The National Basketball Association yesterday denied suggestions it had pressured the Philadelphia 76ers into keeping Moses Malone out of Wednesday night's game against the Washington Bullets. The league said medical reasons alone sidelined Malone.
Scotty Stirling, the NBA vice president for operations, said he made inquiries into Malone's status Monday following news accounts in Philadelphia that quoted 76ers Coach Billy Cunningham as saying Malone would sit out Tuesday's game against the Atlanta Hawks, but would play Wednesday against the Bullets.
Malone, who played Sunday in Philadelphia's victory over the Knicks, complained of tendinitis in his knees after the game. Team physician Michael Clancy said he told Malone to sit out both the Atlanta and Washington games, which he did.
The absence of Malone, one of the league's most dominant players, makes the 76ers far less imposing. And without him, they lost to both Washington and Atlanta. The Bullets, Hawks and Knicks are competing for the last two playoff spots in the NBA's Eastern Division.
The Knicks were concerned enough for Executive Vice President Dave DeBusschere to call the league office about Malone's status on Monday.
"I just called the league to inform them," DeBusschere told the New York Times. "I don't want to be a judge about whether a player is hurt or not, but he played against us Sunday and they said he would not play against the Hawks and that he would play the following night against the Bullets. I don't know how they could know he was going to get better that quickly."
DeBusschere and New York Coach Hubie Brown were unavailable yesterday.
Stirling yesterday said his inquiry was not prompted by concerns that public confidence in the league would be impaired if Malone played against one playoff contender and not another.
According to team sources, the Bullets had been distressed with preliminary reports that Malone would play against them but not the Hawks. But the Bullets made no official complaints to the league.
"There were never any questions in my mind as to the integrity of Billy Cunningham or Moses Malone or the Philadelphia 76ers," Stirling said. He said Cunningham had been misquoted.
Stirling also said he had discussed the matter with DeBusschere after he had spoken to Clancy and Pat Williams, general manager of the 76ers.
Reached by telephone yesterday, Malone said, "My knee is sore. The doctor said to rest it until it gets better. That's all. If I could play, I would."
Clancy said he examined Malone after his game Sunday against the Knicks and that there was no doubt Malone should miss both the Atlanta and Washington game.
"He needed five days. Maybe he can play by Friday," Clancy said.
An NBA source described the matter as "an injury we looked into to make sure everything was the way it should be, and we were assured it was, and that was the end of it. It's not unusual for us to check on things like that. This is not the first time we've done it."