September 16, 1974 12:00 PM

Inside the decaying row house at 241 St. Matthews Street in Petersburg, Va. the beige paint on the walls is peeling. A thick layer of dust clogs the louvers of an ancient oil heater which monopolizes the living-room floor. But it has been all Mary Malone could afford on her $100-a-week salary as a meat wrapper at the Safeway store. Suddenly she was the mother of a 19-year-old millionaire, and all because her son Moses was the most sought-after high school basketball star in history.

Just how “Sweet Moses,” as he is known, turned six feet, 11 inches and fluid moves into a $1 million-plus pro contract is still a miracle on St. Matthews Street. Back in their apartment Moses slouches in a worn upholstered chair, listening to his mother recount his childhood to a constant parade of visitors. His hang-dog eyes brighten as she tells how he played basketball until after midnight on the asphalt court at the Virginia Avenue School. “He was a good boy,” Mary vows, “never got in no trouble, easy to manage. I knew he would be a pro—but just not so soon.” Moses is the first basketball player to go directly from high school to the pros.

Ever since father Malone deserted when Moses was 18 months old, Mary has lived for her only child. Hanging on the living room wall are 30 or so pictures—one each of Jack and Jackie Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus. The rest are all of Moses. Covering the tables are 23 high school trophies—most valuable player, highest scorer, best rebounder.

For more than a year Mrs. Malone and Moses have been listening respectfully to droves of college recruiters. Overlooking his poor academic record, they begged him to visit their schools—all expenses paid. Occasionally they would tell him to bring his mother. Temptations abounded. Coeds proved they could be very, very friendly. One school reportedly even offered him $1,000 to sign. Eventually, Moses chose Maryland.

Then James A. Collier, president of the Utah Stars, dangled really big money in front of Moses. In addition to $120,000 salary and $50,000 in bonuses, the Stars offered him an additional $30,000 for each year of college he completes. And, most important, they would help Mary, giving her a new house and $500 a month for the next five years. With all that for the taking, Moses signed. He is about to open his first bank account and has already learned an important lesson among pro athletes. What’s he going to do with all that money? Moses replies: “My lawyer’s got it.”

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