One of the game’s all-time great centers, Moses Malone was a relentless rebounder and effective scorer who made the jump from high school to a pro career that lasted 21 years. The third-leading rebounder and ninth-leading scorer in combined NBA/ABA history, he was honored in 1996-97 as a member of the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.
A basketball prodigy at Petersburg High School, Malone averaged 36 points, 26 rebounds, and 12 blocked shots during his senior season and became the most heavily recruited prep player in history. More than 200 colleges — and the Utah Stars — pursued him.
Initially agreeing to attend the University of Maryland, Malone changed his mind and skipped college, becoming the first high school player to go straight to the pros, after agreeing to a contract with the Utah Stars of the American Basketball Association.
After two seasons in the ABA, he went on to become a dominant NBA player for well over a decade, leading the Houston Rockets to the NBA Finals in 1981 and the Philadelphia 76ers to the 1983 NBA championship. During the 1978-79 season, he led the league in rebounds with 17.6 per game and ranked fifth in scoring at 24.8 points per game. He captured the MVP Award in a landslide. In 1982, Malone won his second MVP Award after averaging 31.1 points per game and winning his second of five straight rebounding championships.
“Most guys have second and third effort,” Kansas City Kings center Sam Lacey told The New York Times after Malone’s Rockets defeated the Kings in the 1981 N.B.A. playoffs. “Moses had a ninth and 10th effort. He just keeps going and going until he gets the ball.”
Not as tall as the game’s other legendary centers, Malone capitalized on his strength, quickness, and tenacity. Ferocious on the boards, he was the NBA’s rebounding leader six times in a seven-year span. An equally crafty scorer, he averaged more than 20 points for 11 years, using an infinite number of post moves, a nose for offensive rebounds, and a knack for getting to the free-throw line. A quiet, hulking figure, his silent demeanor, and wariness around the media masked his fundamental understanding of the sport.
His teammate Julius Erving paid tribute to Malone as the 76ers approached the 1983 playoffs.
“It seems he’s always there at the end of a close game to do something to help us win,” Erving told The Times. “If it’s not a basket or rebound, it’s a steal or a real good pick.”
When he retired, Malone made more free throws than any other player in pro basketball history (8,531) — a record since broken by another Malone (Karl) — and he went a record 1,212 games without a disqualification.
Basketball Hall of Famer Moses Malone died in his sleep at the age of 60 in 2015.