The 50 best NBA players of the last 50 years: Moses Malone is ranked number 12

Editor’s Note: As part of a new series for his podcast, “What about Wright with Nick Wright?” FOX Sports Commentator Nick Wright is classifying the Top 50 NBA Players of the last 50 years. The countdown continues today with player No. 12, Moses Malone.

Moses Malone career highlights:

  • 1983 Finals MVP
  • Three times league MVP
  • 12-time All-Star
  • Four times All-NBA First Team, four times Second Team
  • One-time First Team All-Defensive, One-time Second Team
  • Six-time rebounding champion
  • 10th on the all-time goalscoring list
  • Fifth on the all-time rebounding list

For nearly 30 years, Moses Malone has slipped through the cracks of history just as he slipped through various franchises for the better part of two decades. Those two oddities are probably related.

They just don’t diminish Malone’s greatness.

“The inspiration for this project,” said Wright. “He was arguably the most underrated player in professional basketball history.”

Moses Malone is number 12 on Nick Wright’s list of the 50 greatest players of the last 50 years.

Moses Malone is number 12 on Nick Wright's list of the 50 greatest players of the last 50 years.

Moses Malone, one of the most imposing big men in history, is a 3-time MVP, 12-time All-Star, NBA champion, and 1983 Finals MVP. Nicknamed “The Chairman of the Boards,” he ranks fifth in NBA history in rebounding (16,212) and is the NBA’s all-time leader in career offensive rebounds (6,731).

It is, without a doubt, one of the most successful.

If it seems like Malone indiscriminately crashed the boards, the reverberation was felt throughout the NBA forest. No one has grabbed more rebounds in professional basketball in the last 50 years. He had 2,566 more offense than anyone.

That led to a ton of points. In fact, the 10th most in league history.

However, Malone was not just a compiler. He is one of only eight players to win three MVPs, and he did so while he was competing directly against three other members of the holy group. The chairman of the boards was also a winner, having led a dozen playoff teams for five different franchises.

But being a bit of a bum was part of the problem, as far as his legacy was concerned.

“While Moses Malone was traded quite a bit, he was one of the best players in league history. The three MVPs have to matter, the longevity has to matter,” Wright said. “The reason I think he doesn’t get the long-term respect is because at the end of his career he bounced around a lot in the league.”

Malone’s career also got off to an inauspicious (but ultimately shocking) start. He signed a letter of intent with Maryland, but backed out after being drafted by the ABA’s Utah Stars in 1974, becoming the first modern basketball player in the US to turn professional after high school.

He averaged 18.8 points and 14.6 rebounds as a 19-year-old rookie, a campaign that culminated in a 30-30 finish in his third playoff game. When the Stars folded a few weeks into their second season, Malone’s rights were sold to the Spirits of St. Louis. In 1976, the skinny young center found himself subject to another draft and was selected by Portland, who promptly traded him to Buffalo. Two games into that season, the Braves traded him to the Rockets.

Houston would become Malone’s first true home, as he broke the NBA record for offensive rebounds at just 21 years old. In the playoffs, he scored 31 and 26 against Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld of the Bullets and then 30 and 25 against the Sixers.

In 1981, the Rockets stunned the defending champion Lakers behind Malone’s marks of 31 and 18 in a best-of-three. He was part of a monster postseason run that saw him pull off 20 double-doubles in 21 games, averaging 27 and 15 in the process to be the best player in the Finals, though a six-game series he lost to the Celtics.

He would win his second MVP the following season, but was soon after traded to Philadelphia because the Rockets’ new owners did not want to honor their contract demands.

The move paid immediate dividends for Philadelphia, which posted the league’s best record in 1982-83 while Malone repeated as league MVP. Before the playoffs began, he predicted the Sixers would go “fo, fo, fo” in the coming rounds. They would lose just once, but would sweep the defending champion Lakers, with Malone claiming Finals MVP after averaging 26 and 18 in the series.

“Possibly the best player, definitely the Finals MVP, possibly on the best team ever,” Wright said. “Some really good playoff success against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.”

That marked the peak of Malone’s powers, although he would continue to produce at a high level for another seven years. After an orbital fracture kept him out of the 1986 playoffs, Philadelphia embarrassingly traded the legendary big man to the Bullets. He would go on to make three other All-Star teams, including one with the Hawks, but never get out of the first round again. His last three seasons were spent as a reserve with three different teams.

During his 12-year prime, Malone averaged 24 and 14. He had 22.1 points and 14.0 rebounds in his postseason career. Only Wilt Chamberlain recorded more double-doubles.

“If you asked me who the best players in the league were, the guy who wore the belt, from [Bill] From Russell’s rookie year to now, at most 13 guys have held that title: best player in the league,” Wright said. “Moses is one of those guys.”

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