There were countless Saturdays during Karl Malone's childhood in Summerfield, La., when his mom would pack the kids in the car, bound for the Sportatorium in Dallas.

They'd spend a few hours watching, cheering and jeering "Cowboy" Bill Watts, Dr. X, Fritz Von Erich and others, then head home. This was pro wrestling - or rasslin' as he puts it - at its finest. It was well worth the multi-hour journey along I-20."I remember watching those guys back then and saying to myself, `Gosh, that's what I want to do,' " Malone said.

Flash forward to January 1998 - the Compaq Center in Houston. As Malone's Utah Jazz were blowing away the host Rockets, teammates Chris Morris and Bryon Russell elbowed Malone as he relaxed on the bench about a mysterious fan sitting four rows behind the Utah bench.

It was none other than Diamond Dallas Page, of World Championship Wrestling (WCW) fame, sporting a rocker-like mop of sandy blond hair and a skin-tight black shirt and pants. And, of course, alligator-skin cowboy boots.

"At first, I was surprised he was there. Then, to show my appreciation for him, for what he's done in his profession, I flashed him his Diamond Cutter sign" during a timeout, recalled Malone.

A friendship was born - solidified a month later when Page was Malone's special guest at the NBA All-Star Game in New York City.

"The tie between me and DDP is that we just have so much in common," Malone said. "At the All-Star Game we just talked about stuff in general, not his profession or mine. It's pretty awesome when you know a person and know that their work habits and what they believe in are the same as yours."

Flash-forward again. This time to the NBA Finals. Chicago's one-man media event, Dennis Rodman, skipped practice one day to attend and participate in WCW's "Monday Nitro," on TNT. Rodman and partner "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan, repeatedly whacked Page from behind with a chair.

Then, in Game 6 of the Finals, Malone celebrated a joyous Jazz moment with DDP's Diamond Cutter sign.

Can you see the battle lines forming?

Within days after the Finals ending, Malone joined forces with DDP to battle Rodman and Hogan in the main event of The Bash At The Beach pay-per-view, set for July 12 at Cox Arena in San Diego.

His childhood dream come true.

"You've got to realize, I've watched DDP and wrestling in general forever, so, getting to team up with him is awesome," said Malone, who will wrestle under the moniker "The Mauler."

Malone said, "I have always wanted to be in the entertainment business and, if I'm looking to do movies or entertainment (in the future), what greater opportunity to start off than at this extreme.

"I want to do this and ya know, it's OK for people to do things that they want to do," Malone said. "So many times in life you're concerned about what other people will say, but I think the most important thing is, what do you want, what will make you happy. In life, there is nothing wrong with making yourself happy, nothing wrong with pleasing yourself."

But, Karl, this is pro 'rasslin, not pro hoops. What about your image?

"To me, this (wrestling match) is just like I tried out for the lead role in my first action-packed movie - and got it. This is awesome."

And perhaps a sneak peek at the Mailman's next vocation.

"I figure I can play, at this level, another four years," said Malone, who just completed his 13th NBA season and has one year remaining on his current contract with the Jazz.

"If I work something out with WCW, I definitely, definitely" would pursue wrestling full time post-NBA, Malone said.

Malone's road to San Diego has stopped several times in WCW's home-town, Atlanta, for instruction at the WCW Power Plant - the training center for future Hulkamaniacs.

He spent the last weekend in June at the Power Plant, then a few days earlier this week, practicing his moves, starting out with the simple lockup. Malone crammed 31/2 months worth of training into about 3 1/2 days. Page guided the sessions, with help from fellow wrestlers Billy Kidman, Chris Kanyon and Wrath. Malone practiced clotheslines, bodyslamming foes and simply running the ropes.

"Before I started practicing the moves, I had no idea what to expect, not a clue," Malone said. "Well, my appreciation is so much different because I have now been inside a ring. I didn't just show up at the pay-per-view and say, `OK, here I am, world.'

"I'm not trying to come into wrestling and take something away from the regular wrestlers because I respect what they do; they are incredible athletes,"

Malone admits he was anxious to meet many of the WCW and New World Order superstars such as the Giant, Bill Goldberg, Sting, Macho Man Randy Savage, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall and others. He said he wanted to express his admiration to them, just as they offered theirs to him. Oh, and snag a "To Karl" autographed photo from each.

"I'll tell you what woke me up to what these guys go through," Malone said. "When I was just starting my training, Dallas said, `I want you to appreciate this sport, so stand right here and kick your feet out and land flat on the mat.' When I did that, it woke me up.

"What I'm doing now, wrestling, for me, is like being a kid in a candy store, for real. By being involved in pro wrestling, I want the world to know that, yes, it is OK to be a superstar in another profession and still pursue another love.

"These wrestlers are incredible athletes who work their butts off in the weight room. If you don't believe it, I challenge anyone to go to - and make it through - the Power Plant Training Center. You don't even have to go for three or four months, just for two or three days. I guarantee you that you'll leave with a different attitude."