SALT LAKE CITY — You might've surprised the Utah Jazz with word that Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington and the Kardashian clan, including Mrs. Lamar Odom, cheered for them Friday in Los Angeles instead of the Lakers.
Or you could've informed them that they had to sing a hymn at LDS general conference or that Greg Ostertag was re-signed for the playoff push.
All of that would've been shocking on multiple levels.
But the news that Karl Malone will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this summer?
Not exactly eyebrow-raising stuff there, considering he's the NBA's No. 2 all-time-leading scorer, a two-time league MVP, a double Olympic gold-medal winner and a 14-time All-Star.
"It's not surprising. It's not news for me," Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko said Saturday when told, as he'd expected, that The Mailman had been elected to the Hall of Fame, according to a report by the The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.
"He is a Hall of Famer, like John Stockton is a Hall of Famer, Jerry Sloan's a Hall of Famer," added Kirilenko, the Jazz's only remaining player who was a teammate of Malone's. "So it was just a matter of time when their time was going to be (to get) inducted. But (Malone's) definitely supposed to be there."
Malone's official time to be enshrined with the Class of 2010 will come Aug. 13 in Springfield, Mass. — a year after Jazz stalwarts Sloan and Stockton entered basketball immortality.
"Karl Malone deserves it," Sloan said, matter-of-factly.
Malone, who led the Jazz to consecutive NBA Finals in 1997 and '98, will be inducted along with Chicago Bulls great Scottie Pippen, the late Boston Celtics standout Dennis Johnson, New Jersey high school coaching legend Bob Hurley Sr. and likely the 1992 Dream Team, according to various media reports. The official Hall of Fame announcement, which could include enshrinement news for even more of the 19 finalists, will happen Monday at Indianapolis before the NCAA men's championship.
Malone's spot in the hoops haven has been all but a mere formality since he retired after finishing his 19-year NBA career with the Lakers at the end of the 2003-04 season. Like Stockton and Sloan in 2009, the 11-time first-team All-NBA standout was elected in on his first ballot.
"I'm happy for him. He definitely deserves it — one of the best players to ever play the game, best power forward ever," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "That was a no-brainer that he was going to be in the first go-around."
It wasn't Malone's eye-popping statistics or accolades that his Jazz family appreciates most.
Sure, scoring 36,928 career points — second only to Kareem Abdul-Jabaar — is an impressive accomplishment. Being the only player to be named All-NBA first team 11 times is wow-worthy, too. And having career averages of 25.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 steals and .8 blocks for nearly two decades is laudable, too.
But the Jazz believe a four-letter word best defines Malone's legacy — and it isn't stat.
It is, rather, work.
Make that two four-letter words. Hard work — and lots of it. His uncanny work ethic helped him continually improve facets of his game and be in good enough condition to play darn near every night for 18 seasons with the Jazz. He played in 82 games in 10 of 17 full-length seasons with the Jazz, and only sat out 15 times (compared to 1,434 appearances with Utah). A few of his misses were due to league-mandated suspension.
"He worked hard every day, as hard as any player you could have work," Sloan said. "And when the game started, he laid it out there on the line — good, bad or ugly. He liked to compete."
Even when he was in pain.
Jazz assistant coach Phil Johnson recalls a time when Malone badly sprained an ankle but balked when trainer Don Sparks requested an X-ray to see how severely his foot was injured.
Years later, Johnson laughs about Malone's response.
"Why should I X-ray it?" Malone asked. "I'll play on it anyway."
"He could take punishment and he could dish it out every single night," Sloan said. "He didn't take games off, didn't take practices off. He came and did it every day."
That's what most impresses another Bayou State power forward who followed — and seems to emulate — Malone from Louisiana Tech to the Utah Jazz. Paul Millsap described Malone as being "huge, an icon" in their native state of Louisiana.
"To go out there every night," Millsap said, "and basically put it all on the line — his mental toughness, his physical toughness, all that shows what type of great player he is."
Mark McKown, the Jazz's strength and conditioning coach since 1997, marvels about how Malone battled on and off the court (and even on the pro wrestling mat).
McKown used to accompany Malone when he took teammates on preseason hikes in the mountains above the Salt Lake Valley. It began as an altitude acclimation outing and a team-bonding experience, but usually ended with Malone leaving other players eating his trail dust.
"It was so intense," McKown said, "and he would push them so much, they wouldn't train with him."
Just imagine how intense the bulked-up beefy player was in the weight room.
No mercy. No prisoners. Plenty of wincing and sweat.
"It was like he wanted to mash them in the dirt," McKown said. "So the harder they worked, the harder he worked. You'd think, holy, how'd the guy have much more capacity for work? I haven't seen anybody that could match it, seriously."
McKown found it fascinating how Malone would often work on his body but not on his game in the summer. He laughed that Malone had an indoor basketball court in his Salt Lake home but didn't even take a shot on it until they were walking on it together four or so years after The Mailman moved in.
Dumbbells and barbells, no doubt, weren't equally neglected.
"His advantage was he loved to compete," McKown said. "He wasn't crazy about basketball. In the offseason, he'd just train like a madman, didn't touch a ball."
The heir-apparent to the Jazz's power forward throne credits Malone for paving the way in the NBA for post players in their 6-foot-9 size range.
"He's a role model as a guy on the court, off the court — one of the best people," Jazz big man Carlos Boozer said. "He did so much for this community — for people that were in need — but at the same time as a player he was obviously one of the best players of all-time, best power forward of all-time."
The muscular Boozer admires how the even more muscular Malone "almost became like a bodybuilder."
"He got so into it and was still able to be so fast, so agile, so fluid and dominate," Boozer said. "He dominated the game. He was amazing, and he's still probably in shape to do it now."
Sloan fondly remembers how Malone worked hard to improve his basketball skills along with re-shaping his 256-pound frame. To wit, Malone shot 48.1 percent from the free-throw line as a rookie the 1985-86 season but focused on his foul shooting so much he ended up averaging a respectable 74.2 percent from the stripe.
The Hall of Fame coach loved that opponents had to game-plan around Malone (and Stockton) because of how effective of a threat he turned himself into over time.
"Other guys tried to evaluate themselves by how they performed against those guys, and they came to do their job every day," Sloan said. "Karl is a terrific worker off the floor and he started here and he moved himself up through hard work. That's what really, I think, certainly paid off for him."
It's also why Sloan will return to the Hall of Fame for another enshrinement ceremony later this year.
Not that that's a surprise.
During his 19-year NBA career, Karl Malone ...
Averaged 25.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 steals and .8 blocks per game
Played in all 82 regular-season games 10 times with the Jazz
Scored 2,000-plus points in an NBA-record 11-straight seasons
Led the Jazz to two NBA Finals, won a pair of Olympic gold medals, was twice named NBA MVP
Finished as NBA's No. 2 all-time scorer behind Kareem Abdul-Jabaar
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