Moses Malone, a 6-foot-10 center whose basketball talent is about to make him the highest-salaried athlete in America, said today he really isn't worried what people back home might be saying about all that money.
Just so long as no one tries to argue that it's a crime for him to be earning so much.
"I don't know why people are making such a big deal out of it," said Malone, 28, last season's most valuable NBA player who Wednesday night signed an offer sheet with the Philadelphia 76ers for a reported salary of $2.2 million a year for the next six years, a total of $13.2 million.
"I don't see why it's a crime for me to make big bucks. Lots of people in this league make big bucks," Malone said. "No one is talking about them. The owner thought I deserved it.
"I don't care what people are saying," he said. "Let 'em talk. That's the way life goes."
As the news broke Thursday of Philadelphia's offer, Malone flew off to Western Europe for a seven-game, four-nation tour with an eight-man team of NBA players put together by ProServ Inc., the Washington-based sports promotion and marketing company. (Malone's offer sheet was negotiated by Lee Fentress, a Washington attorney who is a senior partner in a law firm headed by Donald Dell, chairman of the board of ProServ.)
After one victory and one loss in Amsterdam against the leading Dutch basketball team, the Nashuas of Den Bosch, the U.S. team today easily outplayed West Germany's national title holder, the Saturns of Cologne, 113-97. Malone scored 41 points. His rebound total was unavailable; that statistic was not kept here.
Meantime, top officials of the Houston Rockets, Malone's old team, said Friday the Rockets would match Philadelphia's offer sheet. They have until Sept. 18 to make it official. Then, they can keep Malone or trade him.
Draping himself over a small arm chair in a hotel lobby in this quiet Stuttgart suburb, Malone said he has no strong preference between continuing with the Rockets or switching to the 76ers or another team.
"My position is, I'm just waiting to see what happens," he said.
Another member of the tour, who asked not to be identified, said Malone has expressed concern privately about how his possible move to Philadelphia would be taken by Houston fans. Malone is known for his loyalty. The person who broke the story of Malone's signing the Philadelphia offer sheet was a Petersburg, Va., disc jockey and a former classmate of Malone's at Petersburg High. Malone promised he would tell his friend first, and he did.
Bobby Jones, a forward for the 76ers who is also on the European tour, said the prospect of Malone joining is "definitely good news" for Philadelphia because "he's so consistent in the way he plays that it would help our team tremendously."
At a press conference here, introducing the U.S. players to German reporters, Stephen Disson, a ProServ vice president, said that being in Europe was allowing Malone some welcome distance in the contract battle going on for him. "If he were home, there'd be lots of press conferences," Disson said.
Malone in the interview sounded a bit irked that two years of negotiations with the Rockets over a new contract had not worked out, causing him to become a free agent and an object of a public bidding contest.
He said he had wanted to avoid pitting one team against another: "I just wanted to get a contract so I could concentrate on playing ball. The main thing with me was not how much money I could get from a team. I'm okay, I'm fine with what I've got now."
Then why is Philadelphia offering so much?
"It isn't because I need the money," said Malone. "It's because they thought that was a fair price for me. My lawyers negotiated the price; I just accepted it."
Malone would not say what other teams had made serious offers, and he declined to confirm or deny the reported details of Philadelphia's offer. But he confirmed that the terms call for "all cash, no deferrals."
What will he do with all that money?
"I'm just not going to blow it away," he said. "My main concern is (still going to be) the job."
Reminded that with some of the money he got when he first went pro, he moved his mother from poverty in Petersburg, Va., to a new house 20 miles from Richmond, Malone said, "I always think of my mother."
Asked if he thought his additional riches would make him complacent, Malone, who is considered one of the hardest working players in the league and particularly its best offensive rebounder, said, "The money isn't going to do that to me.
"I love the game. I'm not going to try to show anyone I'm different. I'm just going to show I can play ball."
Malone said he wasn't thinking about the possibility of playing one more year at Houston and then possibly being traded to the Los Angeles Laker when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retires. The possibility of a trade to the 76ers seems unlikely as long as that team insists its starters are untouchable and says it will not trade a draft pick that should give a team a 50-50 chance at Virginia center Ralph Sampson.
But Malone figures he could boost the 76ers' prospects for a league title, something that has eluded the team the past six years. In that time, they have achieved the best overall record in the NBA and gained the championship series three times.
"I'm not going to say they'd win a championship," Malone said, "but I think they would be a No. 1 contender. I can help them on the boards."
For those who remember the scoffs in 1974 when Malone decided to forgo college ball at the University of Maryland for the Utah Jazz of the American Basketball Association, Malone's current success carries a sweet justice. At that time, Lefty Driesell, the Maryland coach who signed him to a scholarship, was quoted as saying Malone would be worth more if he played one year and possibly led Maryland to an NCAA championship.
"I don't regret anything," said Malone.
But Malone also said he would give young players different advice than what he took and urge them to play for a college team first.
The difference between then and now is that today only one professional basketball league exists instead of two, Malone said, depressing the prices available for young players.
"The situation right now is not made for young ball players," said Malone CAPTION: Picture, "My lawyers negotiated the price," Moses Malone, on tour in Europe, says of his reported $13.2 million offer sheet. "I just accepted it." AP