Moses Malone a Symbol of How Individual Greatness Can Uplift an Entire Team

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterSeptember 13, 2015

BOSTON - 1983:  Moses Malone #2 of the Philadelphia 76ers sits on the bench during a game played in 1983 against the Boston Celtics at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1983 NBAE (Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images)
Dick Raphael/Getty Images

It's the purest play in basketball.

The offensive rebound is always original and unscripted, as one player makes something out of nothing for his team. And it was not just Moses Malone's specialty in a dominant career; it was his personal basketball domain.

Malone died Sunday at 60. It was the morning of the new NFL season, but he serves as a reminder of how a singular force in the NBA is always more of a game-changer than anyone on the football field.

The dedication and savvy with which Malone attacked the offensive glass made him a one-man team no matter what colors he wore, although he's remembered best as that very big man wearing that very small number in lifting the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers to the championship as NBA MVP and NBA Finals MVP.

How dominant with his game was Malone? Not even counting his first two seasons in the ABA, Malone totaled 6,731 offensive rebounds in the NBA.

Next-most all-time? Robert Parish's 4,598.

INGLEWOOD, CA - 1982:  Moses Malone #2 of the Philadelphia 76ers drives to the basket for a reverse layup against the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #33 of the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA game in 1982 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California.  NOTE T
NBA Photos/Getty Images

Parish was certainly striking in his own low-maintenance way, with stoic but winning play for the Sixers' rival, the Boston Celtics. Yet the math says the No. 2 all-time offensive rebounder came up 2,133 short of Malone, who was simply the epitome of getting work done without design.

Right there with Parish in offensive rebounds are Buck Williams (4,526), Dennis Rodman (4,329), Charles Barkley (4,260) and Shaquille O'Neal (4,209). Some of those names are more memorable to a younger generation of NBA fans, but it might surprise you to know that if you do count Malone's ABA seasons when he was a preps-to-pros pioneer at age 19, he moves past O'Neal on the all-time scoring chart to seventh, behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving.

Moses not only got the rebounds, but he had the touch to get them back in—and convert when he was fouled, a rarity for big men today. Malone shot 76.9 percent from the free-throw line over his 19 NBA seasons.

The force of his play in the paint is most indelible, but it is never just one trick with the greats. Erving made a point of that during his introduction of Malone for his 2001 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction, referring to Malone as a "genius" and "great student of the game."

Erving recalled how Malone would be the first off the court and in and out of the postgame shower so he could sit there, wrapped in just a towel in the locker room, and offer useful analysis to every teammate who exited the shower and crossed in front of him.

"Behind those eyes," Erving said of the soft-spoken Malone, "is a brilliant mind."

We have some dynamic physical specimens crashing the glass now in Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan and Tyson Chandler. Malone had plenty of their power, if not their vertical, and he also had a unique guile to get where the ball would go.

So when you next see an authoritative putback by Drummond or Jordan after relentlessly going to retrieve a miss—or when you next see Paul Millsap or Draymond Green or David Lee slip in and find a clever way to the ball and score, remember that Malone was the ultimate one-man machine in that regard.

Ironman A.C. Green had 3,354 career offensive rebounds. Fiery Kevin Garnett has 3,194. Long-standing legend Abdul-Jabbar had 2,975.

Those totals by those three icons in the paint don't even reach half of Malone's amount of offensive rebounds.

BOSTON - 1980:  Moses Malone #24 of the Houston Rockets looks for a rebound during a game against the Boston Celtics played in 1980 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading an
Dick Raphael/Getty Images

One of the intrinsic characteristics of basketball as opposed to football is that one player can far more easily take over the game.

Even so, rare is the basketball player capable of doing so.

Without needing play calls or perfect passes, Malone certainly did it like no one else.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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