Silly Brent Musburger.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and nearly everybody else the suddenly former NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers could patch together had been unable to halt the relentless might of Moses Malone. There are franchises and there are Franchises, so the one from CBS was not about to halt Mo's postgame mo, his move for the mike to preen and preach.
What Malone said while celebrating the NBA title was a whole lot tougher to understand than what he did to make that possible for the Philadelphia 76ers. Several semesters in speech and the social graces at Maryland would have made that postgame scene less goofy, Lefty Driesell surely must have been muttering toward his television.
Malone's basketball was postgraduate in high school. And as basic and blunt as his messages off the court. Possession is ten-tenths of the law in his line of work, and Moses Malone gets his team the ball as well as anyone who ever laced a sneaker. He said four, four, four when asked to assess the Sixers' outcome in three possible playoff series and delivered four, five, four.
Coaches from kiddie-league through the collegiate Driesells through the career drifters in the NBA still are salivating over one Malone sequence from the Sixers' four-game sweep of a very good team playing without several very good players.
With less than seven minutes left in what would be the final blessed quarter of the final NBA game, Malone took a long pass from Maurice Cheeks and lofted a short jumper over Abdul-Jabbar near the left baseline. It missed. Malone snatched the rebound, snaked a few feet to his right to use the basket as protection against Abdul-Jabbar and threw up another shot.
And missed again.
Down and then back up in an instant, Malone grabbed the ball again.
And shot again.
In one play, Malone had gotten about a third of the rebounds Abdul-Jabbar gets in one game. Magic is style on the court; Malone is substance. That was an equitable deal he and the Sixers struck before the season: giving him $13 million over six years and a quality supporting cast and getting the only man on earth who can make Kareem cower. A multimillionaire, Malone also is the ultimate blue-collar athlete.
Alone, Malone had 23 rebounds in Game 4; the five front court Lakers had 26.
And the Sixers don't owe Philly one any longer.
That had been their six-year embarrassment since losing the championship series to another immensely appealing team, the Portland Trail Blazers, after winning the first two games. We owe ya one, they had promised the nation's most fickle sports town; they couldn't deliver until their latest owner, Harold Katz, bought the sport's most solid foundation.
Portland was special that '76 season, though not flawless, for on Oct. 18 it traded to Buffalo for a first-round draft choice an inexperienced and skinny collection of coils who, fleshed out, now dominates dominant players. With Malone, Portland could have blazed some even neater NBA trails.
Julius Erving was a Sixer stung by that Blazer blitz, and the ever-growing notion that his team was destined to fall one dribble shy of an NBA title. Tuesday night, he was the Sixer who shot down that image for good while shooting the team ahead for good in the final minute.
It says here that Malone needed Erving, Cheeks, Bobby Jones, Andrew Toney and lots of Clint Richardson nearly as much as they needed him as the Sixers compiled the league's best regular-season record and lost just once in 13 playoff tests. Very steadily, Cheeks has blossomed into a very fine lead guard; very quietly, Richardson made Magic seem almost human at times; very forcefully, Jones again showed his often-overlooked virtues.
Very appropriatly, Erving was on the free-throw line with a minute left and a chance to finish off the three-point play that would break the Lakers for good. No longer the oncourt lynchpin, or at least the obvious one, he is a grand man who should not leave sport with the slightest taint.
Sentimental Washingtonians watched Erving sink that foul shot in Los Angeles and thought about Wes Unseld five years ago in Seattle. There's a right way to end everything memorable.
Fortunately, the giants we wanted to see play splendidly did and the one we wanted not to mumble didn't. The pivot man of CBS's five-man team, Bill Russell, was wonderful. Expansive. Insightful. Seemingly prescient at times. Like the NBA, Russell gets close to boring season long but gets close to brilliant with something important at stake.
"You might beat us, but we won't lose," he said of the attitude of the stout Lakers. They were making do without such as Bob McAdoo and James Worthy to harass Malone inside nearly the entire series and without their most reliable outside shot, Norm Nixon, the entire last game.
A fellow usually in the arena left the final fadeaway sensing that someday it might be possible for a network to telecast a sport without being in its back pocket. Granted, CBS is the stronger alphabetical structure. But its crew at least asked decent questions. And allowed Russell an especially biting bit of commentary.
With the camera on Lakers Coach Pat Riley and the verbal focus on his being fined $3,000 by Commissioner Lawrence O'Brien for detailing what he regarded as prejudical officiating in Game 2, Russell said, "I wonder in his remarks, did he tell any lies?"