As altercations go, the second-quarter push-shove-and-glare deal between Karl Malone and Magic Johnson on a day of peace and national television was pretty tame. On the court, nothing more came of it, and it probably meant little to the game's 101-87 outcome in the Jazz's favor.
But every time Johnson touched the ball after that - every time - he was booed by the Salt Palace crowd.This is a crowd that applauds him much of the time; this is a city that Johnson endeared himself to nearly 10 years ago when he helped make the 1979 Salt Lake City NCAA Final Four tournament one of the best.
It was unusual behavior for this town. Frank Layden said so.
"Well, (for) here," agreed Johnson, who's been booed elsewhere.
It wasn't vicious booing. It was almost polite. But it started whenever Johnson touched the ball and ended the moment he passed it.
"Just for the fun of it," said Wendy Layton and Andrew Adamson, who were still booing Johnson late in the fourth quarter when the win was all but sewn up. "Everyone does it," Layton said. She and Adamson are both former Los Angeles residents who live in Salt Lake now. They consider themselves Johnson fans most of the time "It's just fun to give him a hard time," Adamson said.
"I still say our fans are more riley-er than their fans - in a nice way," said Malone, "and that's what it's all about. Our fans really came out and supported us on Christmas Day."
"It gives them a good feeling if they can get upset at a player a little bit," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan.
Bob Hunt of Provo, Todd Besendorfer of Salt Lake and Curtis Kostas of Portland were still booing Magic in the fourth quarter, too. "He's a big whiner," they said.
"He thinks he's better than he is," said Salt Lake booer Elaine Rothell, another former L.A. resident.
"I don't mind being booed. Of course you notice it, but you just play," said Johnson, who didn't play that well. He scored seven points between 9:38 of the second quarter, when the tiff occurred, and halftime, but he finished with 18 points, five in the second half.
Malone had 31.
"People will say he was affected by it because he didn't shoot the ball as well as in the
past," said Sloan, "but I don't think he was. I don't think it affects Magic to yell at him."
Malone thought otherwise. "I don't care who you are, Michael Jordan or whoever," said Malone. "If somebody's booing you every time you do anything, just dribbling the ball, that can throw you off your rhythm."
The incident grew out of action and reaction. "The heat of competition will create that," said Laker Coach Pat Riley. He said Malone threw an elbow (and missed) at Johnson at the Forum. "The guy takes liberties; you know, he's Superman."
Malone stole the ball from a dribbling Johnson, who lunged and bumped Malone in the midsection as he passed upcourt. Malone pushed Johnson in the back, and, after a couple of steps, Johnson reached out and pushed Malone, who turned and pushed back.
They glowered at each other. The crowd started to buzz.
"They're for the home team, and they're going to catch me second, see me push him back, but that's all right," said Johnson.
"He knew I wasn't going to let him get away with it," said Johnson. "I'm not backing up from nobody. I don't care who it is. It could be Superman. If I let him push me, he's going to push me 20 times."
"I'm competitive; Magic's competitive," Malone said.
"It's probably the only time we've been that close to each other since I've been in the league," said Malone, a forward while Johnson's a guard. "Things like that flare up. We shook hands. No hard feelings."
Just an edge. "The edge is important when you're talking about Utah and L.A.," said Johnson.