Moses Eugene Malone’s death, at the age of 60 on Sept. 13, 2015, in Norfolk, Va., has robbed the basketball fraternity of one of its most revered and influential players. As the world mourns his passing, “all contracted in one brow of woe,” as Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, Malone’s achievements shall remain a legacy that is “forever flourishing, forever green” as described in The Earl of Essex: A Tragedy by Henry Jones.
Malone, who died of natural causes in a Norfolk hotel, was born in Petersburg on Mar. 23, 1955. According to the Virginia medical examiner’s office, the three-time NBA MVP’s cause of death was listed as “hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.” Reports indicate that Kevin Vergara, a friend to the basketball legend and Hall-of-Famer, had earlier in the week heard Malone complain of irregular heartbeat. At the time of his death, he had been penciled in to participate in NBA referee Tony Brothers’ golf tournament for charity.
His funeral was attended by thousands of people at Houston megachurch Lakewood on Sept. 19, 2015. What made the venue a perfect sendoff for Big Mo is that it is the same building where the Houston Rocket played during his time with the team from 1976-1982, when it was called the Summit. It is at this venue that the basketballer’s legacy as the best-ever center began to take root. Having his funeral at the same venue in which he created his legacy was another sign that Malone’s memory will stay “forever green.”
Those who became fans of the NBA after the entry of Dikembe Mutombo might overlook Big Mo’s contribution to basketball. Statistics, however, do not lie, and the star center left indelible numbers on the board. His career, which spanned over two decades, began directly out of high school in the American Basketball Association (ABA), after he reneged on his letter of intent to play at the University of Maryland. He then signed with the Utah Stars as a 19-year-old center, averaging 18 points and 14 rebounds per game, beginning the play that would inspire the nickname, “The Chairman of the Boards.” His agility, ferocious speed and tenacity made him a fierce competitor among the old and experienced players. Malone’s style of play became a legacy that will “forever be green” for any aspiring basketball player.
His move to the NBA proved to be extremely successful. Malone’s six years with the Houston Rockets, from 1976-1982, came with healthy figures on the board and two MVP awards. In 1979, when he got his first MVP, he averaged 24.8 points and 17.6 rebounds per game. He then took the game to another level when he joined up with Julius Erving with the Philadelphia 76ers and inspired the team to its first championship in 16 years. This performance came with another MVP accolade and a salary of $2 million a year. Some tabloids still insist that he was underpaid, but that is a debate for another day.
Big Mo walked away from the game in 1995 after moving around to a number of teams in the NBA. When he left the game, due to a number of frustrating injuries he suffered while playing for the San Antonio Spurs, Malone was sixth all time in points (29.580) and had 17,834 career rebounds. Just a year after retirement, he was honored as one of the top 50 players in NBA history. In 2001, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Malone’s legacy will “forever be green.” In All-Star center Jack Sikma’s words, playing against Malone was impossible. “I was helpless against him. We were all helpless.”
Opinion by Shepherd Mutsvara
ESPN.com: Charles Barkley Eulogizes Moses Malone:’He Treated Me Like a Son’
New York Times: Moses Malone’s Death Explained
SI.com: Moses Malone’s Death Caused By Cardiovascular Disease
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