As the 1980s dawned in the NBA, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were credited with revitalizing the league. This assertion, while surely true in many regards, obscures who the most dominant player in the NBA was when those two rookies debuted.
Moses Malone was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 1979, 1982, and 1983. He led the 40-42 Houston Rockets (a roster with many fine players but no all-stars besides Malone) all the way to the NBA Finals in 1981. He nearly made good on his Fo-Fo-Fo promise in 1983 to sweep the postseason as the Sixers lost just one game en route to the title.
During this five year stretch (1979-’83), Malone led the league in win shares, minutes played and total rebounds grabbed. With defensive rebounds, Jack Sikma barely edged Malone out by 60 rebounds for the top spot. With offensive rebounds, Malone nearly doubled up second-place Dan Roundfield for the lead with 2637 offensive boards to Roundfield’s 1336. Only the “Ice Man” George Gervin scored more points than Moses.
Those last two facets, prodigious offensive rebounding and torrential scoring, went hand-in-hand. Malone is legendary for his ability to work the angles and predict the trajectory of missed shots. He’d sneak in from out of bounds to snare the put-back opportunities. His strength easily moved opponents from prime real estate in the paint. His physicality was immense as it seemed the more you bumped him the stronger he became.
Malone also had some of the most dexterous hands a center has ever possessed. When he got his hands on the ball, it was in his hands to stay until he decided to release it. On top of all this Malone could also knock down the face-up jumper from 15-feet out and could nail short turnarounds with ease.
1979 to 1983 was the Age of Moses, but Malone played one the absolute longest careers in pro basketball history. His rookie season was in 1974-75 with the ABA’s Utah Stars where he was immediately an all-star and a raw bona fide talent. He proceeded to bounce around as teams struggled to truly comprehend his biblical abilities and equally biblical salary. The Stars disbanded, the Spirits of St. Louis folded with the ABA, the Portland Trail Blazers had a glut of big men and were hesitant to pay a ton of money for Malone’s services, and the Buffalo Braves were just plain incompetent. Finally, the Rockets gave Moses a durable home where he came to dominate the NBA.
He maintained that domination, or something close to it, through 1989. Moses had signed with the 76ers prior to the 1982-83 season and delivered them their long-awaited title that year. Philadelphia, though, fell victim to the trap Moses’ earlier stops had. They gave up too soon on the MVP center at age 30 in 1986 and traded him to the Washington Bullets. He wound up being an all-star through the end of the decade with the Bullets and Atlanta Hawks.
When he finally retired in 1995, Moses had played for 9 different franchises. He was the last player from the ABA to hang up his sneakers. Above all else, he was a basketball survivor no matter how often he was unceremoniously put out into the hardwood Sinai.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exYXZ45wRhE]
Finals MVP (1983)
3x MVP (1979, 1982-’83)
4x All-NBA 1st Team (1979, 1982-’83, 1985)
4x All-NBA 2nd Team (1980-’81, 1984, 1987)
NBA All-Defensive 1st Team (1983)
NBA All-Defensive 2nd Team (1979)
13x All-Star (1975, 1978-’89)
ABA All-Rookie 1st Team (1975)
Regular Season Career Averages (1455 games):
20.3 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.3 BPG, 0.8 SPG
.569 TS%, .495 FG%, .760 FT%
22.0 PER, .174 WS/48
Playoff Career Averages (100 games):
22.1 PPG, 14.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.6 BPG, 0.8 SPG
.553 TS%, .487 FG%, .756 FT%
21.6 PER, .176 WS/48