whose roster featured Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, Bobby Jones and Andrew Toney. "The difference from last year was Moses."
As news of Malone's passing rippled through the league at the end of basketball's Hall of Fame weekend -- Malone was a no-brainer, first-year inductee in 2001 -- so did reactions.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver offered up thoughts shared by many throughout the game.
"We are stunned and deeply saddened by the passing of Hall of Famer Moses Malone, an NBA legend gone far too soon," Silver said in a statement. "Known to his legions of fans as the 'Chairman of the Boards,' Moses competed with intensity every time he stepped on the court. With three MVPs and an NBA championship, he was among the most dominant centers ever to play the game and one of the best players in the history of the NBA and the ABA. Even more than his prodigious talent, we will miss his friendship, his generosity, his exuberant personality, and the extraordinary work ethic he brought to the game throughout his 21-year pro career. Our thoughts are with Moses' family and friends during this difficult time."
The Philadelphia 76ers, the team with which Malone won his single NBA championship (1983) and for whom he played twice (1982-86, 1993-94), issued a statement from CEO Scott O'Neil that read in part: "It is difficult to express what his contributions to this organization -- both as a friend and player -- have meant to us, the city of Philadelphia and his faithful fans. Moses holds a special place in our hearts and will forever be remembered as a genuine icon and pillar of the most storied era in the history of Philadelphia 76ers basketball. No one person has ever conveyed more with so few words -- including three of the most iconic in this city's history. His generosity, towering personality and incomparable sense of humor will truly be missed."
The Sixers and the NBA had been through this just weeks ago, with the sudden passing of big-man alumnus Darryl Dawkins on Aug. 27 at age 58.
Houston owner Leslie Alexander recalled Malone's six seasons with the Rockets, with whom he won two of his MVP awards and put up his best NBA numbers (24.0 ppg, 15.0 rpg in 464 appearances). "Everyone in the organization is deeply saddened by the passing of Moses Malone," Alexander said via statement. "Moses was a true gentleman and one of the great Rockets -- and greatest NBA players -- of all time. He will be forever missed. Our deepest condolences go out to his family and friends."
For all of Malone's achievements across 21 seasons and 1,455 games, he generated some of his biggest headlines before he ever scored a point or grabbed a rebound as a professional. Coming out of Petersburg (Va.) High in 1974, Malone became the first prep player to sign a pro contract, inking a deal with the ABA's Utah Stars after being selected in the third round of that league's draft. Turning down the University of Maryland and all other college options, the then-skinny, barely-19-year-old Malone signed a four-year deal but would play just two before the ABA was folded into the NBA.
Dawkins and Bill Willoughby took the pro plunge from high school the next year, but their experiences proved cautionary tales that discouraged further attempts until Kevin Garnett did it in 1995. Malone, however, took the dive and thrived.
In "Loose Balls," Terry Pluto's book about the ABA, longtime Boston Globe writer Bob Ryan shared an early memory of Malone stemming from an exhibition game in Salt Lake City before his first season. "Larry Brown came up to me and said, 'Moses Malone is the greatest offensive rebounder I have ever seen in my life," Ryan told Pluto. "I said, 'Larry, he's just a kid out of high school. You mean to tell me that he's better than Paul Silas.'
"He said, 'Just watch and wait a few years and you tell me who is a better offensive rebounder than Moses Malone.' "
After a season with Utah and a second with the St. Louis Spirits (St. Louis bought to rights to four players from the financially strapped Stars), Malone entered the NBA via a dispersal draft pick to Portland in 1976. But the Blazers had Bill Walton and had acquired fellow ABA refugee Maurice Lucas, so they traded Malone to Buffalo. After just two games there, the 21-year-old was moved to Houston for two future draft picks.
Malone was an All-Star five times in his sixth Rockets seasons and led the league in rebounding in 1978-79 to win his first MVP award. He averaged 31.1 points and 14.7 rebounds to win his second in 1981-82, and in between led Houston to the 1981 Finals.
A free agent after his second MVP year, during which he was runner-up to George Gervin for the league's scoring title, Malone signed with the Sixers. Adapting to the talent around him, his scoring average dipped to 24.5 ppg, but his impact was greater than ever. He became the first player in all four major American sports leagues to win back-to-back MVPs with different teams (MLB's Barry Bonds later achieved that).
In his first stint in Philadelphia, Malone averaged 21.0 points and 12.0 rebounds in 357 regular-season games. He was an All-Star each season and, with his rebounding title in 1984-85, he became the first player in NBA history to lead the league in that category for five consecutive seasons. He also shot 3,203 free throws during his time with the Sixers, on his way to second all-time in NBA/ABA history in both free throws made (9,018) and attempted (11,864).
Traded after the 1985-86 season with plenty of tread left on his tires, Malone spent his 11th NBA season and 13th in the pros with Washington. He averaged 24.1 points and 11.3 rebounds, ranking in the league's top 10 in both categories. Over the final nine seasons of Malone's career -- from age 31 to 39 -- he averaged 16.2 points and 9.3 boards in 561 games for five teams. He did, however, appear in only 18 playoff games out of his career total of 100.
Upon learning of his selection to the Hall of Fame in 2001, Malone sold himself a bit short on talent but echoed what anyone who saw him play never forgot. "I never considered myself a great player," Malone said. "I considered myself a hard worker."
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