Karl Malone is bagging his fledgling trucking business, putting a half-dozen tractor-trailers on the auction block in early October.
The 18-month-old company - Malone Enterprises Trucking Inc. - suffered during its short history from personnel woes and financial difficulties.The Utah Jazz and a number of Malone associates roundly dismissed rumors that the sale is a harbinger of Malone's departure from Utah.
Scott Layden, Jazz director of player personnel, was interviewed Wednesday morning on Chris Tunis' Sports Radio 570 show and was typically tight-lipped about the possibility of Malone moving on.
"Our organization has always taken the position, regardless of the player or the magnitude of the rumor, that we don't comment on those things," Layden said. "We could go on all day running down rumors."
Tunis and a couple of callers tried their best to pin the elusive Layden down, but he dodged them adroitly.
Asked if any teams had asked for permission to talk to Malone, Layden said (making the point that he was speaking generally and not addressing the Malone situation specifically), "I don't think we've ever given permission to anyone to talk to one of our players, but we handle those things on a by-call basis."
When asked if Malone had any kind of no-trade clause in his contract, Layden said, "I'd rather not get into that," but he went on to say that he thinks NBA rules prohibit most no-trade clauses.
In any case, the Mailman will hang onto his personal over-the-road rig, keeping the well-known hobbyhorse for publicity tours.
"He'll never sell that one," said Sue Drechsel, lead driver and dispatcher. "That's his baby."
The seven-truck outfit, small by trucking industry standards, represented the seed of a dream Malone nurtured since childhood, when he grew up the youngest of an nine-child family in the backwoods of northern Louisiana.
Asked Wednesday whether Malone was losing money on the enterprise, his attorney, Randall Call, said, "He sure wasn't making any."
Malone himself was unavailable for comment, as he usually is during the off-season. His publicist, Roxanne Hasegawa, said the Mailman is on horseback this week on a back-country hunting trip in Idaho.
"I think what he found is that it's tough running a trucking company in absentia," said Call, who added that small-company survival is difficult when local competitors field fleets of hundreds of trucks and national companies dispatch thousands.
Call said Malone and his business advisors decided recently "there would probably be a better return on investments in other areas." Noting that the Mailman this summer opened a Toyota dealership in Albuquerque with the Larry H. Miller, owner of the Jazz, he said the NBA All-Star may well dabble further in auto dealerships.
The trucking company's demise came as a surprise to most. Its celebrity ownership drew many clients, and the company was competitive enough to draw numerous corporate clients, including Albertson's Food Centers, Idaho-based Walker Potatoes, poultry giant ConAgra of El Dorado, Ark., and Kroger Co. of Cincinatti, the biggest grocery chain in the country.
Drechsel said the company was beset by constant turnover.
"We had so many guys that came in here thinking that this is Karl Malone's trucking company and they were going to somehow take advantage of it when the truth of it was that this is just a regular trucking company."
The trucks Malone are selling have less than 100,000 miles on them, low by over-the-road standards, said Drechesel, who estimated the value of each tractor-trailer rig at about $100,000.