With NBA legend Moses Malone, there was always laughter, a gift he happily shared and left for those that gathered Saturday to remember him. The pain and shock and loss were still fresh at his memorial less than a week after he had died in Virginia. But there were stories to tell and imitations to share. Malone was mourned, but also fittingly celebrated.
Mourners had flocked from around the country to Houston, Malone’s adopted hometown, with an estimated 1,200 people gathering at Lakewood Church – formerly The Summit, where Malone starred for the Rockets – to honor the life of an icon and to support one another with reminders of why he had become such a beloved part of NBA and Houston sports history.
So as they spoke, they punctuated stories with imitations of Malone’s distinctive, rapid-fire mumble. And as he had so many times before, he left them laughing.
“That’s how Moses was,” said Charles Barkley, who delivered the eulogy for the former Philadelphia 76ers teammate he called “Dad.” “He made you smile. He made you laugh. And he loved everybody.
“He helped everybody. From the rookies on, he treated everybody great. He was a wonderful man. It was an honor for me to do the eulogy.”
Malone, 60, died Sunday in Norfolk, Va. The Virginia medical examiner’s office listed his cause of death as hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
Malone was survived by his sons, Moses Malone, Jr., Michael Earl and Micah, and a granddaughter, Mia.
One of the giants of basketball history was celebrated by many members of that most exclusive club. Among those in attendance were former Rockets teammates Rudy Tomjanovich, Calvin Murphy, John Lucas and Major Jones as well as Julius Erving and Maurice Cheeks, with whom Malone won the 1983 NBA championship with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Other former players who attended the ceremony included Dominique Wilkins, Ralph Sampson, Clyde Drexler, George Gervin, Artis Gilmore, Alex English and Tracy McGrady.
They came out of love and admiration for one of their own who was still even in their company special.
“He did it his own way,” Erving said, comparing basketball’s “Chairman of the Boards” to another. “You have to compare him to Frank Sinatra, a guy who did it his own way and in the process, changed everything. Moses wasn’t the smoothest. He wasn’t the most articulate. There’s a short list of things he wasn’t and a long list of things that he was.
“I feel like he completed his mission. He always had a mission, the message that he carried around in his Bible. He did what it said. He was a man who loved his family, loved life to the fullest and got the most out of his time here.”
Malone had tucked a pledge in his Bible that he would be the first player to jump from high school to professional basketball, a goal he accomplished when he left the University of Maryland after one day to join the ABA’s Utah Stars. He would keep other goals in that Bible.
He became a 12-time All-Star and three-time MVP, the only player ever to win consecutive MVP awards with different teams. Malone is the NBA leader in offensive rebounds in a career, season and game. His 16,212 rebounds are fifth in league history. His 27,409 career points rank eighth.
Malone, however, was celebrated as a man who would never consider himself above anyone.
“My father was a great man,” Moses Malone Jr. said. “He taught me and my brother so much about life, how to love your family, how to react to anybody that came toward you. He never thought he was any better than anybody. He was friends with the trash man, the janitor, all the way to the star. He taught me and my brother how to be men, how to respect the Lord, how to respect life.”
Moments later, however, Malone Jr. broke into the imitation so many have done for so many years and would again on Saturday, mimicking his father’s way of speaking like gravel rolling out of a dump truck.
“There would be times media would call us,” Malone Jr. said. “He wouldn’t want to talk to them. He would say, “Talk to this guy for me.’ I’ll pick up his phone and do his voice. ‘Yeah, this is Big Mo, Big Mo. We not going to do this. If you want to come here, come up with the money.’ ”
Later, Barkley would describe Malone’s contract negotiations with the 76ers, again lowering his voice to imitate Malone’s.
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SOURCE: Houston Chronicle – Jonathan Feigen