Karl Malone has something to prove, again.

At first it was his basketball prowess. He made that point after three years as a professional, earning all-star status and respect as a premier power forward in the National Basketball Association.And now with an eight-year, $26 million contract with the Utah Jazz to live on, he wants to prove he can deliver financial success as well.

"It's amazing how many out there would like to see Karl Malone broke, so they can say, `I told you he would blow all his money; that he don't know business and that he's just a jock.' "

"I hate the term, `Just a jock.' My definition of a jock is a guy wearing sweat pants and sneakers, never combs his hair, with a basketball or football on his arm every day, and eatin' out of a big old bowl. That right there is why I am determined to do this.

"First I want to do this for myself; second of all I don't want to give someone the satisfaction of knowing I couldn't do it."

With the kind of money Malone makes it would seem he's already accomplished financial success. And that's what he thought, until a friendly neighbor in Salt Lake City - who is now his business manager - told him to consider the future, or he could have to take a job as a real mailman to feed his family after hanging up his sneakers.

Now Malone realizes the verdict on his financial success won't be out until after a relatively short but lucrative career as a basketball star. And the plan now is to have something to show after retirement.

"It's easy to get wrapped up into living for the moment and never recover. I just thank God I made my mistakes early and was able to learn from them."

Malone said his first mistake was hiring an agent. While it may work for other athletes, the young man raised on a pig farm in rural Louisiana and who never finished college didn't like the arrangement.

"That was the most difficult and disappointing time of my life. They never tell you anything negative. They figured if I was out blowing money, it was always easy for them to come in the back door and get a piece of it.

"First the agent gets his cut, then the guy who he hired to invest your money gets his. It doesn't take a college degree to figure out you are paying twice for everything."

He decided to take matters into his own hands. So he fired his manager - for a large fee - after three years started to look for some advisers he could count on and "pay once" for their services. But who could he trust?

The first selection appeared safe enough: the neighbor and middle-aged woman in Salt Lake who told him she wanted Malone to beat the odds and look toward the future.

"I know she doesn't like to be mentioned, but Mrs. (Kay) Cash is like my mother," Malone said.

Cash told Malone she would be his business manager until he found somebody else. "It's been going on two years and I haven't looked for anybody else," Malone said, grinning and catching a glance from Cash, stuffing a mound of signed basketball cards into self-addressed stamped envelopes from fans.

Along with Cash handling his schedule and acting as a personal manager, Malone has lined up a team of private bankers and an investment adviser at Zions First National Bank, an attorney and an accountant.

Malone was not on the verge of financial collapse. His unpaid bills that mounted when he spent money as fast as it came in weren't anything that his eight-year $26 million contract and marketing agreements couldn't quickly take care of. But at the time he didn't know where he stood financially. And when he did find out he was devastated.

"For six months straight I heard nothing but bad news. It was, `Karl did you know about this and that you owed that.' I didn't want to hear it," he recalls.

"Then one day I got a call from the bank and they said, `Karl you've got $10,000 to invest.' I felt like I was rich," he recalls.

That's coming from a 27-year-old man, who at the time of that call was making almost $10,000 a game.

Since that six-month period of being knocked down to size, the 6-9, 256-pound Malone has "made hay while the sun shines," Cash said.

His network of advisers check with each other to make sure their client knows the pitfalls of any investment of his money and time. Malone doesn't always like their counsel, but he listens and the final decision is his.

"I feel at ease. For once I say what I want and what I don't want."

His plan is simple: Invest in proj-ects that will provide financial security and something to do after he hangs up his sneakers. How long must he play before the groundwork of a thriving financial empire is laid? "The longer I play the better the groundwork is going to look," Malone said with a smile.

Unlike his rapid rise to success in the NBA and his hard, physical style of play, Malone approaches his finances slow and easy.

"I do some dibbling and dabbling, but it's safe dibbling and dabbling," he says.

He said requests to become a partner in various business ventures are constant. "It's unbelievable. We've heard everything from cat litter that don't smell to chicken on a stick. But I have yet to see something (from somebody else) to catch my interest."

What he does put in his money into is ranching and trucking.

He owns a 50-acre ranch in Arkansas where he raises Beef Master cows, and he has other real estate investments in Louisiana. "I figure they can't make any more land and it will be worth something some day."

Later this year, he and a friend will launch a locally based business that will customize semitrailer trucks. "It will be different from anything you have ever seen. We are building it from the ground up and everything will be like I want it."

He said he hopes to attract people like himself, who want to be different and modify their trucks and buy a custom 18-wheeler from Malone.

The real estate and trucking ventures are owned by Karl Malone Enterprises. His product endorsements, basketball camps, charity donations, posters and other proj-ects that capitalize on his athletic career are handled under K.A.M. Marketing.

Malone doesn't disclose how much he is worth. He said his own family doesn't even know.

"I don't go around boasting and bragging about what I do." But sometimes he shows off what he owns to show the folks back in Sum-merfield, La., he can do more than shoot a basketball.

"When I was back home and got ahold of people I knew back in college and we rode by different spots that I owned, they couldn't believe it. They'd say, `I thought such and such owned that.' And I said, `He used to. Now do.' "