Before Lin, the NBA had Maloney

Matt Maloney went from Penn to the NBA.
Matt Maloney went from Penn to the NBA. (Associated Press)
Posted: March 21, 2012

THERE WAS ONCE an undrafted Ivy League-educated point guard on a team full of big-name veterans. He looked different from just about everyone else on the court. There were natural questions about where he came from and how long his luck would last.

And it was not Jeremy Lin.

This was Penn alum Matt Maloney. The year was 1996. He was an unlikely rookie starter playing with Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon on the Houston Rockets after spending his first year out of college playing in the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association.

So tonight, when Philadelphia experiences its first glimpse of Jeremy Lin since "Linsanity" became a national phenomenon, it's worth remembering how similar this is to Maloney 15 seasons ago.

"I think so," Maloney said recently when asked about the comparisons. "He had the ability. That's why teams keep signing him and keep looking at him. And the most important thing is he had confidence in himself and kept everything going. I think he's just as legit as everyone's saying. There's not much he can't do as a player."

Maloney didn't score at the same rate as Lin, and he wasn't inserted into the lineup at midseason. But Maloney's story was similarly captivating. He went undrafted and unsigned by an NBA team. His opportunity with the Rockets came only months after the passing of his father, Jim, the Temple assistant coach.

When starting point guard Brent Price suffered an injury in the preseason, the Rockets started looking for a veteran point guard to play with their trio of stars. Barkley and Drexler suggested to coach Rudy Tomjanovich that they give Maloney a chance because the rookie had "proved his toughness to them, shown them he's a winner."

Maloney started all 82 games as a rookie, averaging 9.4 points and 3.7 assists. Sports Illustrated ran an article about his ascent - not two covers as Lin had, but enough to convey his story to a national audience.

And, like Lin, Maloney proved clutch.

Remember the hysteria when Lin hit a game-winner on Valentine's Day? Well, Maloney did so on a bigger stage. With 36.8 seconds left in overtime of Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals and the Rockets clinging to a one-point lead, Maloney nailed a three-pointer to seal the game.

Maloney enjoyed a 6-year NBA career, also playing for Chicago and Atlanta. He never matched the success or fame he had as a rookie. Lin might have a more celebrated career, but they'll always share the experience of being an Ivy Leaguer surprising the masses on a team full of stars.

"To make it, it's possible," Maloney said about reaching the NBA from the Ivy League. "I'm sure once people hear that, before they see you play, I'm sure they don't have the same view of you. I think all those myths get dispelled once you get on the court . . . In terms of the reputation preceding you, it's possible."


Contact Zach Berman at bermanz@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

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