February 19, 1979
Looking for answers, Moses Malone Jr. gave Dad a call. Should he stay and play for Clyde Drexler, the first-year coach at Houston, or transfer and sit out a full season in a program that better fit his game? This would be a serious decision for any 19-year-old basketball star. "Son, it's time for you to be your own man," answered the father. "I can't make this decision for you, but whatever you do, I'll be behind you." Moses Jr., a 6'5" shooting guard, ended up leaving Houston for Texas Tech and will be eligible to play again in December 1999.
There was no father for the elder Moses to call during the 1973-74 season, when, as a 6'10", 220-pound senior at Petersburg (Va.) High, he was being recruited by almost 300 schools. Malone, who had been raised solely by his mother, Mary, would lie on the floor, hiding, when recruiters knocked on the door or sneak home through his backyard as assistants waited in cars across the street. The frenzy finally ended when he signed to play for Maryland.
Before the Terrapins could celebrate, however, the ABA's Utah Stars swooped in with an offer to make Malone the first player to go directly from high school to pro basketball. "I thought college ball looked too easy—I wanted a more physical game," says Malone. His decision to sign was widely criticized, but Malone went on to a 21-year pro career and a place on the NBA's alltime top 50 team. Playing with a desire that drove him to pound opponents into submission, he starred for seven teams in the ABA and NBA, earning three NBA MVP awards (in 1979, '82 and '83) and a championship with the Philadelphia 76ers in '83. "I wanted fans to talk about me when they drove home," he says. "Playing hard is not about money, it's all pride."
Malone, now 44, retired in 1995 and lives in Sugar Land, Texas. No longer forced to be on the road for much of the year, he spends more time with Moses Jr. and Michael, 15, who lives with his mother, Moses's ex-wife, Alfreda, in nearby Friendswood. When he does travel, it's to talk to schoolchildren. With more and more of today's top high school players going straight to the NBA Malone tirelessly extols the value of staying in school and earning a degree. "I tell kids that you will be respected for being a well-rounded person, and not because you're rich or good at basketball," he says. Malone would like to get into coaching and feels that he can have his greatest impact on young players. "Kids are hungry to learn," he says. "You just have to teach them confidence."