Moses Malone: Time to study life expectancy of former NBAers?

We’ve spent a lot of time analyzing the injuries men suffer on the NFL gridiron, injuries that shouldn’t surprise us considering that men weighing hundreds of pounds are running into each other at full force over and over for months every year, sometimes cracking bones, sometimes cracking heads, always eliciting cheers or groans.

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 2.21.27 PMBut the death of NBA legend Moses Malone, who played in a different arena and who was quite literally the best and what he did when he did it, hit me hard.

He was 60 years old.

Six decades.

I’m now at an age where I can see 60 coming rather than imagine it one day.

I live in country where life expectancy for men rose in 2012 to 78.8 years – a record high from 2011 when it was 78.7 years. (It’s 81 percent for women). That is according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

But I don’t think their statistics center is measuring what is happening to professional athletes who re literally giving their lives for sports and our entertainment. Oh, I know. They get paid. They choose their path. And many are good at it.

But is it time for us to determine what the true cost is, just in case a young man might decide he’d rather live to be 78 or 98?

The death of Malone, the first high school player to enter the league and one of its greatest legends, stunned people across the Twitterverse. Someone went to look for him because he didn’t show up for a celebrity golf tournament. Commissioner Adam Silver spoke for many when he said this of the “Chairman of the Boards:”

“With three MVPs and an NBA championship, he was among the most dominant centers ever to play the game and one of the best players in the history of the NBA and the ABA. Even more than his prodigious talent, we will miss his friendship, his generosity, his exuberant personality, and the extraordinary work ethic he brought to the game throughout his 21-year pro career. Our thoughts are with Moses’ family and friends during this difficult time.”

Malone’s death came two weeks after the death of Darryl Dawkins, the popular dunker who played 14 seasons for Philadelphia, New Jersey, Utah and Detroit. He averaged 12 points a game and was nicknamed “Chocolate Thunder by Stevie Wonder.”

A player so good a blind man could see it.

He was 58.

As I sat Sunday morning, counting the hours until the Detroit Lions game, my mind was on another sport. So I tweeted this year’s deaths of former NBA players too young:

Dawkins, dead at 58.

Roy Marble, described by the Associated Press as the “high-flying guard who scored the most points in Iowa history as he helped the Hawkeyes become a national power in the mid-1980s,” died on 9/11 in Grand Blanc, Mich.

He was 48.

Anthony Mason, a longtime NBA player who helped the New York Knicks reach the 1994 NBA Finals, died last March.

He was 48.

Portland Trailblazers legend Jerome Kersey died a month before after a blood clot that had formed in his calf traveled to his lungs.

He was 52.

And now Malone, dead at 60.

My hope is that coaches and owners are paying attention, and that we try to understand what is going on that would cause so many big men with big hearts to die so young.

We owe it to those who work so hard to please us.

But my message for players is this: You owe it to yourselves to make sure you take care of you during basketball so you can have long lives after basketball.

Do it for you; then do it for your fans, the ones who love your heart as much as your skills.


ROCHELLE RILEY is a writer whose essays here are about her personal thoughts and adventures. No reprints without permission.
You can read her columns at and follow her on Twitter @rochelleriley.


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