At first glance, he seems miscast as a tutor. He is often gruff, with a low rumble of a voice that comes across like distant thunder and makes much of what he says sound like "hrrumph." The police should put out an APB on his smile. As he enters his 20th season in pro basketball, 38-year-old Philadelphia 76er center Moses Malone has seen it all and done it all, but he knows the Sixers signed him as a free agent this year to teach it all—to their 21-year-old rookie center, 7'6" Shawn Bradley.
The 6'10" Malone has no problem with his role. He knows he doesn't have to be the kindly, grandfatherly type to be a good teacher. His job isn't to take Bradley out for ice cream, it's to teach him the tricks of the trade—how to nudge an opponent off balance with his hip before going up for a rebound, how to spin to the basket when he feels a defender's forearm in the small of his back. "I knew my role before I signed," Malone says. "This kid is going to be the starter, and my job is to help him handle it. I can do that. I've always liked helping young guys develop. I think I've helped a few kids along the line."
His record bears him out. When Malone was playing for the Houston Rockets (1976-82), he provided informal tutoring during summer pickup games to a young University of Houston center named Akeem (now Hakeem) Olajuwon. Then there was Malone's first stint with Philadelphia, from 1982 to 1986, when he took a youthful Charles Barkley under his wing. Barkley wrote in his autobiography, Outrageous!: "Moses filled a gap that had burdened me since my father abandoned my family. From the moment Moses called me fathead during the summer before my rookie season  through June 16, 1986, the day he was traded to the Washington Bullets—one of the saddest days of my life—Moses was always there for me. He was there with advice, a joke to calm my moods, or a simple pat on the back to ease my frustrations."
That Malone has returned to Philadelphia is ironic. It was with the Sixers that he won his only NBA championship (in 1983), and it was with the Sixers' owner, Harold Katz, that he developed such a rancorous relationship. It was Katz who traded him to Washington. But Malone has always had a bit of the mercenary in him, a willingness to rebound for anyone who would provide a sweet enough deal. At a postgame party just hours after the Sixers won the title in '83, Malone put his arm around Katz and informed him, "My agent will be getting in touch with you about my contract in the morning."
But if Malone is overly business-oriented, maybe that's because he was exposed to the business end of the sport at a time when most young men are taking English 101. Malone went straight from Petersburg High in Virginia to the Utah Stars of the ABA in 1974, and since then he has been sold (once), chosen in a dispersal draft (once), traded (four times) and has been a free agent (four times). He is the last active former ABA player and has played for eight franchises, three of which—the Stars, the Spirits of St. Louis and the Buffalo Braves—no longer exist. "You name it, it's happened to me," he says.
A three-time league MVP and 12-time NBA All-Star, Malone has flourished in some places and just passed through others, like Milwaukee, where he played only 11 games last year because of a herniated disk that he says is completely healed. But he has always survived, which is why he has the most of almost everything among the NBA's active players: field goals made (9,320) and attempted (18,958), free throws made (8,419) and attempted (10,941) and, of course, rebounds (15,940). Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Elvin Hayes scored more than Malone's 27,066 points. "Must have been doing something right all these years," he says. "I've learned a few lessons." Suddenly you don't doubt that he'll be able to teach a few, too.