I miss Karl Malone.
Not for his points and rebounds.
I miss his gift for gab and drama.
The man could talk.
Not in an eloquent way — every time he opened his mouth, he sent English teachers screaming into the night. His subjects and verbs didn't have disagreements; they had full-scale wars.
That didn't stop him. He gabbed like a talk-show host. He couldn't help himself. Sometimes he'd take a vow of silence in a moment of petulance, but it didn't or couldn't last long.
I am tempted to state that he said what's on his mind, but words didn't get that far. Words tended to exit his mouth before they formed in his brain, not vice versa. He talked first, then thought about whether he should say it much later.
"This is Karl Malone speaking for Karl Malone," he said once. "I have every right to say what I want."
And so he did. We media types appreciate guys who speak honestly and originally. Where in the Jazz locker room are you going to find that now? Deron Williams? Pa-lease!
We just gotta execute the offense.
The Jazz are completely unquotable now. It's like going to a Dick Cheney news conference. They talk, but they don't say anything.
Not Malone. Instead of saying teammates were out of shape and needed to "pay the price," Malone would call them his "fat-a-- teammates."
Instead of telling young players they needed to play unselfishly at the All-Star Game, he called them "knuckleheads" and vowed not to play with them again.
He created a furor by saying what his peers probably wanted to say but didn't — he didn't want to play against Magic Johnson because he was afraid he might catch AIDS.
After Allen Iverson was named Player of the Week for scoring 40 or more points in five straight games — all losses — Malone spoke up:
"It's a mockery of the game. Oh-and-five and you score 40? So what?"
Sometimes he said things that actually made sense; other times, not so much.
"Karl Malone the person will not change, but the business person has done a 360-degree turn," he once said.
And Yogi Berra smiled.
Maybe Malone didn't even know he was the one who was saying those things, because he tended to talk about himself as another being, in third person. Or maybe he was just schizophrenic, whatever.
"Karl Malone do what Karl Malone gotta do," he said.
Or: "This is Karl Malone saying what he thinks," he said.
Or: "As much as some of you guys might not like it, how is Karl Malone supposed to feel? When I feel good, I play good. Really, that's the bottom line. It's not really how Karl Malone feels."
Sometimes we had no idea what he was saying.
Malone, who will be inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend, was a great straight man — in a comedic sense! He was to columnists what McMahon was to Carson. He set up the one-liners and provided rich column material.
I had a field day with his ramblings, all in good fun, and apparently, to his credit, he took it that way. Once I was standing in the Jazz locker room in San Antonio following a playoff game when I felt a large hand on top of my shoulder. I followed the hand up the arm to the shoulder and found Malone's face at the other end.
"How are you doing?"
"Uh, fine," I said uncertainly.
"What's the matter? You seem surprised."
"I'm surprised you'd ask."
"Now why would that be?" he said, grinning widely. He patted me on the back and let me live to tell the story.
Malone was mercurial, insecure and outspoken — a combination that tended to create drama wherever he went, whether it was unloading a stream of consciousness during the All-Star Break or talking about playing for other teams during the Western Conference Finals or directing regular tirades about some perceived slight at his benefactor/boss/father figure Larry H. Miller.29 comments on this story
In 2007, years after Malone retired, he flew to Salt Lake City and apologized to Miller while they sat in a car at Jordan Commons. As he explained it for Miller's biography "Driven," he believed that he played better when he was angry, so he directed his anger at Miller. He regretted it and wanted to set the record straight.
But that was Malone: Speak first, and figure it out later.
Malone do what Malone gotta do.