The Philadelphia 76ers were championship contenders in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

But they didn’t become a championship team until Hall of Famer center Moses Malone arrived in 1982-83 and propelled them to the championship that season with 4-0 sweep against the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.

Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, Bobby Jones and Andrew Toney formed a quality team – they lost to the Lakers in the 1982 Finals – but Malone’s scoring, rebounding and defense pushed Philadelphia to the top.

Malone, just one of eight players to win at least three MVP awards, died in Norfolk, Va. Sunday. He was 60 years old.

“It is with a deep sense of sadness that the Sixers family mourns the sudden loss of Moses Malone. It is difficult to express what his contributions to this organization – both as a friend and player – have meant to us, the city of Philadelphia and his faithful fans,” Sixers CEO Scott O’Neil said in a statement. “Moses holds a special place in our hearts and will forever be remembered as a genuine icon and pillar of the most storied era in the history of Philadelphia 76ers basketball.

“No one person has ever conveyed more with so few words – including three of the most iconic in this city’s history. His generosity, towering personality and incomparable sense of humor will truly be missed. We will keep his family in our thoughts and prayers and as we are once again reminded of the preciousness of life.”

The 12-time NBA All-Star won two of his MVPs (1979, 1982) with the Houston Rockets and one with the 76ers (1983). He averaged 20.6 points and 12.2 rebounds in 19 seasons, including 24.8 points and 17.6 rebounds in 1978-79, 31.1 points and 14.7 rebounds in 1981-82 and 24.5 points 15.3 rebounds in the Sixers’ championship season. He is one of seven players to average at least 25 point and 14 rebounds in three or more seasons.

The often-dominant Malone is one of the greatest rebounders in NBA history and possibly the best offensive rebounder in NBA history. He led the league in league in rebounding six times (No. 3 rebounder of all-time) and led the league in offensive rebounding nine times (No. 1 offensive rebounder of all-time), according to basketball-reference.com.

“I loved to rebound,” Malone told USA TODAY Sports in 2013. “If you can rebound and play defense, you can win a lot of games.”

Malone was so proficient on the offensive glass people joked that he missed layups on purpose so he could collect the offensive rebound and score on the second attempt. Malone averaged at least seven offensive rebounds in a season twice during his career and grabbed 5.1 offensive rebounds per game for his career. All those rebounds earned him the nickname Chairman of the Boards.

But Malone was more than just a rebounder. With his size and strength, he could overpower defenders in the post and score. He was fouled often and was shot 76% from the free throw line for his career.

Malone went straight from high school to the ABA when the Utah Stars drafted him in 1974, and when LeBron James won his fourth MVP in 2013, Malone told USA TODAY Sports that “the one thing I like about LeBron, he was a high-school-to-the-NBA guy just like me. When you go from high school and win MVP, we did something right.”

Malone also told USA TODAY Sports that he wasn’t out to win MVP awards.

“Stay humble to the game and love the game. Don’t worry about what anybody says. Work on things you need to work on. Always think of yourself as a winner. Don’t worry about the MVP,” he said. “I just loved the game. When you work hard, you’re going to get the benefits. … My main focus was not on MVP but to be the best player I could be.”

He was also quick to credit his teammates, saying none of it would’ve been possible without them.

“The three MVPs that I won, I give credit to my teammates,” Malone said. “Without them, I probably would have never had a chance to win MVP. You’ve got to have help. They were there for me and I was there for them. That’s the only way a guy can win MVP. You’re not going to do it on your own.”

The 76ers’ championship in 1983 would not have possible without Malone. He gave the Sixers a center who could handle Boston’s Robert Parrish and matchup with Los Angeles Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In the 1983 playoffs, he averaged 26 points and 15.8 rebounds and gave the Sixers and their fans a season to remember.


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USA TODAY Sports discusses the passing of basketball legend Moses Malone at age 60.
USA TODAY Sports