Mailman's new route visits Utah

Malone plans to shake Sloan's hand

Published: Monday, March 8 2004 12:00 a.m. MST

It's December, the Los Angeles Lakers are visiting Dallas, and Karl Malone appears at peace with himself.

He seems to have no qualms about having moved from Utah the summer before, no real regrets that in the rearview mirror are an owner, a franchise and a state that all had embraced him with mostly open arms for nearly two decades.

The Mailman, as he has been known throughout his 19-season NBA career, is California cool while contemplating all he left behind.

"How everything transpired — that's how I can sit here with the calm that I have now," he said then. "Because it's one of those things that worked out for everybody."

Since he sat with such serenity that winter evening in Texas, however, precious little has worked out as Malone would want.

The Lakers and their perpetual theater of the absurd have become something scripted out of daytime television. Malone, typically a picture of perfect health, has an injury unlike any other with which he ever had to deal. And the owner, Larry H. Miller, no longer has that warm and fuzzy feeling for the man he once treated like a son.

Still, Malone senses he did the right thing.

"A lot of players have left Utah and not had good experiences. It's kind of just the way it is there," Malone's agent, Dwight Manley, said Saturday. "But Karl loves the sand. And he did love playing in Utah — but he made it clear the quest for a championship was how he wanted to end his career. He didn't want to just play for stats, and that wasn't possible (with the Jazz)."

When Malone opted last July to sign with the Lakers, he was off to chase the NBA title that eluded him in Utah.

The chance to become the league's No. 1 all-time scorer, a lofty status that prior to the departure had been well within his grasp, was set aside.

A championship, Malone said, "would mean a great deal to me."

The Jazz, meanwhile, were free to get on with what everyone from Miller on down knew was inevitable.

They were free to rebuild.

"The Jazz's plan was all about saving money, and getting under the (NBA's team payroll salary) cap, and moving on with things," Manley said.

"He (Malone) didn't fit into those plans."

On, then, to L.A., where it's been one calamity after another for a Laker team built to win it all right away.

The NBA suspended Malone for elbowing Dallas point guard Steve Nash in the mouth, causing him to miss a Dec. 7 game in Los Angeles that would have been his first against the Jazz as a Laker.

Three weeks later, in a game against Phoenix, one of the Suns awkwardly fell on Malone, crushing his right knee.

Initially, a sprain was suspected.

Malone worked hard to rehab the injury, which turned out to be a medial collateral ligament tear, keeping him out much longer than he ever anticipated and preventing him from playing in a highly hyped Jan. 24 game that was to have been his first at the Delta Center since leaving Salt Lake City.

Because of the knee injury, Malone does not plan to play in tonight's Jazz-Lakers game at the Delta Center, either. But as one of Utah's highest-profile public figures, even eight months after leaving the state, he does intend to watch.

He was not on hand, though, in late January.

Then, in Malone's absence, an imitator mimicking his voice did make an audio appearance on the arena's public-address system.

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