In 1974, Lefty Driesell had only been at Maryland for a few years but he had built quickly and it looked as if he might fulfill his brash “UCLA of the East” boast. Maryland was right with NC State’s great teams in 1973-74, just a half-step behind, if that.
And then Driesell got a commitment from Moses Malone, who would go on to become one of the greatest players in NBA history.
A 6-10 phenom from Petersburg, Virginia who grew up in deep poverty, Malone was the first high school player to go directly to the pros, in his case, the ABA (the NBA didn't allow high school players at the time).
Malone was an immediate success and when the NBA-ABA merger came in 1976, he was of immense value. Amazingly, in retrospect, he was taken by Portland in the dispersal draft (not all ABA teams made the merger) and was shipped off to the Buffalo Braves, who quickly traded him to Houston.
If he had stayed with the Trailblazers, he could have taken over when Bill Walton’s injuries caused so much havoc.
But he made his biggest mark in Philly, leading the 76ers to the 1983 title. Malone was relentless on the boards, outworking many more talented players.
He was mocked for his shyness and for not being particularly articulate, but as Julius Erving said at Malone’s Hall of Fame induction, he was quietly brilliant.
Malone and Driesell became good friends and planned to have diner together on September 13, 2015. Malone was in a celebrity golf tournament in Norfolk and died in his hotel room that morning.
For all his bombast, Driesell’s deepest self is seen in his attachment to players like Malone and Len Bias, about whom he can still barely speak without crying.