By Peter Gleason
There are few more eloquent former athletes around than Charles Barkley, who lit up the NBA sky from 1984-to-1992 for the Sixers on the way to the Hall of Fame.
And there were few less talkative athletes anywhere than former Sixers great Moses Malone, who led Philly to its NBA last title in 1983.
And yesterday in Houston, Barkley paid great tribute to his former mentor.
When he entered the NBA in 1984 as an overweight rookie with the Sixers, Malone helped put Barkley on the path to become one of the greatest forwards to ever play in the league. Their relationship grew to be so strong that Barkley often referred to Malone as Dad and like many in the NBA community, he was deeply saddened by the passing of his former teammate.
Malone’s family asked Barkley to speak at the NBA legend’s funeral and he delivered a beautiful eulogy that truly honored his mentor and friend. Becoming emotional at points, Barkley stayed true to himself, cracking jokes while fondly remembering Malone.
The Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigan transcribed the majority of Barkley’s eulogy:
“That’s how Moses was,” said Charles Barkley, who delivered the eulogy for the former Philadelphia 76ers teammate he called “Dad.” “He made you smile. He made you laugh. And he loved everybody.
“He helped everybody. From the rookies on, he treated everybody great. He was a wonderful man. It was an honor for me to do the eulogy.”
Later, Barkley would describe Malone’s contract negotiations with the 76ers, again lowering his voice to imitate Malone’s.
“He heard the word, ‘deferred,’” Barkley said. “ ‘Big Mo don’t do ‘deferred.’ You had a deal with my agent. Big Mo don’t do ‘deferred.’
“This guy, he was one of the best businessmen ever. Ever. People confuse that voice like he don’t know. ‘No, no, no, you can’t cheat Big Mo.’”
Barkley told of Malone guiding him as a 76ers rookie, struggling to get playing time.
“When I got to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1984, we had a bunch of tremendous older brothers on the team,” Barkley said. “I looked at those guys as older brothers. But there was one guy – and to this day, I never understood why – who took me under his wing. And that was Moses. He treated me like a son.
“I said ‘Mo, I’m really struggling. What can I do?’ I said, ‘Give me some advice.’ He says to me, ‘Well little fella, you’re fat and you’re lazy.’”
That blunt conversation was the start of a long friendship between the two.
“Every time I saw him, I called him ‘Dad,” and told him I loved him and gave him a big hug and that I respected and appreciated what he did for me,” Barkley added. “I feel great sadness I’m not going to say, ‘Dad,’ ‘Big Mo’ every time I see him. That just hurts me. I don’t think I ever heard a person say a bad word about Moses Malone in my travels. I’m blessed to have connected with Moses. Anybody who connected him, you’re a much better person.”
Only Barkley could’ve delivered such a fitting eulogy to honor a legendary NBA player like Malone and he ended it perfectly, noting how bittersweet the moment was for him.
“When the family asked me to speak today, it meant to me, that my ‘Dad’ was proud of me,” Barkley said. “This means that Moses told ’em (Malone’s family), he was proud of me. That’s the sweet part. This day is bitter and it’s sweet. I was blessed to have a connection with Moses and the world is a sadder place because he’s not here.”