Moses Malone, 1955-2015.
Sep 28, 2015, Vol. 21, No. 03 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
The man had tiny hands. Or, at least, hands that looked tiny on his huge frame. Six foot ten, 275 pounds, and Moses Malone had the hands of a 5′9″ grocery bagger. Embarrassing hands, he seemed to think, stubby and ill-proportioned, and when he was young he would often hide them—tucking them into the pockets of his warm-up jacket or slipping them under the arms folded across his chest, the way a man self-conscious about his teeth will cover his mouth when he smiles.
A fierce hatred of embarrassment ruled a surprising amount of the life of Moses Malone, the Hall of Fame basketball center who died on September 13 at the age of 60. People who are easily embarrassed—those who blush too often and too soon—usually end up retreating from excellence. But the key for Malone lay in that word fierce: his embarrassment born of a burning pride and a rage for dignity.
The child of a genuinely impoverished background, Malone was a basketball star who possessed nearly all the tools he needed for the game. Unfortunately, he lacked the tools he could have used for stardom—the social esteem that seemed to come so effortlessly to the peers he admired, from the elegance of Julius Erving to the infectious smile of Magic Johnson. He wasn’t good-looking and he wasn’t articulate, his natural intelligence rarely making its way past his thick, mumbled Southern accent and into words. He wasn’t charming and he wasn’t graceful. He wasn’t quick at anything except basketball (if his hands were proportioned to his body, his teammate Rick Barry once joked, the league would have to outlaw him), and his greatest achievement may have been forming himself, willing himself, into a man of some real dignity and self-possession.
Yes, Moses Malone was probably the greatest offensive rebounder ever to play the game: three times the Most Valuable Player in the NBA, 12 years in a row an All-Star. But difficult as that was, his 21-year basketball career may have been the easy part. Growing up, that was the hard part, and he deserves to be remembered as much—no, more—for that success.
Born in 1955, Malone came out of Petersburg, Virginia, a rundown city of around 36,000 in those days, and even for Petersburg, his family was poor. Malone’s mother had dropped out of grade school to help support her brothers and sisters, and she was working as a packer at the local Safeway when her son was born. His father disappeared, kicked out by his mother for his drinking when Malone was two. Their house had little plumbing, a hole in the wall where a window was supposed to be, and no space for the rapidly growing boy, who used to climb up to the roof at night just
to breathe the air and avoid the college recruiters who began gathering as soon as he reached his teens.
The only book in the house was a battered copy of the Bible, and at age 14 Malone laboriously wrote out a note promising that he would work to become the best high school basketball player in the country, inserting it for mystical force into the pages of Isaiah 64: “Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence. . . . O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” By the end of his junior year, he had succeeded at his goal, and by the time he graduated in 1974, his Petersburg team had won 50 straight games and its second straight state championship.
It’s then that the story begins to get twisted. The greatest recruiting coach of the era, Lefty Driesell, beat out all the other college coaches pursuing the boy and convinced Malone to sign a letter of intent to attend the University of Maryland. But the early 1970s were a wacky time in basketball, with the staid National Basketball Association challenged by a startup rival league, the American Basketball Association. Desperate for attention and fans, the ABA had introduced into the sport the three-point line, barber-pole colored balls, and a chance for cities too long ignored by the NBA to host their own professional teams. The new league flashed enough money to draw in Rick Barry, Connie Hawkins, and a few other established NBA figures—and outbid the older league for the rookie contracts of such college stars as Artis Gilmore, out of Jacksonville University, and Dan Issel from Kentucky. And then, in 1974, the ABA’s team in Salt Lake City, the Utah Stars, jokingly wasted a third-round draft pick on Moses Malone, the nation’s top high school player.
2:04 PM, Aug 19, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Former Obama hand Dan Pfeiffer does some player evaluations on the political scene and comes up with this regarding Hillary Clinton:
“She isn’t as natural a politician as Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, but that’s like saying Scottie Pippen isn’t as talented as Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson …
Tomorrow's news today.5:15 PM, Jun 16, 2015 • By JIM SWIFT
People not from Cleveland often ask us natives during the rare instances when one of our sports teams is in a championship, “are you nervous?”
Gleanings & observations.10:34 AM, Jun 10, 2015 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Watching the NBA playoffs one cannot but be upset at the rampant inequality that the league tolerates. LeBron James constitutes less than 10 percent of the number of players on the Cleveland Cavaliers, but scores about 40 percent of the team’s points. Think what this does to the self-esteem of the other players. Think how it distorts the distribution of the team’s total payroll. Something must be done to end this inequality, to bring equality to basketball.
Gleanings and observations.10:04 AM, May 28, 2015 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Assuming the WNBA approves, Isiah Thomas will be part owner and coach of the New York Liberty, the women’s team owned by James Dolan, the man who brought the Knicks to their current position in the NBA. Thomas, general manager of the Knicks, was convicted of sexual harassment in 2007. Not to worry. Thomas assures us the press that he has a daughter, and always respected his mother (both women), while fighting racism. Isiah played the mother and race cards, one jaded reporter wrote.
10:23 AM, Mar 20, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
So the madness has begun with two big upsets, yesterday. In one, Georgia State guard, R.J. Hunter drained a three with that many seconds left in the game to upset three-seeded Baylor. After the game, Hunter’s father, who is also team’s coach, had some words for President Obama who had picked Baylor, like just about everyone else.
Coach Hunter didn’t hold back.
7:12 AM, Jan 13, 2015 • By JERYL BIER
President Obama honored the NBA champions, the San Antonio Spurs, at the White House Monday, but
Oct 13, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 05 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Many youngsters dream of an NBA career, despite warnings from parents and coaches about the meager odds.
The Scrapbook will confess to thousands of hours of childhood spent honing dribbling and jump-shot skills. As was the case for countless others, the orange hoop on the side of our garage that we aimed at with middling results came from a company called Lifetime, which, as it’s based in Utah, naturally bills its products as “Made in the USA.”
11:10 AM, May 10, 2014 • By DAVID WOLFFORD
I experienced some rough emotions rooting for my alma mater, the University of Kentucky, during the NCAA tournament. Partly because of the close games and come-from-behind wins, and partly because of their one-and-done reputation under Coach John Calipari. The media contrasted UK’s likely NBA-bound freshmen and UConn senior Shabazz Napier, who remained a Huskie to earn his degree as a promise to his mother. It’s what made March maddening for me.
4:33 PM, May 1, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
Over at Powerline, Paul Mirengoff asks, “Who was that cranky old man and why did he ice Kevin Durant?” That “cranky old man” would be Joey Crawford, the 62-year-old referee who grabbed the ball and ran over to the scorers’ table Tuesday night after Durant hit his first free throw with 27 seconds remaining, closing the margin to one point. The Memphis Grizzlies were leading Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder 100-99, but Crawford’s move effectively iced the 87 percent free-throw shooting Durant who went on to miss his next shot, costing the Thunder the game.
'Students Called Out to Sasha and Malia.'6:27 PM, Nov 17, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
The Obamas are attending a University of Maryland basketball game in College Park, Maryland tonight. The home team is playing Oregon State, which is coached by Michelle Obama's brother. The fans are, apparently, excited to see the first family.
Via the pool report:
3:20 PM, Jul 31, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
A strange story today via a Portland, Oregon police press release: NBA Houston Rockets player Terrence Alexander Jones was arrested early this morning after allegedly stomping on a homeless man's leg:
1:11 PM, Jun 20, 2013 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
In the wake of his scintillating 2-for-22 shooting exhibition on the White House basketball court — complete with an air ball, a steady barrage of bricks, and a layup that didn’t so much as draw iron — President Obama is now reportedly trying to enlist the National Basketball Association to help peddle Obamacare. What possible connection is there between the NBA and a government takeover of American medicine? Your guess is as good as the next person’s.