And Moses Led Philly-steens to NBA Promised Land

14 Sep

Moses Malone (1955 – 2015).

Back in the day (70 – 80s) that name struck fear into the hearts of basketball fandom from coast to coast. So just imagine what hearing it did to his peers who had to do battle under the boards with the towering figure from Virginia?

It’s a funny word (“peers”) to use when talking about one of the most dominating centers the game of professional basketball has ever known. Maybe the last true, great center in NBA history, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal notwithstanding.

Peers were far and few between for Mister Malone who died in his sleep on Sunday at the age of sixty from what is believed to have been a heart attack.

The true center, the super-terrific variety, was beginning to go way of the buffalo. Not quite extinct (Cowens, Abdul-Jabbar, Parish, Laimbeer, Sikma, Olajuwon), but no longer ruler of the range of roundball.

The numbers on Malone’s 20+ years in pro ball (ABA (’74) – NBA (’95)) are impressive but don’t completely capture the essence of this large figure in the history of basketball.

The 2001 Naismith enshrinee (HOF) scored alot of points, grabbed bushel baskets of rebounds, won three MVP awards, led two teams to the Finals (HOU / PHI), one of them, the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA championship in 1983 (their last) and played for nine different clubs including two stints in the City of Brotherly Love.

What set Malone apart from other big men of his era was his powerful presence.

.....Malone.wc.L.Witter.10.10.9.USMC.tmStanding at 6’10” and weighing in the low 200s, there were bigger, more muscular ball-handlers than MM, but few had a mental strength, a determination like the guy from Petersburg High School who in 1974 signed as a teenager with the Utah Stars of the former American Basketball Association.

He was neither a brute nor a bully, yet his menacing, almost brooding demeanor, tremendous skill on both ends of the court and possessiveness of the terrain under the basket made him one to be feared and was surely frustrating to opponents who were too often befuddled by this player with such a complete game.

His passing-on at a relatively young age engenders sadness from those who still vividly remember his playing days, while there is a bit of irony to it’s timing in that another NBA star of the time in Darryl Dawkins died recently just a few weeks past ((‘57) – 8.27.15).

It was Dawkins, another college-skipper (Evans (Orlando, FL)), whom Malone replaced at the center spot on the talent-laden but flawed 76ers squad in the early 80s, proving the key cog in the engine that drove Philly to the 1983 NBA title.

The mid-70s marked a rebirth in the Philadelphia scene, a franchise that had not supped champagne since the days of Wilt, Greer, Cunningham & Walker (’67).

With purchase of the team by Fitz Dixon (‘76), the 76ers, already well stocked with a stable of stars in Collins, McGinnis, Dawkins, Mix, Free, concomitant acquisition of Nets’ superstar Julius “Dr. J” Erving from the transitionary ABA ball-club and later key adds in Maurice Cheeks, Bobby Jones (‘78) and Andrew Toney (’80), the team looked set to be popping the bubbly for years to come.

But the fizz still failed to fly.

.....basketball.M1LF.Reisio.wc.06.tmbPhilly would make two NBA Finals (’77 (Shue) / ’80 (Cunningham)) in the Dixon days and with the sale to Harold Katz in 1981, another (’82), but would be bridesmaids in each (2-4), first versus Walton’s Trailblazers, then Magic’s Lakers and again to LA in the ’82 showcase. Center duties were handled by the tandem of Caldwell Jones and Dawkins, both skilled big men but lacking in that rare ability to carry a team on their back.

In particular, Darryl seemed to typify the new breed of ball-player who too often put a premium on form (dunk) over substance. High-flying aerialist Erving, though a small-forward, was cut from the same cloth.

And then arrived 76ers’s savior in the man Moses Malone.

With the exits of Dawkins and C. Jones and arrival of former Houston Rocket and fierce playoff opponent Malone to start the 1982-83 NBA campaign, the tide was about to turn for Philadelphia.

In a nutshell, Malone was blue-collar ‘ball all the way.

Down (not dirty) in the paint and possessing a shooter’s touch on a soft fadeaway, MM was an adherent of contact b-ball, the way it was intended, keeping the game honest and the beautiful inside – outside dichotomy alive, before 3-pointers tamed the game touchless (‘79) and moved the action out to the perimeter.

The 76ers would finally uncork that nearly frozen champagne by exacting revenge on their Western nemesis, sweeping the Lakers 4-0 in the ‘83 Finals.

Moses would win series MVP going away (25.8 / 18.rb) but would leave Philly at the end of the 1986 season, continuing on with his traveling ways in playing with nine teams in all (PHI x2 (’93)), closing out in San Antonio in 1995.

To his family & friends, I send along my sympathies.

To Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins and Caldwell Jones who died a year ago next week (9.21.14), my wish for good journeys in the unknown hereafter and a hearty thanks for giving sport lovers the best of the game.

......straight_shooter.thmbSteven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credits: M.Malone, wc.cca, Cpl.L.Witter, 10.10.09, USMC; Malone, wc, L.Witter, 10.10.09; basketball, M1-LF, Reisio, wc, 06; straight.shooter, produce-label.
Posted: 9.14.15 @ 7:53pm EST: Copyright ® 2015

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