When Kevin Garnett went fifth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 1995 NBA draft, he was the first high-school player drafted in 20 years. A total of 38 others followed Garnett before the NBA changed the age limit for the 2006 draft. The results were decidedly hit or miss. But before any of the NBA’s picks, Moses Malone paved the way for high schoolers to jump directly to the pros and find success.
An NBA team never drafted Malone. Well, one did, but the New Orleans Jazz lost the rights to Malone when he was ruled subject to the dispersal draft of ABA players as part of the NBA-ABA merger.
Moses Malone was one of the most coveted prizes of the ABA Dispersal Draft in August 1976 because, at 21, he already had two years of professional experience and showed star potential.
Moses Malone was like every other high-school prospect until he wasn’t
As a senior at Petersburg High School in Virginia, Moses Malone was simply dominant. He had first committed to attend Clemson before changing his mind and committing to Maryland, according to Terry Pluto’s narrative history of the American Basketball Association, Loose Balls. However, the ABA’s Utah Stars began to scout Malone and the Larry Creger, a Stars assistant coach, started the pursuit.
Creger remarked on the poverty level in the neighborhood where Malone lived. Mary Malone’s health compounded that. Moses’ mother wasn’t supposed to work anymore because of ulcers.
“It was obvious that they were broke. The house had no paint. There wasn’t any grass where the lawn was supposed to be. The whole neighborhood was like that, extremely poor.
“The inside of the house was decent. I had a feeling that some of the colleges had sent them some furniture. They had a nice color television set, new carpeting, and a new sofa. They also seemed to have the only home in that area with an air conditioner in the window. Maybe Mary Malone earned the money for that stuff, but I found it very hard to believe.”Larry Creger
What Creger never heard from the Malones was a firm belief Moses had to go to college. That opened the door for one of the best rebounders in NBA history (and one of the toughest teammates) to get an early start.
Malone signs a guaranteed 4-year contract for huge money (at the time)
The Utah Stars signed Moses Malone out of high school, earning the ire of the college basketball establishment. The entire league paid the price, as colleges barred ABA scouts from their campuses. Malone’s contract was for four years and $565,000. That was a massive investment for a guy who had never played beyond the high school level.
But Malone averaged 18.8 points and 14.6 rebounds per game as a 19-year-old rookie. Limited by a broken foot in his second season, Malone never again played for Utah. While he was healing, the Stars folded, and the the Spirits of St. Louis scooped him up in the dispersal draft. St. Louis was one of the franchises paid to fold as part of the merger with the NBA.
Tom Nissalke coached him with the Stars in his rookie season and was in awe of his rebounding prowess.
“The young Moses Malone had virtually no offensive moves other than a devastating ability to get the ball off the glass. He was so lightning-quick and just seemed to know where a rebound was going. I saw a playoff game in his rookie season where he had 38 rebounds, 23 of them off the offensive glass.”Tom Nissalke
Nissalke, who later coached the Houston Rockets, was able to reunite with Moses Malone shortly after that.
Moses Malone takes the NBA by storm, too
Moses Malone never played for the Trail Blazers, who traded him to the Buffalo Braves after selecting him in the dispersal draft. Buffalo kept Malone for two games before peddling him to the Rockets.
Though Malone developed more of a low-post game as he matured, the offensive rebounding skill was always there. Over 19 NBA seasons, Malone grabbed more offensive boards than any player in league history (the stat became official in 1973), finishing with 6,731. His 16,212 total rebounds rank fifth all-time, and he is ninth in NBA history with 27,409 points.
Moses Malone was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, inducted in 2001, but a heart attack cut his life short in September 2015 at the age of 60. He is one of four preps-to-pros players in the Hall of Fame, including Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and Tracy McGrady. It was Malone, however, who helped pave the way for the rest of them.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.