February 8, 2016

Q&A with Moses Malone

Moses Malone paved the way for others to trail in his footsteps when he bypassed college for the American Basketball Association, signing in 1974 with the Utah Stars. He made an impressionable mark in the NBA, winning three MVPS and averaging 20.6 points and 12.2 rebounds over 20 seasons. Malone passed last September at the age of 60. The following is a transcript of an interview Malone conducted for ‘Boys Among Men,’ lightly edited for clarity.

Your recruiting from colleges was intense. You were offered cars and money. What was that period like for you?

Malone: I really didn’t look at it like that, but I just thought it was like a great opportunity that half the colleges wanted me to play for them. My main concern was—I love the game not for the money, I just loved the game to play the game for, like, orange juice and cookies, and stuff, on the playground. I never thought I was a great athlete or a good athlete. I thought I was just a hard [working] guy that loved to play the game when I was coming up.

Rumor has it that you played in a pickup game with your friends from home and beat the University of Maryland’s team

Malone: Yeah, I’m the type of guy, I always like the challenge. I always like to play against the best players, so I always try to pick guys that I have the opportunity that I can play with, that I know they could play, but I only try to play guys that were better than us. Because we always liked the challenge. In Petersburg, Virginia, I had guys that were better than me and I would play against them. This was the only way that I could be better is if I played against guys better than me. But I chose all my homeboys from Petersburg High against the guys from the University of Maryland. And we ended up winning.

Was the transition to professional basketball tougher than you had imagined it?

Malone: Definitely tougher, because the main thing coming out of high school, the thing is you gotta get used to the guys bigger than you, strong as you, tall, just like you, and got more experience than you. So you’ll have some butterflies but you can’t be afraid to play. You gotta come at it with a mental toughness and be physical to let them know that you’re going to stand your ground. Once I established myself, and said that I was not going to back down, just play hard and keep doing things to try to win ball games, they’ll look at me like, “Well, this guy ain’t too big; we might take advantage of him”, but then they look at me like, “This guy got a little talent.” And I think I got all that from playing on the playground in my days in Petersburg, Virginia, when I used to play against older guys and guys tougher than me.

Basketball aside, what was the transition like as a teenager moving from Virginia to Utah?

Malone: Well, there’s a big difference. You’re moving [to] the other side of the country. You’re up in Utah. You’re up in the mountains and as a young guy out of high school you just realize it’s a new custom, you gotta get used to it. You know, there’s a lot of experience. I had another young guy on the team that I played with by the name of Bruce Seals. Me and Bruce Seals were together a lot. We were young, so we had an opportunity to grow up and realize what this could be. Guys around me would make sure I did the right thing, that I would not get into trouble. But it’s a big opportunity, just growing up.

Were you nervous when you decided to make the jump from high school to the ABA?

Malone: I was never nervous. I just wanted to make sure that, as I make my decision it’s going to be the right decision, if anything happens it’ll be on me. And then if something happens bad, then it’s on me. Ain’t no one make the decision for me. I can’t come and say, well, “I put the blame on you.” The only one I can blame is Moses. Moses Malone. That’s the only one I can blame. No one else.

When did you realize that as a high school player, you were being scouted to immediately become a professional?

Malone: See, that’s the whole thing. I never knew that I was being scouted. I just loved to play the game. I remember the first time these people were scouting me. I never thought I was good. My homeboys thought I was good, but I never thought I was good. I just loved to play the game. I used to love the challenge playing against the best guy, playing against the best player, because then I could figure if I was good enough for this challenge. I always loved the competition. I always want to play people better than me and I get better because I had homeboys that tell me if you play against the best, then you’ll be the best. And I was never scared of the challenge, because I didn’t start playing the game until I turned 13-and-a-half. When I turned 13-and-a-half, then I turned 15-and-a-half, they didn’t want me to play on the playground no more because I would dominate.

Were you surprised that it took a whole two decades between Dawkins and Willoughby and Kevin Garnett before high school players decided to do it again?

Malone: No, the one thing I do—I give a lot of respect to high school ball players. By coming into this game, and the one thing about it—probably embarrassing for a guy that went to college and a pro—when you got a young high school guy coming in, people don’t know what to say. And I think that’s one of the problems with me. I had dominated so much when I came out of high school, people were trying to figure out who taught this guy this game. Who I learned this game from. For me, I learned this game on my own…When I see that guy coming out of high school, and he’s one of the best players coming out of high school, that shows me a lot. That shows me you got a lot of talent, but you gotta understand that you gotta be smart enough to be the individual guy, to accept what you’re doing. You can’t let no one pull you down. And when I see guys like Kobe, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett’s still doing what they’re doing, man. It just makes the high school ball players that came before very proud.

You were the first guy to be drafted to professional basketball from high school, yet you had an amazing career. How did you manage it?

Well, you gotta have coaches, and people don’t believe this. You gotta have coaches, and you gotta have people that believe in you. You don’t win, you don’t get to this point without players or your team. When you’re playing with five guys, and 12 guys, it’s a unit. You gotta be a unit. When I went to Philadelphia, it got to be a unit. The other guys have to understand what you’re doing, because nobody wins by themselves. When I went into the Hall of Fame, when I went to the Virginia Hall of Fame, when I made the All-Star team, or when I win a championship, or when I do this, when I make money, these guys with me helped me get to that point. Every guy I played with helped me get to that point. Nobody can do it by themselves. Guys helped me get to that point. And what people don’t do? They don’t ever give little guys credit. You only give the superstar credit. But you ain’t got the engine, the engine ain’t never going to run. You gotta have someone there for you to make you who you are.