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Bruce Newman
November 07, 1988
The Nuggets' Doug Moe, the NBA Coach of the Year, doesn't diagram plays or watch many game films
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November 07, 1988

This Joker Is Wild

The Nuggets' Doug Moe, the NBA Coach of the Year, doesn't diagram plays or watch many game films

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"Jack made a much bigger deal of it than he should have," Moe says. "He should have kept his mouth shut." Moe was eventually fined $5,000 and suspended for two games. "I understand Jack, but he just can't fathom me," Moe says.

On being the way he is, Moe says, "My big advantage over other people is that I've always been less mature than my age. Even though my body is old and I can barely walk I he has two arthritic knees], mentally I'm still 12."

Moe's arrested adolescence began in a rent-controlled apartment in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. "When I was growing up I didn't think there was any better place in the world than Brooklyn," he says. "We had everything there."

Moe can't remember a time when he referred to his mother by anything except one of her nicknames, the longest-standing of which was Big D, short for Dolores. "We also used to call her Big Klu, because she had arms like Ted Kluszewski," he says. One of Moe's few lasting regrets is that he wasn't named after his father, Gunar, whose name Moe felt had the perfect hair-trigger feel for a playground player. And Moe was such a standout on the Brooklyn playgrounds that he came very close to not playing high school basketball at all, preferring instead to stick to the less structured game of the asphalt courts and church leagues.

In the church leagues he played under a string of assumed names so he could pass for whatever denomination happened to be providing the uniforms. When he performed for the YMCA in a Protestant league, his last name was Chatterton; he was Martin on his CYO team; and in the Jewish league he was Moskowitz.

Despite playing for only one full season at Erasmus Hall High, Moe performed well enough in several postseason all-star games and was recruited by North Carolina, where he promptly racked up four F's and a D and was declared academically ineligible after only one semester. Moe, a 6'5" forward who could score and play tough defense, earned All-America honors twice before he was finished at North Carolina, which was no mean feat, considering that he was booted off the team twice for poor grades. "I always said if they were giving out A's at Carolina, Doug would have sent somebody to South Hall to pick his up," says Walsh, a college teammate. "That's how lazy he is." By the time Moe finally got his degree in education from nearby Elon College in 1965, he had been in school for six years, including summer terms (both sessions) for five years. "For a guy who didn't like school," he says, "I spent a lot of time there."

During the summer before his senior year in college, Moe drove to New Jersey to meet with some friends of a teammate named Lou Brown, who had been trying for several months to enlist Moe's aid in a point-shaving scheme. Although Moe says he had no interest in cheating, he agreed to listen to the fixers as a favor to Brown. "They told me it would be easy, that you didn't even have to lose the game for it to work," Moe recalls. "But they could've offered me a million dollars to throw a three-on-three game and I couldn't have done it." Moe heard them out, and when he was about to leave, one of the gamblers offered him $75 to cover his expenses back to Chapel Hill. Assuming he was doing nothing wrong, he accepted it.

When the wide scope of the point-shaving scandal became clear in the spring of 1961, Moe was called to testify before a New York grand jury investigating dozens of players nationwide who had accepted bribes to fix games. "I was scared to death and depressed because I thought they thought I did something," he says. One by one, the players suspected of participating in the conspiracy paraded into the grand jury room while Moe awaited his turn. "All of them but me and one other guy had agreed to do fixing," Moe says.

Moe was dismissed after five minutes in front of the grand jury, and all parties agreed that his involvement in the case was minor. The NBA Chicago Packers (now the Washington Bullets) had taken Moe in the first round of that year's draft. The Packers signed him but refused to honor the contract when the story broke.

"After that, I was blackballed by the NBA," Moe says. "It was kind of a numbing experience. All my life I wanted to play ball, and suddenly I was being told I wouldn't be allowed to. I didn't realize at the time how many people actually thought I did something. It hurt at first, but I was immature enough that life was still fun and games to me. There was nothing I could do. I was banned and that was it."

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