Moses Malone, the 6-10 Houston Rockets basketball star, towers over Roger Hudnell, left, and Phinney Barnes during a visit to the AAFES store at Wiesbaden, Germany.

Moses Malone, the 6-10 Houston Rockets basketball star, towers over Roger Hudnell, left, and Phinney Barnes during a visit to the AAFES store at Wiesbaden, Germany. (Pete Milia/Stars and Stripes)

Moses Malone, the 6-10 Houston Rockets basketball star, towers over Roger Hudnell, left, and Phinney Barnes during a visit to the AAFES store at Wiesbaden, Germany.

Moses Malone, the 6-10 Houston Rockets basketball star, towers over Roger Hudnell, left, and Phinney Barnes during a visit to the AAFES store at Wiesbaden, Germany. (Pete Milia/Stars and Stripes)

A fan meets Moses Malone at Wiesbaden.

A fan meets Moses Malone at Wiesbaden. (Pete Milia/Stars and Stripes)

WIESBADEN, Germany — Five years ago, a 19-year-old high school student in Petersberg, W.Va., was the most wanted basketball player in the country. Two hundred colleges did everything they could to get him, legal or illegal, and pro scouts just drooled.

Coaches everywhere wanted to use 6-10, 215-pound Moses Malone to deliver them to the promised land — the NCAA title. But after deciding to attend University of Maryland, he surprisingly signed a $3.3-million contract with the Utah Stars of the American Basketball Association.

The pressures of big money, the long pro schedule, long hours of traveling and the new environment bothered Malone, but he has weathered the storm for a successful career.

Now 24, Moses plays for the National Basketball Association's Houston Rockets and is one of the hottest properties in basketball.

The quiet, but personable Malone was at Wiesbaden Shopping Center Tuesday on a Waverly-AAFES promotional tour.

New life after turning pro

Malone said "It's been different the past four years. "It's nice. I love the NBA and I love playing basketball."

Malone said after his rookie season that the traveling "and living out of a suitcase" was the most difficult change. But Malone seems to have adjusted well.

"I feel I got used to the flying. I really enjoy it now," he said. On the road Malone doesn't try to paint the towns red. "I don't mess around. I get a good meal to stay going, and I rest a lot."

Marvin Barnes, like Malone, ran into sudden millions in pro ball. Barnes couldn't handle it. He has a notorious lifestyle which has run him out of money, out of shape, and into trouble.

Reggie Harding, who came to the pros out of high school in the mid 1960s, sets a more poignant example. Harding could never adjust to the pro life, he could never mature and leave his old neighborhood.

Harding had a flash of success in the NBA, then drifted into crime, drugs, and the streets. He was too nice to have enemies, but he died in a pool of blood in his old neighborhood, the victim of murder.

Moses Malone, on the other hand, seems to handled success well. He likes to keep a relaxed pace and a low profile.

In the off season, he said, he instructs "three or four basketball camps" but basically just takes it easy. "I like to rest. I don't do too much, watch a lot of TV. I get enough traveling during the season. Too much."

Malone was the first man drafted out of high school by a pro basketball team under the modern draft. A year later Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby, two promising big men, were drafted from the prep ranks.

Basketball writers said the high school players wouldn't make it big in the pro game because they lacked the experience and maturity needed. And Dawkins and Willoughby have yet to make it big.

"They said the same things about me. But I never had any doubts," Malone said.

He tore up the ABA in his rookie season, scoring over 18 points a game and finishing among the leaders in field-goal percentage, blocked shots and rebounds.

He has not been a flashy scorer in his past three seasons, but experts say he is the quickest big man ever to play the game and perhaps the finest offensive rebounder around.

In the summer Malone says he likes to study. He brought accounting and business books on his trip to Europe, and has been reading in his spare time.

"You can't play all your life. Your legs are going to go out on you," he said. "I don't want to wait 10 or 15 years to learn."

Pressured by recruiters

Malone refuses to talk about the times when hundreds of coaches tried to woe him every day. "I just want to forget all about it," he said.

His former high school coach, "Pro" Hayes, told a reporter, "There were some schools that offered him everything. Cash and everything else you could think of. Some schools even offered me a coaching job if I delivered Moses."

Oral Roberts offered to heal Malone's ailing mother if he would play for his university. Lefty Driesell of Maryland literally camped out on Malone's front lawn. Clemson representatives reportedly gave Malone's uncle thousands of dollars of bribe money, which made the NCAA nervous.

John Weisenant, an assistant coach at New Mexico, spent three months in a Petersberg motel trying to land Malone. He told a reporter "Moses would come by and talk — about girls, basketball, cars, anything — just to get away from everyone."

Malone had the misfortune of playing for the Utah Stars, a team which folded after the 1974-75 season. He was sent to St. Louis, but after the 1975-7.6 campaign that team folded when the ABA and NBA merged.

Portland of the NBA drafted him in the dispersal draft, but they already had an all-star center and an all-star power forward, so Moses had nowhere to play. He was shipped to Buffalo, where he played a few games, then was unloaded to Houston, where he has settled down.

For Malone, who disliked all the travel of pro ball, the constant shifting must have been trying. He refused to discuss that period, offering only a wince when all the trades were mentioned.

Malone's original pro contract expires in two years and he is unsure of his future. He said he discuss his situation with his lawyer and "take the best offer. You have to play where you are most comfortable."

Excelling near the hoop

Malone's forte is the offensive rebound. He finished second in the NBA in the rebounding race last season and experts have said Malone is the best offensive rebounder in its history — in terms of pure ability. He also has been called the quickest big man ever in the NBA.

But it was a big step up from dominating high school kids to mixing it up with taller and stronger men. "There wasn't too much height in high school. Basically, I had to get used to the heights of the pros."

"With the addition of the four ABA teams, play has gotten tougher," he said.

Malone said he battles 225-245-pound forwards and centers, and the key to success is "You have to get to the position first. You can't just try to muscle people out of the way."

After his rookie season he told a reporter "There is a lot of contact in the pros and it took awhile to get used to it. One of the big things I had to learn was that you have to push back. You can't let these guys push and shove or they'll push you all they way back to the bench."

He said "I learned the game all by myself" as a youngster shooting a rubber ball, and when he made the big jump to the pros "basically I just helped myself."

The NBA contact has increased in recent years, and writers felt the problem reached the boiling point when several serious fistfights broke out last year. Rudy Tomjanovich, Malone's teammate, had his face caved in in the most serious fight.

Malone indicated the problem starts when intense players start shoving and jostling, then tempers flare. Should the referees call a tighter game?

"You don't want a sissy sport," he said Tuesday, but he added "The referees should call what they should call."

Malone will likely be moved inside to full-time center on the Rockets next year with the addition of long-range sharpshooter Rick Barry. "He and Rudy T are prime shooters. They will take the pressure off the inside."

"I really don't have any goals for the future. If you have goals and you reach them, you stop. I just want to keep on going."

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now