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Moses Malone put 1982-83 76ers on top

First of three parts celebrating Saturday's 25th anniversary of the 76ers' winning the 1983 NBA championship.

Tomorrow: The title is the players' bond.

Bobby Jones got the first up-close glimpse of playing with future 76ers teammate Moses Malone, and the hard-working forward certainly enjoyed the view.

It was late summer 1982, and Jones and Malone were paired together on a European tour of NBA players.

The day before the tour, the Sixers had signed Malone, who was a free agent with the Houston Rockets, to an offer sheet.

Houston had 15 days to match the offer, but Jones needed just one day to be bowled over by Malone's legendary work ethic.

"I played with him on that tour and was blown away by how hard he worked," said Jones, who would be named the NBA's top sixth man for the 1982-83 season. "We'd play a game in Amsterdam, then drive to Germany, have two hours' sleep, and he would just kill these guys."

Even Jones, somebody known for keeping his emotions in check, could see that Malone was likely to be the missing piece that would finally put the Sixers over the top.

And with good reason.

The Sixers had been close to winning a championship with Julius Erving, but the postseason kept turning into an exercise in frustration.

Since his arrival before the 1976-77 season, Erving and the Sixers had come up empty during three NBA championship series, in 1977, 1980 and 1982. The Sixers also lost in the Eastern Conference finals to Washington in 1978 and to Boston, in seven games after holding a lead of three games to one, in 1981.

After they lost in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1982 NBA Finals, there was doubt the Sixers would ever be able to take that difficult final step.

The Sixers needed that extra push to cross the finish line, and it was provided by Malone, the driving force behind the 1982-83 championship team.

For all the talent the Sixers possessed during the Erving era, they never had that dominant post presence.

That all changed with the arrival of the seemingly undersize but never outworked 6-foot-10 Malone, who became a Sixer after a sign-and-trade deal Sept. 15, 1982, with Houston.

On Sept. 2, the day before Malone headed for that European tour, Sixers owner Harold Katz offered one of the biggest contracts in sports history when he signed Malone to a six-year $13.2 million offer sheet.

Houston had 15 days to either match the offer and keep Malone, match it and trade him to the Sixers, let him go for no compensation to the Sixers, or match the offer and trade him to another team.

Houston chose option No. 2 and sent Malone to the Sixers for popular center Caldwell Jones and Cleveland's 1983 first-round pick, which the Sixers had acquired in 1977 for Terry Furlow. (Houston later drafted Rodney McCray.)

"That proved to be the greatest single decision the franchise made in the '80s, getting Moses Malone," Erving said recently. "It certainly took a lot of pressure off of me as a team leader and captain."

Malone was a two-time NBA MVP - in 1979 and 1982 - before arriving in Philadelphia, and all those zeroes at the end of his new contract didn't affect him one bit.

Malone averaged 24.5 points and a league-leading 15.3 rebounds during the regular season and won his third MVP award. In the playoffs, he averaged 26 points and 15.8 rebounds.

"I played hard before I got paid, and it didn't make any difference," Malone said recently. "I played hard every night, and now the opportunity was for me to come to Philadelphia and to win."

And win they did.

The Sixers went 65-17 in the regular season and 12-1 in the playoffs. After earning a first-round bye, the Sixers swept the New York Knicks in four games. They beat Milwaukee four games to one in the Eastern Conference finals and swept the Lakers four games to none in the NBA Finals.

Malone wasn't known as much of a talker, but when he spoke, he had everybody's attention. His best-remembered line came before the playoffs when he was asked to predict how the Sixers would fare.

"Four, four, four," he declared, referring to three straight sweeps, and his distinctive accent made it sound like "Fo, fo, fo."

Upon his arrival, Malone was deferential to Erving, not wanting to tread on Dr. J's turf.

"He was quoted as saying when he got here, it was Dr. J's show, but now it's going to be a better show," Erving said. "Moses was phenomenal, and he was the high hat we were waiting for."

One that fit, like a championship crown.