The Karl Malone era for the Utah Jazz began in 1985 when the "city of Utah" threw a birthday parade for him, disguised as a Days of '47 celebration.
The Malone era with the Jazz pretty much ended with a birthday party for his wife, Kay, in the Delta Center Friday night, some 4,000-5,000 people attending.
Well, it was more a goodbye party from Malone to his "real" fans than it was a party for Kay, but the only day it could be squeezed in before he headed off to Team USA duties today was on Friday, her birthday. A number of fans sang "Happy Birthday" to her, and a few even brought gifts.
Gov. Mike Leavitt attended after having proclaimed it "Karl Malone Day" in the morning up at the State Capitol. Former teammates Andrei Kirilenko and Ike Austin showed up. Jazz owner Larry Miller and wife Gail were there, mostly behind the scenes.
And Sam Battistone, who moved his Jazz team from New Orleans to Utah in 1979, flew in from Las Vegas just for the occasion. "Karl was one of the guys we drafted while I was here," said the former team owner. "I've followed his whole career, as I did John's." John Stockton, Malone's running mate for 18 years, retired May 2.
Jill Black and Karen Allison left work in Logan early Friday afternoon to drive to the Delta Center for a front-row seat. They've been Jazz fans "as long as Karl's been here," said Allison.
"I'm a Laker fan now. I'm a Karl fan when I watch basketball," said Black.
Malone signed a two-year deal with the Lakers last month, and he held Friday's open house featuring his family, his trucks and a room with his huge memorabilia collection of personal photos and awards, Olympic Dream Team uniforms autographed by his teammates and signed football jerseys of several NFL greats to thank fans for their support.
"This is great that he's doing it. It's sad that it's over," said Allison, responding to thoughts of many who wrote letters to the editor or phoned radio call-in shows to criticize Malone for holding such a fete for himself when he's off to pursue a championship ring with the Lakers.
The night's biggest excitement came when Mike Douros, the ticket broker who attends games wearing a Jazz jersey with a "Jazzman" license plate hung around his neck, held up signs reading, "Karl you were overpaid, give it back" and "You disgrace the state, leave."
Others booed and scrawled signs saying "idiot" and "loser" and pointed them at Douros, who left after a few minutes explaining he didn't like it that Malone took "$20 million" in salary last year from the Jazz but will now play for the Lakers for $1.4 million. "He's a pig," said Douros, who made good money selling tickets to watch Malone play.
Many disenchanted with the Mailman say he should have taken less money, which would have allowed Utah to sign stronger role players who could have brought a title to him, Stockton and the state. Instead, Utah lost championship series in 1997 and '98 to the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan, who did take less money with the Wizards so his team could sign capable role players.
After a short speech at a podium Friday, Malone went to sign autographs and never got out of that mobbed corner where most in the building couldn't see him for hours. Many waited for his autograph or in lines to enter the memorabilia room, to get a tour of the Jazz locker room or to get free hot dogs and drinks at concession areas.
Malone spent an hour before the party signing items for Delta Center staffers. Meanwhile, Kay Malone and others ran a drawing in the arena, giving away Malone jerseys and other items.
When he finally appeared in public, through the same entrance he's used for all these years from the Jazz locker-room area, he strode through a sea of fans on the arena floor to the podium in the approximate area of the west basket, if the court were in place.
"Sometimes, you follow your dreams," he told the crowd, referring to seeking a title in Los Angeles. "I say to the young people, 'If you have a dream, chase it.' "
He reiterated words from a press conference earlier in the week, that he considered it important that he step out of the way of the Jazz's future.
"The Jazz have reached a crossroads. Sometimes it's best for everyone to move on," he said. He voiced his assumption that coach Jerry Sloan would have continued to fashion a game plan revolving around Malone, who is about 1 1/2 seasons from becoming the NBA's all-time leading scorer.His voice cracking, he finished with, "I say to the fans, I won't forget you."
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