Two days after Karl Malone had his two national TV interviews where he criticized Greg Ostertag and Larry Miller, creating a bit of a fuss locally, I was in the dentist's office having a cavity filled.
My dentist is a big sports fan, particularly as it relates to basketball. Knowing of my long tenure in the Deseret News sports department, he enjoys picking my brain while drilling my teeth.First, he wanted to talk about the Latrell Sprewell ruling, wherein an arbiter seriously reduced the penalty imposed by NBA Commissioner David Stern. "That was an outrage," he said animatedly. Nothing wrong with being animated. I only hoped he didn't start waving his arms, as one of his hands was in my mouth with a drill.
"What did you think about the Malone thing?" he queried after finishing his comments about Sprewell.
"Ummmgrafffffffglck," I responded, unable to make a coherent reply given the situation.
"Yeah, me too," he replied.
He then related an interesting incident regarding a close friend and Malone, an account that reveals a lot about the character of Karl Malone.
The friend was involved with the security detail at the Delta Center. The hours were horrendous, creating a problem with the man's family life. It finally got to the point where he had to sacrifice the job to maintain a relationship with his family.
When he got home after that last shift, he found two messages on his answering machine. One was from Malone. The other was from John Stockton. They both expressed regret at his leaving and concern for the man and asked him to let them know if there was anything they could do to help.
That's consistent with my own limited experiences with Malone and those of friends.
A few years ago a neighbor and his family were in St. George at a fast-food restaurant. In walked the Mailman. He was and is a hero to the man's sons. The neighbor approached Malone and asked if Malone would be kind enough to pose with the man's wife and children for a picture.
"Sure," Malone answered. It became apparent that the neighbor wouldn't be in the photo as he had to take the picture. Malone said something like, "Hey, you need to be in the picture too" and then proceeded to get another patron at the restaurant to take the picture so that the husband/father could be in it with his family.
Deseret News columnist Jerry Johnston recently recounted how Malone interceded on Johnston's behalf at a Jazz practice the first time he met Malone a number of years ago. Johnston was writing human interest stories about the rookies. Malone was to play on the Olympic team that year, so about halfway through the practice he slipped into an Olympic uniform and began posing for a photographer.
Johnston dashed over and began taking his own pictures. The official photographer got irritated with Johnston, basically telling him in a not very kind way to take a hike. Johnston left for another part of the gym. A few moments later Malone came looking for him and found him. "Don't worry about that guy," Malone told Johnston. "He's like that all the time. It's why we're firing him." With that the Mailman trotted away, leaving quite a favorable impression with Johnston.
Yes, Malone sometimes says things that are inappropriate and generate some controversy. When you're in the spotlight like Malone is, those things are going to be recorded by both the print and broadcast media. What's more important though, is the stuff Malone does when he's not in the spotlight, simple acts of kindness for a variety of people.
Malone's a good person. He's also a good basketball player. But whereas his basketball skills at some point will erode, his character won't.