Imagine what the Clippers could have been with Moses Malone


Jun 3, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; A view of the NBA Finals logo on the scoreboard during practice prior to the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, we heard the tragic news that NBA legend Moses Malone passed away at just 60 years of age. It wasn’t long before those in the basketball community began sharing their reactions to such a sad loss, which now prompts us to give the incredible career of the three-time MVP and NBA champion some much deserved acknowledgment.

When remembering his career from the stand point of the Los Angeles Clippers, though, there’s no way to avoid the “what if” question when it comes to Moses Malone.

As the first player to go straight from high school to professional basketball, it was always clear that Malone could be a special player. He became an All-Star during his rookie season in the ABA with the Utah Stars, after averaging 18.8 points, 14.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, which began his eventual Hall of Fame career with major emphasis.

Yet, it wasn’t until the 1976 dispersal draft — which was hosted due to the ABA-NBA merger, to allow teams to select players from the Kentucky Colonels and Spirits of St. Louis as they were the two ABA teams not included in the initial merger — that Malone was selected into the NBA by the Portland Trail Blazers. Then, after just a few months with the team, he was traded to the Buffalo Braves (who became the Clippers) in exchange for a 1978 first round draft pick.

For the Braves, who would then become the San Diego Clippers and then the Los Angeles Clippers, Malone never had a chance to begin his career with the franchise. In fact, he never even played the length of a single quarter. He appeared in just two games for the Braves and totalled a mere six minutes playing time, to record one defensive rebound, one personal foul, and a grand total of zero points.

However, just six days after joining the Braves, Malone was traded on October 24th, 1976 to the Houston Rockets for two first round draft picks.

From that moment on, Moses Malone went on to become one of the most terrifying rebounders in league history and one of the best centers to ever play the game. Unfortunately for the eventual Clippers franchise, though, they possessed that talent on the court for just 360 seconds.

In Houston, Malone quickly took his game to a whole new level. His inspiring passion and drive to haul in rebound after rebound, destroy opponents with his footwork in the paint and out-work everyone on the floor led him and his team to new heights.

During his six years with the Rockets, Malone averaged 24 points, 15 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 38.3 minutes per game. Simply put, he was virtually unstoppable. Especially when he set his sights on an offensive rebound.

What’s so unfortunate when looking at his career, though, is the fact that Moses Malone is rarely acknowledged or remembered as one of the greatest centers in NBA history. Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul JabarrHakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal all spring to people’s minds in an instant, but what about Moses “Chairman of the Boards” Malone?

He’s a three-time MVP winner, 12-time All-Star, has the most offensive rebounds (6,731) in NBA history, ranks 5th of all-time in total rebounds (16,212), ranks 8th of all-time in scoring (27,409), carried the Rockets to the Finals in 1981 to take Larry Bird’s Boston Celtic’s to six games, and finally won a championship in 1983 with the Philadelphia 76ers, in which he was crowned Finals MVP as well.

And how many people talk about him as one of the best big men in basketball history? Not nearly enough.

That’s the kind of historic center that the Clippers missed out on.

When considering what Malone could have meant to the Clippers if he stayed with the franchise till they actually became the L.A. Clippers in 1984, there’s no denying that the history of the team would have been far more memorable if he never left.

If he experienced any kind of longevity with the franchise who would become the Clippers, rather than being a member of six different teams throughout his 20 year NBA career, Malone could have carried the team to greater success. Not necessarily championships, but he could have served as a legendary anchor for the team during their hardest times. And unless you’re lucky enough to land an elite two-way guard, a center is often the best player to be the cornerstone of a franchise.

Admittedly one man can’t do everything by himself, but Moses would stop at nothing to do so. That’s just the kind of guy he was.

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Malone didn’t retire till after the 1994-95 season either, meaning he could have (potentially) played for the Los Angeles Clippers for a decade. Sadly, that didn’t come close to happening. So, as the Clippers began their time as a franchise by only winning 40+ games in a season twice and having just three first round exits to their name from 1985 to 2005, it’s undeniable that Malone could have changed the history of the team entirely.

As we look back, though, thinking about what could have been, it’s a shame he was never able begin a true career with the Clippers. Yet, regardless of who he played for, the only thing you need to know is that guys like Malone, who play with undying passion, talent and heart, are incredibly hard to find.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter that he joined so many teams. Because it doesn’t change what he brought to the league for two decades.

Legends like Malone just don’t come around too often.

Moses, you’ll be missed.

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