When Charles Barkley swaggered into Philadelphia as the No. 5 overall pick of the 1984 NBA draft, he fully expected to take the city by storm.
Instead, he was thrust into a basketball environment teeming with veterans who had no time to wait for the new kid to hit his stride.
"I was really struggling in the beginning," Barkley admitted.
Barkley said he reported to camp weighing close to 300 pounds. Few in the Sixers' organization, particularly coach Billy Cunningham, saw the humor in his nickname -- the Round Mound of Rebound. Barkley, who expected to step in and be a starter, saw limited action in the early days of the season.
He turned to the one veteran who offered the most encouragement -- the imposing Moses Malone -- and asked him for some feedback.
"I pulled Moses aside and asked him, 'Why am I not playing more?'" Barkley recalled on Sunday.
Malone turned, looked him up and down and declared, "You're fat and you're lazy, that's why. You can't play basketball if you're not in shape."
Moses instructed the rookie to lose 10 pounds, then told him to meet him at the gym an hour ahead of practice the following morning. For the next month, he trained Barkley before and after the team workouts. Barkley shed 15 pounds in a week's time and started to notice a difference in his stamina.
"So now I'm playing a little bit," Barkley said, "and Moses says to me, 'Lose 10 more.' I get down to 275 and I'm close to breaking into the starting lineup and the big man tells me, 'Ten more. Give me 10 more.' By the time he was done with me, I was down to 255 pounds."
Barkley started the final 60 games of the Sixers' season, averaged 14 points and eight rebounds a game and was named to the All-Rookie Team.
"He never said anything about what he did for me. Most guys, when they mentor a young player like that, they go around saying, 'Yeah, that was me. I did that.' Not Moses. He never told anybody. And that was the best part."Charles Barkley
"And, as they say, the rest is history," Barkley said.
Barkley never forgot the kindness the notoriously private Malone displayed toward him in his early days as a pro. He never would have become an MVP or one of four players who amassed 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists, he insisted, without Moses' guidance.
"He never said anything about what he did for me," Barkley said. "Most guys, when they mentor a young player like that, they go around saying, 'Yeah, that was me. I did that.' Not Moses. He never told anybody. And that was the best part."
Once Malone retired, whenever Barkley saw his old teammate, which was a handful of times a season, he always greeted him in the same manner: "Hey, Dad!"
"I saw him Friday night at the Hall of Fame," Barkley said. "I thanked him again for making me the player I became, like I always do."
Moses Malone died Sunday, two days after Barkley embraced him warmly and promised, "I'll see you soon."
He knows Moses had a reputation for being aloof, even difficult, at times. When asked if he wished the rest of the basketball world knew him as he did, Barkley answered, "No, not really. I'm honored to have known the real man, not the one people supposed he was. When he got into the gym with his teammates, he was one of the best guys in the world.
"I'm crushed he's gone. He was my guy. Forever."