Moses Malone: The definition of a relentless NBA champion

Feb 15, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; A view NBA logo during the NBA All Star Jam Session at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 15, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; A view NBA logo during the NBA All Star Jam Session at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

After passing away at 60 years of age, Moses Malone leaves behind a NBA legacy that defines him as one of the most relentless champions in league history.

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On Sunday, the NBA lost a true legend with the tragic death of Moses Malone, who has passed away at 60 years of age. He’ll never be forgotten, and the reputation he forged as one of the most relentless and hard working centers of all time leaves behind a legacy that few big men will ever match.

From beginning his career as the first player to go straight from high school to being a professional, Malone exploded onto the ABA circuit in 1974 with the Utah Stars and was an All-Star during his rookie season. He averaged 18.8 points and 14.6 rebounds per game during that first year, and instantly made a name for himself as a terror under the basket.

It’s hardly surprising Malone went on to acquire the nickname “Chairman of the Boards.”

When Malone furthered his career by joining the Houston Rockets in 1976, though, he soon took things to a whole new level. It wasn’t until his second season with the Rockets that he became an All-Star again, but from that moment on Moses Malone took over the league in ways that few centers ever have.

We all know that the age of the true NBA center has almost died, as the league has progressed from skill-based, low-post scorers to hyper-athletic dunkers and stretch shooters. Guys like Malone — who utilized low-post scoring and tireless work in the paint — rarely exist anymore.

From the likes of of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain during the 1960s, to Kareem Abdul-Jabarr, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neil through the latter decades of the 20th century, there are several star centers that spring to mind when looking back at the legends that the league has to offer.

Yet, despite ranking fifth all-time in NBA history with 16,212 rebounds and eighth in scoring with 27,409 points, the name “Moses Malone” isn’t always mentioned with as much emphasis as it should be during conversations discussing the best big men to ever play.

First and foremost, his never-ending hustle as an offensive rebounder is something that few players have ever possessed. From 1978-1980 with the Rockets, Malone had back-to-back seasons averaging at least 7 offensive boards per game. Today, hardly any players reach half that mark.

The phrase “give up” simply wasn’t something that existed in the mind of Moses Malone. His drive to attack the paint and dive after offensive rebounds never wavered throughout his entire 20 year career. As a result, he retired with an average of 12.3 rebounds per game (which is also a statistic that he led the league six times in).

During his time with the Rockets, Malone’s ferocity in the paint continued, as he continued to showcase his mid-range jumper and ability to defend the rim as well. He finished his six years in Houston with averages of 24 points, 15 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, while earning a trip to the All-Star Game during five of those seasons.

In 1978-79, Moses Malone’s hard work paid off even further, as he became league MVP after putting up 24.8 points on 54 percent shooting, 17.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. That would be the first of his three MVP awards, but it wasn’t until two years later that the Rockets would be able to use their star center in a serious run towards a championship.

He was the driving force in leading the Rockets to the NBA Finals in the 1980-81 season, yet they fell short by losing 4-2 to a rapidly rising legend, Larry Bird.

However, after riding out another season with the Rockets in 1981-82 and winning another MVP award, Malone faced an even more disappointing loss after his team was eliminated in the first round to the Seattle SuperSonics.

That still wasn’t enough to hold back Malone any longer, though.

In 1982-83, Moses joined forces with the Philadelphia 76ers and stars such as Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney, as they cleared the regular season hurdle with ease by cruising to a 65-17 record. With the combination of Malone destroying opponents in the paint, Dr J’s devastating play in transition and scoring ability, and a strong core of guards on the perimeter, the 76ers took total control of the playoffs with a 12-1 record before sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals.

As if that wasn’t already the highlight moment of such an illustrious career, Malone capped it off by being crowned Finals MVP.

From that moment on, the rebounding, scoring and constant effort didn’t stop as Moses became an All-Star every season till 1989. He was still averaging 12.6 rebounds per 36 minutes at the age of 35 with the Atlanta Hawks, but after he left the 76ers following the 1985-86 season, there were no more MVP or Larry O’Brien trophies in his future.

For a player like Moses Malone, who’s the ultimate definition of a workhorse and a traditional NBA center, the flash of trophies is just a small part of the picture.

He may not be the very best center in history, but that’s not the point. The attitude and work ethic set an example that all players should follow. They may not all be centers who grab 15 rebounds a game, but they can learn to approach the game with the same kind of drive and passion that Malone did.

Regardless of how impressive the numbers he produced were, they still don’t do justice to the impact that he had on the game. If his heart and success weren’t the definition of a true champion, then nothing is. For twenty years, he poured every ounce of energy and determination he could into whatever franchise was lucky enough to have him. He couldn’t give any more, and that’s all you can ask of from a center who dominated in the ways that Malone did.

He possessed every quality that centers should strive for, and he’ll be sorely missed by everyone who was fortunate enough to know what he brought to the world of basketball.

Moses Malone, rest in peace.

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