When I was in middle school, for the first time in my life, I picked up a basketball with the intent to play. I had gone through a growth spurt (I'm the same height today...go figure) and loved watching basketball since I was a little kid (thanks, Allen Iverson). Now, I thought, I could finally be good enough to play since I was all of a sudden relatively tall. I didn't play much before because my dribbling was atrocious and, to this day, its barely passable. But there I stood at 5ft. 8in. in 7th grade, suddenly a viable 'big man'. I wanted to be good and I had begun to learn that there were other ways to contribute on a court besides scoring (which I sucked at). Rebounding and defense became my task. There was a special joy in doing the 'dirty work' on the court and I took pride in it. I liked the fact I could be valued even though I couldn't score as well as my friends, but what I liked more was feeling like I was personally winning in real time - out-hustling or out-jumping or out-diving someone else for an errant ball, making a pass to a more offensively talented teammate, and then lurking in the shadows for the possible miss to do it all again. Ben Wallace was popular then and I liked to think of myself as a version of him on the court (partially to justify my awful shooting, partially because I had a similar blown out hairstyle)... but who I really wanted to be was Moses Malone, mostly because he was a Sixer and multiple adults in my life had told me 'that guy could rebound'. As I continued to play, I began to study rebounding - the art of boxing people out and positioning - and quickly realized that Moses was the gold standard. The way he used his ass and his shoulders, the way he reacted faster than anyone else on the floor - that's who I wanted to be. He represented everything I loved about basketball.
Today, Moses Malone passed away in his sleep at the age of 60. It's a sad passing and I find myself feeling a lot of loss for someone I never met. He is one of the biggest reasons I love basketball and why I will play in any pickup game I can find - why I throw my body into strangers when a shot goes up, hoping to outwork them. Watching highlights of him playing at a young age taught me the joy of rebounding and I can never thank him enough for that. It's a joy unlike any other and I'd put it against anything else in this world. He will be missed. Rest in Peace, Moses.