Remembering a legend: A look back at Moses Malone's career

NBA Hall-of-Famer Moses Malone passed away Sunday at the age of 60. He leaves us with the legacy of a three-time MVP, an NBA champion, one of the icons of the ABA, one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players for their NBA at 50 celebration, one of the greatest rebounders of all time and arguably the most underrated player of all time. 

The Sixers released the following statement on Sunday: 

"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 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. We will keep his family in our thoughts and prayers and as we are once again reminded of the preciousness of life."

Those who knew Malone knew him as a tireless worker and a special human being. TNT's David Aldridge commented he was working out Friday before the Hall of Fame ceremonies. 

For more reactions from around the NBA community, click here

Malone was a preps-to-pros phenom in 1975, signing with the Utah Stars of the ABA. Malone had an offer from the University of Maryland, but didn't think he needed college to challenge the pros. This quote from Sports Illustrated in '79 is just incredible: 

Turning down the University of Maryland, Malone went with the Utah Stars. "I knew what peoples was saying." Malone says, "and so I told the Stars, `It don't make no difference how old I am, because I still think I can bust y'all. You just watch my action.'

Source: Bounding Into Prominence Moses Malone jumped from high school to the pros, where he has become the game's top rebounder - SI.com

There needs to be a statue of Moses with "You just watch my action" on it. Malone, at age 19, finished first in offensive rebounds in the ABA, and third in total boards. Looking back at those early years, it's simply astounding how athletic, graceful and powerful Malone was -- all at the same time. 

In his first season in the NBA two years later at age 20, he led the league in offensive rebounds, and in rebounding percentage, grabbing 23.4 percent. It was the start of one of the greatest runs for any player in points and rebounds. 

Dennis Rodman is well regarded as the best rebounder of all time, and with good reason. Second on that list is probably Malone, and Rodman never took on Moses' offensive responsibilities. 

Perhaps nothing gives better insight to the quiet, proud man that Malone was than this excerpt from an excellent Sports Illustrated feature the summer before Malone joined the Sixers for what was destined to be their championship season. 

To Moses, it's all very clear. He's just "playin' ball," something he did this summer at least twice a day, five or six days a week. Not to prepare for his new role as Goliath, but because it's what he always does. On the playgrounds around his home in Houston, though, the game is different. "I can shoot 90-foot jump shots there and nobody says anything," Malone says.
It is a typically muggy late summer's afternoon in Houston as Malone pulls up to a Frenchy's in his $50,000 Mercedes for a $2.50 luncheon of chicken wings and strawberry soda pop. As he eats, oblivious to the whispers—"Lookit him. Two million dollars a year and he's eatin' here"—he seems to be delivering a not-so-subtle message: You're eating here, so why can't I? If I prefer Filet-O-Fish to filet mignon, that's my business. I don't care what you think anyway."
That's not money talking, just how Malone feels. If there's any changing to be done, you're gonna be doin' it. Why should he? Thirteen point two million dollars for six years is very articulate, thank-you-ver-ry-much. And how would you like your McRib à l'Orange cooked?
Malone refuses to fit any precast mold. On an NBA junket to Germany and Italy last summer, adults and children alike followed him about. "Moses, Moses," they cried. Touching? Inspiring? "I guess people just like the way Moses sounds," Malone says. "I was just playin' ball."
He always is. Ask what he did during the off-season and he answers immediately: Watched TV. Played video games. And played ball. Never got tired of it. "Shoot," he says, "I'm ready to get goin' again a week after the season's over."

Source: 'I CAN DO SO MANY THINGS' | SI.com

So many things to love about that. The red soda pop, which Malone was famous for drinking all the time, the Filet-O-Fish and the way Malone downplays his own starpower. In an era of players building their own brands and appearing nightly with celebrities, Malone stands in contrast as a player that showed up, wrecked the entire building and went home. 

That season would go on to be his championship season, as Malone averaged 24.5 points and 15.3 rebounds per game. That season would also lead to his most famous moment, predicting a sweep of all opponents in the 1983 playoffs with an iconic "Fo', Fo', Fo'." The Sixers would lose one game in the playoffs to the Milwaukee Bucks, making it "Fo', Five, Fo'" which their championship rings are inscribed with. 

Funny story: The Classical found through a Kindle retrospective on the 1983 team that Moses actually said he didn't mean it as a prediction: 

So, the thing is, there’s a bit more to “Fo', Fo', Fo.” In a new Kindle retrospective of the ’83 run, we come to find out that dearly Departed Daily News basketball guy Phil Jasner wrote up the story about the famous turn of phrase—coincidentally written in both daily papers as “Four, Four, Four,” although that’s not the tragic part—and gave Malone a chance to explain what he meant. Moses said that it should not necessarily be read as a prediction. "I ain't saying we're gonna sweep everybody in four games, I'm just saying, if we have an idea of winning the championship, the best thing to do is win it as fast as we can—”

Source: Fo' Fo' Fo' At Thirty | The Classical

The effect, however, was the same: 

Given their depleted roster, it was remarkable that the Lakers entered the fourth quarter with an 11-point advantage, but Philadelphia outscored them 10-2 in the first three minutes of the period. "We gave them life," said Erving, sounding faintly apocalyptic, "then we took it away." Malone, who got 10 of his 23 rebounds in the final quarter, knew that the defending champs were about to fold. "I could see them tightening up," he said. "They saw us comin' again, comin' again. The train was comin' again."

Source: Thou Shalt Rejoice, Said Moses - SI.com

Malone meant more to the Sixers than just points and rebounds. There's a reason that his teammates have always spoken of him so highly. Charles Barkley, in particular, credits him for changing his entire career. "Moses Malone is one of the best people you can ever be around," Barkley said.

"I called him 'Dad' because he's by far and away the most influential person in my NBA career," Barkley said. 

Malone's 1982 season was the highest PER season of any big man between 1980 and 1990. He finished first in rebounding five times between 1979 and 1985. 

The Sixers would later trade Malone, a move that Moses told the team publicly would "haunt them." And he did:

Looking back on his career, you're simply not going to find players who did what he did, for as long as he did, as consistently as he did. Here's the list of players who finished their careers with as many points, rebounds and blocks as Moses compiled. 

That's it. 

Malone finishes as the all-time leader in offensive rebounds, and is third all-time in total rebounds for his career. Malone led the league in offensive rebounds in 1990 at age 34. And he left the court in the most epic way possible: 

He goes down as a champion, a legend and an icon, even as he's overlooked historically when we examine the greatest big men in NBA history. Malone didn't appear on talk shows, he wasn't appearing in commercials regularly. He would not have had a Twitter in his prime, nor did he have one when he passed away on Sunday. Malone was a huge influence on his teammates, on the league and on his sport, but he never talked about it. 

He put it best to Frank DeFord of Sports Illustrated. 

"Anybody can shoot a jump shot ... I just goes to the rack." 

Rest in Peace, Moses Malone.

Moses Malone was an all-time great big man.    (NBA)
Moses Malone was an all-time great big man. (NBA)
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