"O.K., let's go get Malone," said Collier to Buckwalter, who at that time was director of player personnel, and to Arnie Ferrin, the general manager. They left for Petersburg on Thursday, Aug. 22. But first Collier had Dick Sadler, George Foreman's manager who is listed as one of the Stars' new owners, call Malone and tell him that they were coming.
In Virginia, the Utah trio checked into a Holiday Inn 15 miles north of Petersburg. "There are at least six toll booths between where we stayed and Malone's house," Buckwalter says. "Arnie and Jim thought we'd sign Moses quickly and each had brought just two pairs of clean socks. I knew better. I brought enough for two weeks." By the time Malone finally signed the following Wednesday Buckwalter says he used $92 in quarters for tolls.
On Friday afternoon, Buckwalter drove to Malone's house, picked up Moses and his mother and drove them back to the motel, where they discussed the contract for an hour and a half. The next day, Saturday, Buckwalter drove 2� hours to Driesell's home in College Park, Md. to show him the contract and as a courtesy to tell him that the Stars were trying to steal his recruiting prize. The Maryland coach was pleasant, but not very, and he began making quick trips to Petersburg himself. Two Washington, D.C. attorneys—Donald Dell and Lee Fentress—entered the fray, first as advisers, later as agents for Malone, and around-the-clock negotiations began.
"It was unreal," said Buckwalter. "We put 932 miles on the car in six days just going between Petersburg and Washington. We had an outpost on a hill overlooking Moses' house. We'd drive up there, park the car, check the layout to see who was around, and then go in. Once we had to crawl through the backyard and we were attacked by a big dog. At least I think it was big. When you are crawling they all look big."
Finally at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the lawyers' office in Washington, Malone turned to Dell and Fentress and said, "I've decided to turn pro. You can stop being my unofficial advisers. Be my agents."
The actual signing didn't take place until later in the evening. "Once we became Malone's agents in fact," says Fentress, "the negotiations got serious." At 10:30 all parties said yes, jumped into a car and went to a Ramada Inn at Rosslyn, Va., where Malone signed. In Washington you have to be 21 to sign a contract, in Virginia only 18.
At his home in Jersey City, Gerald Govan, the Stars' 32-year-old forward, perhaps in his last season, heard the news and was dismayed. Govan was worried that the jump from high school to the pros might end in disaster for Malone. "I thought—a high school kid, going to be around a bunch of older guys," Govan says now. "I had to wonder if he'd enjoy it. I wondered how it would affect him. My wife and I debated it. She's into that education thing." Govan grinned. "Then I thought—maybe it won't bother him because maybe all us older guys are really just kids playing a kids' game. Just immature. Then Moses came to camp and he was a pleasant surprise. Sure, he's got a lot to learn but right now he's as good as any college star coming in. The guys don't think of him as a 19-year-old kid. Just as a player. It's a tribute to him and to his ability.
"People ask if all the money he supposedly got makes the older guys a little uptight. No way. It's almost like rape, taking a kid out of high school. He really deserves four more years of school, and if he doesn't get it he should be compensated. The team is doing poorly [at week's end, the Stars were 1-5] and people are starting to call him Super Baby, blaming him. It's not fair. We've lost Zelmo, Jimmy Jones and Willie Wise. Moses is doing a lot more than anyone expected. He's got a lot of poise. He's cool. Maybe too cool. I hope he doesn't emulate the veterans too much. I think we overdo the super-cool thing. I'd like to see him keep some of that high school enthusiasm. It's refreshing."
And Malone? Well, he doesn't know if he's being super cool or not. He is, he says, just doing his thing. "I never was the kind who'd let himself get nervous," he says. "Like when we played the Nets. People asked me about Julius Erving, if I thought about him before the game. Erving is a good player. But I was thinking about me, not him. About what I wanted to do. All you can do is relax. It's my thing."
So far, doing his thing, Malone has scored 79 points in six games. He is the Stars' only 50% shooter, but he hasn't taken very many challenging shots. But all the shots are there. The rebounding is amazing, his defense just a little less so. By the time the class of '78 graduates he'll have four years' experience, and he should be something else in all phases of the game.