It is a typically muggy late summer's afternoon in Houston as Malone pulls up to a Frenchy's in his $50,000 Mercedes for a $2.50 luncheon of chicken wings and strawberry soda pop. As he eats, oblivious to the whispers—"Lookit him. Two million dollars a year and he's eatin' here"—he seems to be delivering a not-so-subtle message: You're eating here, so why can't I? If I prefer Filet-O-Fish to filet mignon, that's my business. I don't care what you think anyway.
That's not money talking, just how Malone feels. If there's any changing to be done, you're gonna be doin' it. Why should he? Thirteen point two million dollars for six years is very articulate, thank-you-ver-ry-much. And how would you like your McRib à l'Orange cooked?
Malone refuses to fit any precast mold. On an NBA junket to Germany and Italy last summer, adults and children alike followed him about. "Moses, Moses," they cried. Touching? Inspiring? "I guess people just like the way Moses sounds," Malone says. "I was just playin' ball."
He always is. Ask what he did during the off-season and he answers immediately: Watched TV. Played video games. And played ball. Never got tired of it. "Shoot," he says, "I'm ready to get goin' again a week after the season's over."
Question is, will last season's MVP 1) mix well with the '81 MVP (Erving) and 2) put the Sixers over the top? "I'm just 6'11", 250 pounds," Malone says. "I don't wanna be the best player; there are better players on the team than me. They win 55, 60 games every year. I just want to help them win a few more."
A few days later Malone arrives at Robertson Fieldhouse on the University of Houston campus. The paint is peeling and the dimly lit gym's seats look like long rows of concrete pews.
Many of the Houston players who made it to the 1982 NCAA Final Four are on hand, and sides are chosen. Malone decides he doesn't want to play. "You guys beat me up too much yesterday," he says. "I got knocked down and around, hurt my finger. The NBA ain't even that physical," he says, plopping down on a bench.
So he becomes an analyst. Colorful commentator is more like it. On one team, an overweight Rob Williams, the Denver Nuggets' first-round choice, is having a dreadful time of it, his low-trajectory shots lying on the rim like so many cinder blocks.
"Rob's shot's a little flat," someone offers.
"Yeah. He better put some air in it before he gets to Denver," says Malone.