Moses Malone made basketball history before he even played a game. A three-time MVP with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers, he was the first player to go straight from high school into the pros. Malone’s lack of experience never hurt him as he went on to enjoy a 20-year career in the NBA. After his playing career was over, Malone’s life was unexpectedly cut short at the age of 60. He was supposed to play in a charity golf game on Sept. 13, 2015, but the big man never made it.
Moses Malone’s ABA basketball career
Moses Malone went to Petersburg High School in Petersburg, Virginia. He was the most dominant player on the basketball team that didn’t lose a game in his final two years. Petersburg won back-to-back state titles and Malone was planning to attend Maryland on a basketball scholarship.
The Utah Stars, however, selected him in the third round of the 1974 ABA draft and he decided to turn pro. As a rookie for the Stars, Malone became an ABA All-Star when he averaged 18.8 points and 14.6 rebounds. The Stars folded early into the 1975-76 season and Malone was sold to the Spirits of St. Louis where he averaged 14.3 points and 9.6 rebounds.
After the 1975-76 season, the ABA and the NBA merged, but the Spirits of St. Louis weren’t one of the ABA teams joining the NBA. Malone was selected in the 1976 NBA dispersal draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers then traded him to the Buffalo Braves. After just two games with the Braves, he was dealt to the Houston Rockets.
Malone shines in the NBA
In the 1977-78 season, Moses Malone was selected as an NBA All-Star, beginning a string of 12 straight all-star appearances. In his first season as an all-star, Malone played in just 59 regular-season games but averaged 19.4 points and 15 rebounds per game.
The following year, Malone led the league in rebounds, averaging 17.6 per game. He also averaged 24.8 points and was named the league’s MVP. During the 1981-82 season, Malone led the league in minutes played, averaging 42 per game. He also averaged 31.1 points and 14.7 rebounds per game and collected his second MVP award. For five straight seasons beginning in 1980-81, Malone led the league in rebounds.
Prior to the 1982-83 season, Malone was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. In his first year with the team, Malone put up strong numbers again, averaging 24.5 points and 15.3 rebounds per game. He repeated as the league’s MVP. He spent four seasons with the 76ers before being traded to the Washington Bullets. For his career, Malone averaged 20.3 points and 12.3 rebounds. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001.
Malone’s unexpected death
Moses Malone retired from the NBA after the 1994-95 season. On Sept. 13, 2015, he was scheduled to play in a celebrity golf tournament but was found dead in a Norfolk, Virginia hotel room. According to ESPN, Malone the Virginia medical examiner’s office said Malone died of natural causes, listing the cause of death as hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
Former Houston Rockets teammate John Lucas said he and many others were struggling with the death of Malone. “When I talked to his son (Moses Malone Jr.) this morning, he couldn’t get it out,” Lucas told ESPN in 2015. “I kept saying, ‘What are you saying?’ And he told me. … I was shocked. Moses was one of the best people that I had ever met. … A true professional, on and off the court.”
Malone’s son said his father was his best friend. “He taught us so much about life and he came from nothing,” Malone Jr. said. “He taught us how to work hard and respect people, love your family, and always do the right thing. He’s a good person. He was always there to help people. He cared about people who had less than him.”