45 years later: The enduring legacy of Mike Moser

The 6’6” forward was Canada’s leading scorer. He seemed unstoppable during the 1974-75 men’s basketball season. Then the unimaginable happened.

The 1974-75 Waterloo Warriors men’s basketball team was one of the greatest collections of talent ever to grace a Canadian university gym.

They had returning veterans who’d helped the Warriors capture an Ontario championship and a national bronze medal in 1974. Then, there was a trio of one-year-wonders in transfer recruits who were established all-stars in both Canadian hoops and on the world stage.

At the centre of it all was Kitchener native Mike Moser, the reigning national scoring leader, a member of the Canadian national team and one of the most unstoppable forces in the country.

But no amount of talent could have prepared the Warriors for the tragedy they would face. 

mike moser layup

Mike Moser driving for a layup in the University of Waterloo Physical Activities Centre

During an exhibition trip through Florida in early January, Moser began feeling ill. He stayed behind in a St. Petersburg hospital while the team continued its swing through the state. About a week after Moser first displayed symptoms, and just before the team departed for Waterloo, they received unthinkable news: Mike Moser had died.

It was later discovered that Moser had succumbed to a rare heart condition known as endocarditis. But those details were immaterial to the Warriors players and staff; all they knew was their beloved teammate was gone.

When we lost Mike, it gave us more purpose. It really drew everyone in together. We had a commitment to win it for Mike.”

“Our players were devastated,” said head coach Don McCrae in an interview with the Waterloo Region Record. “This was such a good group. You could trust them. But I honestly don’t know how they held it all together.”

 

A team commitment to win it for Mike

In the midst of the shock and sadness, the Warriors were still one of the best basketball teams in the country, with a season still to play. So they leaned on each other as a family and found a common purpose in the clouds of grief. The new mission was clear: win the national championship for Mike.

“Initially, like any team, there were factions,” says Phil Schlote (BSc ’75, MSc ’78), who played alongside Moser both with the Warriors and at Kitchener’s Forest Heights Collegiate Institute. “But when we lost Mike, it gave us more purpose. It really drew everyone in together. We had a commitment to win it for Mike.”

In an attempt to honour Moser, the players requested that only four starters be introduced at the beginning of each game. That gesture touched Moser’s family deeply: “They all pulled together,” says Mike’s younger brother Dave Moser (BSc ’85), who later starred with the Warriors in the 1980s. “Our family became closer with a lot of the guys as a result, and we kept in touch with a lot of them for a long time. They were so supportive. I think it gave great strength to my parents, and my sister and me.”

“It’s a good feeling to know that everyone still knows of Mike,” Moser says. “It’s always great to know his legacy will continue and that he’s always associated with excellence.”

The Warriors finished their regular season with 11 straight league victories and another Ontario championship. Then came two decisive victories in the national quarter- and semifinals, setting up a national championship showdown with the University of Manitoba Bisons in front of more than 5,000 raucous Warriors fans at the Physical Activities Complex.

Two seconds left in the national championship game

In the championship game, the Bisons threatened to rewrite the final chapter of Waterloo’s emotional story. The visitors led by as many as nine points in the second half, and Manitoba held a 78-72 advantage with less than two minutes to play. But just as the Warriors had used their collective strength to come together after Moser’s passing, they used their entire roster to complete the comeback for their fallen teammate.

First, star scorers Charlie Chambers (BA ’76) and Trevor Briggs (BA ’77) each made massive shots to pull within two points before a Manitoba free throw made the score 79-76. Then Phil Goggins (BA ’75), a player known more as a stalwart defender, hit from long distance to cut the lead to just one point. And, in a shocking turn of events, Chambers’ defence forced the Manitoba guard to dribble the ball on the baseline, giving Waterloo the ball back with a chance to win in the closing seconds.

“I don’t even remember if there was a play called,” Schlote says, who had fouled out of the game earlier. “The ball came in, and in that instance, Charlie and Phil just passed it back and forth until Phil got a shot off.”

Goggins’ shot from the left corner was perfect with just two seconds left, and the Warriors claimed the national title with an 80-79 win. While a championship of that magnitude is unforgettable for any team, it was clear that this meant more to the Warriors — this was Mike Moser’s title.

 

Top Canadian basketball player wins Mike Moser Memorial Trophy

“There was a certain extra satisfaction that we were able to deliver on that promise,” Schlote says. “We talked actively about winning it for Mike. There was satisfaction and relief when that shot went in.”

Moser’s influence at Waterloo and beyond continues to this day: each year, the Warriors host the annual Mike Moser memorial game, where Moser’s number 53 still hangs high on the wall of the gym. And the awards for the Waterloo Region boys’ basketball MVP and the Canadian university men’s player of the year both carry Moser’s name. The University of Waterloo also has a Mike Moser Memorial Award for student-athletes with exceptional talent, academic success and contributions to their team.

For Dave Moser and his family, the 1974-75 championship team helped cement Mike’s legacy. But more than that, it helped them come together as a family in the midst of tragedy, just as the team had done in Mike’s memory.

“It’s a good feeling to know that everyone still knows of Mike,” Moser says. “It’s always great to know his legacy will continue and that he’s always associated with excellence.”