Little by little it vanishes, the world I grew up with. Time does this, if enough of it spins past you in the cosmic whirl. Not even Einstein could find a detour around that inevitability.
And so I open a news feed one day, and Chocolate Thunder, aka Darryl Dawkins, is gone. And I open another today, not even a month later, and another of the NBA's seminal man-children -- the seminal manchild, to be precise -- is gone, too.
Tears this day for Moses Malone, a man my age (60), now just another name in the Basketball Hall of Fame that has no touchable attachment. His death Sunday makes him just a cherished memory for those of us of a certain age, and drives home again the truism that if the icons of our youth remain forever young, they are in fact as mortal as the rest of us.
And so today I'll acknowledge that duh-ness by raising a glass to Moses just as I did to Chocolate Thunder, if for no other reason than they belong to an era whose echoes persist today. If Darryl Dawkins was one the first to turn pro straight out of high school, Moses Malone was the first, going from Petersburg, Va., to the Utah Stars in 1974.
In so doing he broke a trail the NBA wrestles with to this day, mainly because Malone showed what was possible but not, in the end, probable. Many have followed the precedent he set; hardly any have done so with his blinding success.
By the time Malone was finished he'd played 19 seasons, was an All-Star in 12 of them, and averaged a double-double for his pro career (20.6 ppg, 12.2 rpg). Two decades after he left the stage, his numbers continue to hold up: His 27,409 career points remain eighth on the alltime NBA scoring list. and his 16, 212 rebounds are still fifth on the alltime list.
Would so many of the high school kids who jumped too soon have done so if Malone hadn't accomplished all that? Would they have understand how capricious it could all be had Malone, instead of going from Petersburg to Utah to the Hall of Fame, gone from Petersburg to Utah to obscurity?
Hard to say. All I know is, another of my contemporaries -- a man who was exactly one week younger than I am -- is no more. And another piece of that wondrous, golden, imperfect world in which I came of age is no more as well.