One week after issuing a heartfelt statement mourning the loss of friend, teammate and mentor Moses Malone, who died Sept. 13 at age 60, Hall of Famer Charles Barkley delivered a touching eulogy for the late and often underappreciated legend at a memorial service held Saturday in Houston.
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Barkley spoke with reverence about the effort Malone put into helping him lose weight and get in basketball shape during his rookie season, expressing his gratitude for the "type of leadership" the veteran Malone showed in "staying on my case."
"Because of him working with me before and after practice, we developed this kinship," Barkley told the estimated crowd of 1,200 mourners who'd traveled to Lakewood Church — which was once The Summit, the arena where Malone starred for the Houston Rockets en route to the first two of his three NBA Most Valuable Player awards — to celebrate Malone's life and legacy. "Like I said, every time I saw him, I called him 'Dad,' I gave him a big hug, and I told him how I appreciated and respected what he did for me.
"I never understood why a guy that great — because at that time, he was obviously on the downside of his career; he'd accomplished everything — I never understood why he took a little kid from Alabama under his wing," Barkley continued. "[...] At the time, it was a struggle, but man, I cannot believe how lucky I am to, No. 1, have a father figure not only on my team but also living in my same building, staying on me consistently [to make sure] that I didn't do anything, to keep me moving forward. And I always thanked him for that."
Barkley wasn't the only one to share fond remembrances of a man who touched the lives of many, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
Other former players who attended the ceremony included Dominique Wilkins, Ralph Sampson, Clyde Drexler, George Gervin, Artis Gilmore, Alex English and Tracy McGrady.
They came out of love and admiration for one [of] their own who was still even in their company special.
“He did it his own way,” [Julius] Erving said, comparing basketball’s “Chairman of the Boards” to another. “You have to compare him to Frank Sinatra, a guy who did it his own way and in the process, changed everything. Moses wasn’t the smoothest. He wasn’t the most articulate. There’s a short list of things he wasn’t and a long list of things that he was.
“I feel like he completed his mission. He always had a mission, the message that he carried around in his bible. He did what it said. He was a man who loved his family, loved life to the fullest and got the most out of his time here.” [...]
“My father was a great man,” Moses Malone Jr. said. “He taught me and my brother so much about life, how to love your family, how to react to anybody that came toward you. He never thought he was any better than anybody. He was friends with the trash man, the janitor, all the way to the star. He taught me and my brother how to be men, how to respect The Lord, how to respect life.”
That legacy — of taking people as they are, trying to lend a helping hand and making sure those who come after you are just a bit better off — resonated with Barkley, who closed what he called a "bittersweet" eulogy by relating a conversation he'd had with another all-time great and mentor figure, Bill Russell, about the measure of one's accomplishments.
"I always ask him, 'What is your greatest accomplishment? Was it winning the back-to-back championships in college, or all those championships in the NBA?'" Barkley recalled. "And he said, 'Oh, dude, that's just basketball.' He said, 'The only thing that mattered to me in my life was pleasing my dad.' He did. He says, 'I don't care about it. Hey, basketball, it's great to do all that stuff. But the No. 1 thing a man should want to do is please his father.'
"And the sweet part for me: being up here today, when the family asked me to speak today, it meant, to me, that my dad was proud of me."
Hat-tip to Ananth Pandian of Eye on Basketball.
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