Sometimes it's the little things you remember about a person
once he's gone. For the Houston Rockets' rookie point guard,
Matt Maloney, it's the videocassette tapes that his father, Jim,
a longtime assistant coach at Temple, filled up with basketball
games. Jim didn't care if it was a Final Four game or a high
school scrimmage airing on a cable access channel. If the game
had something he could use to teach his son, Jim wanted it on
tape. Soon, tapes were everywhere inside the living room of the
Maloneys' house in Haddonfield, N.J., a Philadelphia suburb.
They were stacked a dozen high in some places, occupied every
inch of space atop the coffee table and were strewn about.
They're all put away now. Jim died of a heart attack on May 3,
1996, at age 62, and the family placed the tapes neatly in boxes
and stored them in the basement. But often during this
improbable rookie season of his, Maloney has thought about the
tapes and his father's many lessons. "The game was his life, and
he knew it inside and out," says Maloney. "Now I'm just an
extension of what he lived for. This is all a tribute to him.
I'm just applying his knowledge when I play."
"Every ounce of Matt is Jimmy," says Temple coach John Chaney,
who left a seat on the Owls' bench empty this season in honor of
Coach Maloney. "It's almost enough to make you believe in
The connection was never so clear, or as profound, as it was on
Sunday. With 36.8 seconds left in overtime, Maloney collected
the ball behind the three-point arc, then calmly (as his dad
always preached) dribbled to his left to avoid a lunging Hersey
Hawkins and sank the game-breaking basket that lifted the
Rockets to a 110-106 win and a 3-1 advantage over the Seattle
SuperSonics in the NBA Western Conference semifinals, which were
scheduled to resume on Tuesday in Houston.
Maloney, 25, the youngest Houston starter this season by eight
years, matched his career-high of 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting
from three-point range. After averaging just 9.4 points during
the regular season, Maloney has made the Sonics pay dearly for
their double-teaming of Hakeem Olajuwon. Maloney scored 17
points in the Rockets' 112-102 win in the series opener and 19
in a 97-93 win at Seattle's Key Arena last Friday. And after
Sunday's performance he was shooting .526 (30 of 57) from beyond
the arc in the postseason.
So on a team packed with aging stars like Charles Barkley, Clyde
Drexler and Olajuwon, the child with the legendary father may be
leading the Rockets to the NBA Finals. "In terms of being a
warrior on the court," says Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich,
"he's exactly like the rest of 'em."
Maloney's father toughened him as a teenager by including him in
Temple practices and scrimmages. Matt attended Vanderbilt on a
basketball scholarship in 1990-91, but he grew homesick and
transferred to Camden County (N.J.) Community College in the
fall. The following year he enrolled at Penn, where he broke all
the school's three-point records and earned 1994-95 Ivy League
Player of the Year honors. When he wasn't selected in the NBA
draft, Maloney spent a year with the Grand Rapids [Mich.]
Mackers of the CBA, working on his foot speed and on the art of
breaking down defenses by--you guessed it--studying more
The last time his father watched him play, during the CBA
playoffs in March '96, Jim returned home as happy as anyone had
ever seen him. "He told us all, 'Matt's ready. He's ready to
make it to the league.'" says Matt's brother Paul, a medical
researcher in Palo Alto, Calif., who attended Sunday's game.
"Dad knew before he died that Matt would make it."
Maloney might never have made it off the Rockets' bench, though,
if Brent Price hadn't broken his left elbow in the
preseason--and if Barkley and Drexler had not approached
Tomjanovich on the team plane shortly afterward, asking that
Maloney be given a chance to run the team. He responded by
becoming the only rookie to start every game in the NBA this
season and by leading all first-year players with a .404
shooting percentage from three-point range (minimum 82 made).
"Every time I tell that story I get goose bumps," says
Tomjanovich. "I love that kind of interaction and that kind of
trust and leadership because it's extremely rare, yet you have
to have that to be a winning team. The guys just said Matt was
ready and, ever since, it's been like watching a little brother
coming out and finally being able to keep up with his older
If Maloney had yet to pay back Sir Charles before the weekend,
he settled his accounts on Sunday. Barkley, busy all game long
bullying the Sonics' mascot and yelling at fans--"You're a good
goddam reason not to have cloning," he told one heckler--nearly
blew the game when he missed two free throws that could have put
Houston up by five points with 11 seconds to play in regulation.
Thereupon, Hawkins drained a three from deep left to tie the
game 98-98. Seattle rode that momentum to a 106-105 lead in the
extra period before Maloney's eighth three-pointer nearly
snapped the net inside out.
After a pair of free throws by Rockets forward Mario Elie with
3.2 seconds left put the game safely out of reach, Maloney sat
on the Houston bench pumping his fist in a moment of solitary
triumph. But one got the feeling, even then, that he wasn't