19th in a series of 25
THE SIXERS won the 1982-83 championship on Sept. 15, 1982. The "NBA Guide,'' on Page 365, will tell you that the Sixers won Game 4 of the NBA Finals on May 31, 1983, sweeping ther Lakers in four games.
But ask anyone who was a Sixers fan in 1982 and they will tell you the day the trade for Moses Malone became official, the Sixers winning the NBA title was just a formality.
Malone was the missing piece, and second-year owner Harold Katz knew it. Wanting to make a statement, Katz went after Malone, who, after playing 6 years for the Houston Rockets, was a free agent.
The Rockets were changing owners and it was obvious they needed to get worse before they got better. Paying their center $2 million a year while surrounding him with mediocrity didn't make business sense.
The Sixers, meanwhile, were coming off a six-game loss in the Finals to the Lakers, in which Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had an easy time against the twin towers of charismatic and enigmatic Darryl Dawkins and hard-working, defensive specialist Caldwell Jones. Jabbar almost outscored the twosome singlehandedly in the series. It was obvious to Katz that the team's Achilles' heal was in the middle. The big four of Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney, Julius Erving and Bobby Jones was solid. The team needed a force inside who would rebound, be a defensive presence, a consistent scorer and demand a double-team.
On Sept. 2, 1982, the Sixers met with Malone and his agent, Lee Fentress, in New York and signed Malone to an offer sheet. The Rockets had 15 days to match the offer or lose Malone without compensation. Sounds simple enough, but it wasn't.
First, there was a unique no-trade clause in Malone's contract with the Rockets. It stipulated that Malone would play for no owner other than previous Rockets owner Gavin Maloof without Malone's approval. The Sixers argued that the contract, because of new ownership, made Malone a free agent without compensation.
Also, the Sixers put a contract together they knew the Rockets couldn't match.
They offered Malone a 6-year, $13.2 million deal, which could grow to $15 million. The league had no problem with the $1 million signing bonus or the $100,000 bonus for each season Malone averaged more than 30 minutes a game. But commissioner Larry O'Brien's ire was raised by the following clauses:
* $20,000 in each of the first three regular seasons in which the club he signs with does not rank in the top six among teams in attendance for road games.
* Five percent of the club's gross receipts after $4 million and up to $6 million, and 10 precent after $6 million.
* The team agrees to provide endorsements or personal appearances for Malone that will bring him at least $100,000 per season.
* $100,000 in each season in which the team does not generate $3 million in home gate receipts.
It became obvious that there were clauses in the contract that would compensate Malone if the Rockets matched the offer.
"I can't imagine Moses even considering something like that," Sixers coach Billy Cunningham said at the time.
On Sept. 8, O'Brien issued a statement that the league had instituted disciplinary proceedings against the 76ers because the offer included clauses that were in "flagrant violation of league rules." If the Sixers were found guilty of these violations, they could have been hit with a $250,000 fine. The commish was not happy.
He further said, in a statement sent to all NBA owners, that the clauses in the offer sheet "make no economic sense, and have no purpose other than to attempt to defeat the Rockets' ability to exercise their right of first refusal."
After an 8-hour hearing on Sept. 13 with all parties, NBA arbitrator Kingman Brewster ruled that the clause that provided Malone with a bonus tied to product endorsements was improper. He also decided that the Rockets had a right of first refusal on the Sixers' offer, even though they were in the process of changing owners. Brewster also took under advisement four other incentive clauses in the offer and said he would move on them a week later.
Two days later, not waiting for Brewster's next decision, the Rockets decided to match the offer sheet and agreed to trade Malone to the Sixers for Caldwell Jones and Cleveland's first-round pick in the 1983 draft, which the Sixers owned.
Many thought, because Cleveland was so bad, that the pick would end up to be Virginia's Ralph Sampson.
"We can't predict that Cleveland will finish last, or that we will win the coin flip," Katz said after the trade and before there was a draft-lottery system.
In his introductory press conference, Malone was quick to say he was part of Erving's team.
"I know it's Doc's show," Malone said, "and I'm happy to be part of Doc's show . . . Doc'll still be the show, but maybe now it'll be a better show."
Katz wasn't worried about any backlash the contract might have brought.
"I did what I felt I had to do for my team," Katz said. "I want to go for the whole thing, the championship, and the only thing we lacked was rebounding. Now we've got the best rebounder in the game. I can't wait until the season starts."
As it worked out, the Rockets' season was as bad as the Sixers' season was good. They ended up with Sampson, but with their own pick. The Cleveland pick ended up to be No. 3 and the Rockets selected Rodney McCray out of Louisville. As history tells us, whether it was Sampson or McCray, it didn't matter. The Sixers had made the best trade in franchise history.
It is hard to believe that the guy who was so creative and aggressive in putting the Malone offer sheet together was the same guy who traded Malone away on draft day 1986. Another story for another day.