When Sharone Wright was at Southwest High in Macon, Ga., he trained his spine to curve by slouching deep in his desk chair. He walked the halls with a pigeon-toed shuffle and ran the basketball court with his head scrunched down into his shoulders and both arms flailing. At home he sat transfixed in front of every Philadelphia 76er game on TV. Like a Method actor, Wright was prepping for the role of NBA center Moses Malone. "I knew everything there was to know about Moses, that's how much I loved him," Wright says.
Today those who know both players claim that the Sixer rookie, 21, does a convincing imitation of his idol. "I always say, 'Hey, Mo...I mean, Sharone,' " says 76er assistant coach Maurice Cheeks, a former teammate of Malone's. "He looks just like Moses."
Just as Malone led Philly to the NBA title in 1983 by banging bodies and pounding the boards, so the 6'11", 260-pound Wright is literally in position to one day lead the Sixers to a championship. They used the No. 6 pick in last June's draft to select Wright, then a junior at Clemson, and they are counting on him to provide Malone-ish muscle and menace in support of spindly center Shawn Bradley. At Clemson, Wright averaged a double-double in each of his last two seasons, and as a sophomore he was second in the nation in blocks, with 4.1 per game.
Other athletes have fascinated Wright. He has long been a fan of sports biographies, from Mickey Mantle's to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's to Wayne Gretzky's. This preseason he read Winning a Day at a Time, John Lucas's recently published autobiography recounting his basketball career and his struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. Lucas happens to be both Wright's 76er coach and the general manager who enthusiastically chose him. "I love everything about Sharone as a player and a person," Lucas says. "His talent, his knowledge of the history of the game, his commitment to his family, his honesty."
Lucas's story moved Wright. "It's deep, the deepest one I've ever read," he says. "If there's a hell, Luke's been there."
Sadly, Wright has more than book knowledge of such depths. His father, Ronnie Martin, who had played basketball at Savannah State, lost his own battle with the devils of addiction. The day Sharone announced he would attend Clemson, Martin got so drunk at home that he phoned the police and asked them to take him to the local detox center. But when the authorities arrived, Martin had changed his mind about going; he stood in the door, holding a pistol. A long standoff ensued, which ended when Martin charged the police line, waving a hatchet and firing the gun. The police returned the fire, and Martin died of multiple gunshot wounds.
"It still hurts a lot, because we were so close," says Wright (his mother is Carolyn Wright). "But you don't mourn it, because you're playing ball. You use basketball to get through it."
Now Wright is trying to get through Lucas's boot camp. He shed 30 pounds before the draft but still was not in game shape. "He'll get there," Lucas says. "That's my job."
In the meantime Wright continues to collect Malone lore. Cheeks recently recalled for him the legend of how Moses's sweat once filled two buckets after he had played a full 48 minutes. "Moses was a man—a lot of his game was heart," Wright says. "I have to develop that."
Wright's rookie education has been by the book.