Moses Malone

23 Mar 1955
13 Sep 2015
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Moses Eugene Malone (March 23, 1955 – September 13, 2015) was an American basketball player who played in both the American Basketball Association (ABA) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) from 1974 through 1995. He played center and is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

A three-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a member of the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team and ABA All-Time Team, Malone went straight from Petersburg High School in Virginia to a 21-year career in professional basketball. By the time Malone retired after 19 seasons in the NBA he was the last former ABA player active and held numerous distinctions in both leagues, including a championship ring and NBA finals MVP trophy won with the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers. A prolific offensive rebounder, he was nicknamed “Chairman of the Boards”.

Malone was an only child, raised alone by his mother, Mary, who had dropped out of school after finishing the fifth grade. She kicked her husband out when Moses was two years old due to his alcohol use.

Malone attended Petersburg High School in Petersburg, Virginia. Playing for the basketball team, Petersburg went undefeated in his final two years, winning the state championship in both years. Malone signed a letter of intent to play for the University of Maryland. However, he was drafted in the third round of the 1974 ABA Draft by the Utah Stars, and jumped straight from high school into the professional leagues, joining a small number of players to have done so at that point.

Malone began his professional career with the Utah Stars in the 1974–75 season, after signing a five-year contract worth $1 million. The Stars folded after the season, and Malone played for the ABA’s Spirits of St. Louis in the 1975–76 season. In two seasons in the ABA, Malone averaged 17.2 points and 12.9 rebounds per game.

The ABA-NBA merger occurred after the 1975–76 season, but the Spirits of St. Louis were not among the ABA teams chosen to join the NBA. Malone had already been selected by the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz in a December 1975 pre-merger draft for ABA players of undergraduate age. However, the NBA let them place Malone into the 1976 ABA dispersal draft pool in exchange for the return of their first-round draft pick in 1977, which they used to trade for Gail Goodrich. In the 1976 dispersal draft, held for the remaining ABA players, Malone was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the fifth overall pick in the draft. The 21-year-old center was impressive in the pre-season, but ended up never playing a regular-season game for the Blazers. The Blazers had also acquired power forward Maurice Lucas in the draft. They believed they had acquired two players with similar skill sets. Concerns over the team’s salary costs compelled them to choose one and release the other. Portland traded Malone to the Buffalo Braves prior to the first game of the 1976–77 season for a first-round draft choice in the 1978 draft. After two games with Buffalo, he was traded again to the Houston Rockets in exchange for two future first-round draft choices.

In Houston, Malone was reunited with coach Tom Nissalke, who had coached him in his rookie season with the ABA’s Utah Stars. With the Rockets, Malone established himself immediately as one of the NBA’s most ferocious rebounders, particularly on the offensive end. He appeared in 82 games overall for both Buffalo and Houston and finished with averages of 13.2 points and 13.1 rebounds per game. He ranked third in the NBA in rebounding behind Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and established a new NBA record for offensive rebounds in a season, with 437, breaking Paul Silas’ old mark of 365. (Malone would break his own record two years later.) Malone also ranked seventh in the league in blocked shots, with 2.21 per game. He delivered in the playoffs, helping the Rockets to the Eastern Conference Finals, which they lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in six games. Malone averaged 18.8 points and 16.9 rebounds in 12 playoff games. He set an NBA Playoff record with 15 offensive rebounds in an overtime victory against the Washington Bullets in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Malone’s second NBA season ended prematurely when he suffered a stress fracture in his right foot and missed the Rockets’ final 23 games. He still led the NBA in total offensive rebounds (380) and finished second in rebounding average (15.0 rpg) behind Leonard “Truck” Robinson (15.7). Malone made the first of what would be 12 consecutive All-Star Game appearances in 1978, the year that would have been his senior season had he chosen to play college basketball. His scoring improved to 19.4 points per game, which was third on the team behind Calvin Murphy (25.6) and Rudy Tomjanovich (21.5). During Malone’s first two seasons in Houston, he wore jersey #21. In his breakout season of 1979, he switched to the now familiar #24, the number eventually retired by the Rockets.

Beginning the 1978–79 season at only age 23, Malone went on to win the NBA Most Valuable Player Award after averaging 24.8 points and a career-high 17.6 rebounds. Having gained 15 pounds (6.8 kg) in the offseason to weigh in at 235 pounds (107 kg), he led the league in rebounding and established the NBA’s all-time record for offensive rebounds in a season, with 587.

Malone also finished fifth in the NBA in scoring and shot a career-best .540 from the field. He was named to the All-NBA First Team and the NBA All-Defensive Second Team and started at center for the East squad in the 1979 NBA All-Star Game. He notched the best single-game rebounding performance of his career when he hauled in 37 boards against the New Orleans Jazz on February 9. Houston advanced to the NBA Playoffs but was swept in two opening-round games by the Atlanta Hawks. Malone totaled 49 points and 41 rebounds in the two games. Malone averaged 25.8 points and 14.5 rebounds, ranking fifth in the league in scoring and second to Swen Nater (15.0 rpg) in rebounding. He made his third straight All-Star appearance—his second straight as a starter—and was named to the All-NBA Second Team at season’s end. Malone helped the Rockets defeat the San Antonio Spurs in a best-of-three first-round playoff series. He scored 37 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in the third and deciding game, leading Houston to a 141–120 victory. The Rockets were then swept by the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Malone returned to the top of the NBA’s rebounding charts, beginning a record string of five consecutive seasons leading the league. He grabbed 14.8 rebounds per game in 80 appearances, earning his second straight berth on the All-NBA Second Team. An All-Star for the fourth consecutive season, Malone (27.8 ppg) also finished runner-up to Adrian Dantley (30.7) for the league’s scoring title. He exploded for 51 points in a March 11 game against the Golden State Warriors, hitting 20 of 28 field goals and 11 of 12 free throws. It was the third-highest single-game effort in Rockets history up to that time, behind Calvin Murphy’s 57 points and Elvin Hayes’s 54.

Now in the Midwest Division, Houston finished tied with the Kansas City Kings for second place with a 40–42 record. The Rockets, energized by Malone’s 26.8 points and 14.5 rebounds per game during the playoffs, advanced all the way to the NBA Finals. They lost in six games to the Boston Celtics, who were led by second-year forward Larry Bird. Malone averaged 31.1 points and 14.7 rebounds the next year and won his second of three NBA Most Valuable Player Awards. Malone led the league in rebounding for a second straight season and finished runner-up to George Gervin (32.3 ppg) for the league’s scoring title. Malone led the NBA in minutes played (3,398, 42.0 per game) and offensive rebounds (558). At season’s end, he was named to the All-NBA First Team for the second time in his six-year career. Malone’s scoring average would stand as a career high, as would the 53 points he scored against the San Diego Clippers on February 2. He also broke his own NBA record with 21 offensive rebounds in a game against the Seattle SuperSonics.

In Malone’s last season in Houston, the Rockets followed an NBA Finals appearance in 1981 with a first-round playoff exit in 1982. Despite 24.0 points and 17.0 rebounds per game from Malone, Houston lost to Seattle in three games.

The free agent Malone signed an offer sheet of six-years for $13.2 million with Philadelphia on September 2, 1982. The 76ers were coming off a six-game loss in the Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, whose center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, dominated their big-man duo of Darryl Dawkins and Caldwell Jones. The Rockets were changing ownership, and paying Malone $2 million a year did not fit their plans. Houston exercised its right of first refusal and matched the offer, only to trade Malone to the 76ers on September 15 for Jones and their 1983 first-round draft choice. With Julius Erving, Andrew Toney, Maurice Cheeks and Bobby Jones, the Sixers won the NBA championship—and the second straight MVP Award for Malone, becoming the only NBA player ever to win the MVP award in consecutive seasons with two different teams, a feat only matched by Barry Bonds (1992–93) in the four major sports.

Now in his seventh season of professional basketball (fifth in the NBA), Malone led the league in rebounding (15.3 rpg) for a third consecutive year. With Erving (21.4 ppg) and Toney (19.7) making strong scoring contributions, Malone’s average dipped to 24.5 points per game, still good enough for fifth in the NBA. An All-Star for a sixth straight time, Malone made the All-NBA First Team and the NBA All-Defensive First Team at season’s end. The 76ers lost only one postseason contest en route to the league championship, concluding their title run with a four-game sweep of the Lakers in the 1983 NBA Finals.Malone averaged 26.0 points and 15.8 rebounds in 13 postseason games and was named Finals MVP, having rebounded Abdul-Jabbar 72–30 in the series. It was also around this time that Malone began to tutor Hakeem Olajuwon, passing on the torch to the future Rockets superstar.

His head coach Billy Cunningham said, “Let’s not make believe. The difference from last year was Moses.” Before the playoffs began, reporters asked him how well the 76ers would do. Malone famously said “fo’, fo’, fo'” (four, four, four)—predicting a four-game sweep in each of the playoffs three rounds. As it turned out, the Sixers only lost one playoff game (Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Bucks) en route to making Malone a world champion for the first time, sweeping the Knicks and Lakers along the way. This led some to rephrase Malone’s prediction as “fo’, fi’, fo'” (four, five, four). Indeed, the inside of that year’s championship ring was inscribed with “fo’ fi’ fo”. The 76ers’ 12–1 record in the playoffs became the second-most-dominant playoff run in NBA history (the 2001 Lakers went 15–1 in the extended four-round playoff set-up).

In the 1983–84 season Malone led the league in rebounding for a fourth straight season and fifth overall, finishing with 13.4 per game. Ankle injuries limited him to 71 games that season, his lowest number of appearances since 1977–78. Still, he posted a 22.7 scoring average in his second season with the Sixers and was named to the All-NBA Second Team at year’s end. Malone was selected to play in the NBA All-Star Game for a seventh consecutive year but missed the game because of his aching ankle. He averaged 21.4 points and 13.8 rebounds in five postseason games, but Philadelphia suffered a first-round playoff upset at the hands of the New Jersey Nets.

The following season, Malone finished 1984–85 with an average of 13.1 rebounds per game, becoming the first player in NBA history to lead the league in rebounding for five consecutive seasons. Wilt Chamberlain had held the previous record with two separate stretches of four straight titles in the 1960s. An All-Star for the eighth time, Malone chalked up 24.6 points per game (ninth in the NBA) and earned his fourth selection to the All-NBA First Team. He finished third in the balloting for the league’s Most Valuable Player Award, won this season by Boston’s Larry Bird. The nine-year NBA veteran scored his 15,000th NBA point on November 28 and grabbed his 10,000th NBA rebound on March 29. He scored 51 points against the Detroit Pistons on November 14. Philadelphia advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1985 but lost to Boston in five games. Malone contributed 20.2 points and 10.6 rebounds per game in the postseason.

Malone’s 10th NBA season and last with Philadelphia came to an abrupt end when on March 28 he suffered a fractured orbit of the right eye against the Milwaukee Bucks. He missed the Sixers’ last eight games and the entire postseason. Without him, Philadelphia lost to the Bucks in a seven-game Eastern Conference Semifinal series. In 74 appearances Malone averaged 23.8 points and 11.8 rebounds. He ranked seventh in the NBA in scoring but surrendered the league’s rebounding crown for the first time in six seasons, finishing fourth behind the Detroit Pistons’ Bill Laimbeer (13.1 rpg), Philadelphia teammate Charles Barkley (12.8), and the New Jersey Nets’ Buck Williams (12.0). Malone was an All-Star for the ninth straight season but failed to make an All-NBA Team for the first time since 1978.

Shortly after the 1985–86 season, Philadelphia traded Malone, along with Terry Catledge and two first-round draft choices, to the Washington Bullets for Jeff Ruland and Cliff Robinson. Malone bounced back from an injury-shortened 1985–86 campaign to average 24.1 points and 11.3 rebounds and reclaim a spot on the All-NBA Second Team. An All-Star for the 10th consecutive season, he was the only NBA player to rank among the league’s top 10 in both scoring and rebounding, placing ninth in each category.

Malone scored his 20,000th NBA point on April 12 against the Detroit Pistons. He scored 50 points versus the New Jersey Nets on April 8, joining Earl Monroe (56) and Phil Chenier (52) as the only Bullets players ever to score 50 points in a game. Washington made a brief appearance in the postseason, losing to the Pistons in a first-round sweep. Malone averaged 20.7 points and 12.7 rebounds in three playoff games.

In his 12th NBA season and second with Washington, Malone averaged 20.3 points and 11.2 rebounds, ranking fourth in the league in rebounding and 19th in scoring. He earned his 11th consecutive All-Star selection and was one of only four players to rank in the top 20 in scoring and the top 10 in rebounding. Malone scored in double figures in 76 of 79 games and recorded 55 double-doubles for the year. He helped the Bullets to the 1988 NBA Playoffs, where they lost to the Detroit Pistons in a five-game first-round series. Malone contributed 18.6 points and 11.2 rebounds per game in five postseason appearances.

The Atlanta Hawks signed Malone as a free agent to a three-year contract prior to the 1988–89 season, and he went on to have another All-Star campaign. Teaming with Dominique Wilkins in the Hawks’ frontcourt, Malone averaged 20.2 points and 11.8 rebounds. He was selected to start for the East squad in his 12th straight and final NBA All-Star Game in 1989, ending where his NBA career started in Houston. The 13-year veteran scored in double figures in 75 of his 81 appearances and rebounded in double figures 55 times. He scored a season-high 37 points against the Phoenix Suns on February 4. Atlanta did not make it out of the first round in 1989. The Hawks lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in five games, despite 21.0 points and 12.0 rebounds per game from their veteran center.

In his second season with Atlanta, Malone failed to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds for the first time since his second NBA season. He finished at 18.9 points per game and 10.0 rebounds per game, snapping a string of 11 straight 20–10 campaigns. The 14-year veteran led the NBA in offensive rebounds, with 364, and tied for eighth in rebounding average. He led the Hawks in scoring 20 times and in rebounding 41 times. In Mike Fratello’s final year as head coach, Atlanta struggled to a 41–41 record and missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. Malone started at center for the first 15 games of the 1990–91 season, but then Atlanta’s new coach, Bob Weiss, moved him to the bench and made him Jon Koncak’s backup for the final 67 contests.

Malone averaged 10.6 points and 8.1 rebounds in 23.3 minutes per game—all career lows up to that point. He nevertheless continued to etch his name in the NBA record books. With career free throw No. 7,695 against the Indiana Pacers on November 3, he became the NBA’s all-time leader in free throws made, surpassing Oscar Robertson. He also scored his 25,000th career point on November 21 versus the Milwaukee Bucks and grabbed his 15,000th rebound against the Dallas Mavericks on March 15. Malone broke Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 1,045 consecutive games without fouling out when he reached No. 1,046 in a game against the Detroit Pistons on April 19. Atlanta returned to the playoffs but fell to the Pistons in a five-game first-round series. Malone contributed only 4.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in the postseason.

The Milwaukee Bucks had signed Malone as a free agent shortly after the 1990–91 season and had immediately made him their starting center. The 16-year veteran responded with a resurgent campaign, playing in all 82 games and averaging 15.6 points and 9.1 rebounds. He ranked second on the Bucks in scoring and first in rebounding, leading the team in boards in 54 of 82 games. He scored a season-high 30 points twice and grabbed 19 rebounds against the Seattle SuperSonics on March 27. Milwaukee, about to begin a rebuilding process, finished 31–51 and tied with the Charlotte Hornets for last place in the Central Division.

Malone missed most of the 1992–93 season while recovering from back surgery. He returned to active duty on March 27 and made 11 appearances for Milwaukee. He played only 104 total minutes and averaged 4.5 points and 4.4 rebounds. On April 12 he registered season highs of 12 points, 9 rebounds, and 18 minutes in a game against the Miami Heat. Milwaukee continued to struggle while developing young talent. The Bucks finished 28–54 and last in the Central Division.

The Philadelphia 76ers convinced him to play another season—his 18th in the NBA and his 20th in professional basketball. Malone was the only remaining active player who had played in the ABA. The Sixers signed him as a free agent in August, primarily to have him tutor 7-foot-6 rookie Shawn Bradley.

Malone appeared in 55 games off the bench and averaged 5.3 points and 4.1 rebounds

In 1994, Malone signed with the Spurs, where he was used as a back-up center to superstar David Robinson. The 1994–95 NBA season was his last in the NBA. During the final game of his NBA career, against the Charlotte Hornets, he hit a buzzer-beating three-point shot from the opposing free throw line, eighty feet away from the goal. It was only the eighth three-pointer of his career. He played 17 games for the Spurs.

Malone finished his career with the most combined ABA and NBA offensive rebounds (7,382), 35 percent over runner-up Artis Gilmore. Nine times he led his respective league in offensive rebounds, and five other times he finished in the top-3. He also holds NBA records for the most offensive rebounds in a career (6,731), season (587), and game (21). Malone would often rebound his own misses. He was a 13-time All-Star, and earned eight All-NBA selections, ranking seventh all-time with 29,580 points, and third with 17,834 rebounds. He is one of just nine players who have been named NBA MVP three or more times. He led the league in rebounds six times, including five straight from 1980 through 1985. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2001.

Awards and honors:
1983 NBA Champion
1983 NBA Finals MVP
Three-time NBA MVP
13-time All-Star (ABA, 12× NBA)
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (class of 2001).
Number 24 retired by the Houston Rockets
Personal life
Malone and his wife, Alfreda, had two sons. They divorced in 1992, after Alfreda charged Malone with emotional abuse and infidelity.

Malone died, aged 60, in his sleep, of an apparent heart-attack on the morning of September 13, 2015. He was found in a Norfolk, Virginia, hotel room when he failed to arrive for a celebrity golf tournament.

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