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Karl Malone looks out over the media and friends at a press conference as his number 32 is retired at the Delta Center Thursday March 23, 2006.

DALLAS — The issue isn't whether he'll get in.

In fact, if Karl Malone doesn't get into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on first ballot, current Hall of Famer Dominque Wilkins said, "there's something wrong."

Instead, on the day Malone officially and expectedly was named a hall finalist, the only real questions were who will go in with him and how the Mailman's impact on the game will be defined.

"He left a major imprint," said Wilkins, who was on hand for the formal announcement at the Dallas Hyatt Regency hotel here.

"To be the second all-time leading scorer in history is amazing. He definitely was the prototype power forward of that era, and probably any era. He just added new elements to the position. He was a great scorer, a great rebounder, he could pass. I mean, he could do it all."

Wilkins actually was drafted by the cash-strapped Jazz in 1982, but — because of the franchise's financial state at the time and his own reluctance to play in Utah — was traded a couple months later to the Atlanta Hawks for John Drew, Freeman Williams and money.

That paved the way for the Jazz to draft Malone out of Louisiana Tech three years later, making him — along with point guard John Stockton — a franchise cornerstone for most of two decades.

Now Malone is sure to be headed for the Hall, with an Aug. 13 induction ceremony at the Springfield, Mass., shrine coming nearly one year after Stockton and longtime Jazz coach Jerry Sloan both made it in.

"If he's not a shoo-in," Wilkins said of Malone, second only to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in all-time NBA points scored, "I don't know who is."

Malone was among 19 finalists named Friday, a group that also includes Scottie Pippen — from the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls who twice beat Stockton and Malone's Jazz in the NBA Finals — and America's 1992 Olympic Dream Team.

The '92 gold medal-winners — whose roster featured NBA greats Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and Jordan, and included not only Malone, Stockton and Pippin, but also repeat Hall finalist Chris Mullin, among others — is one of three teams named a finalist, along with the USA's 1960 gold-winning Olympic Team and the so-called "All-American Red Heads," a club founded in 1936 that is recognized as the first women's pro basketball team.

"It was great to play with Larry, Michael and all the guys after all those years," said Johnson, who added he cherished the opportunity to get to personally know usual NBA foes including Malone and Stockton.

"They said there's no way we could play together," Johnson added. "They underestimated us from the beginning. We didn't care who scored the points or got their name in the paper. All we cared about was bringing the gold back to the U.S."

Other finalists include former NBA players Bernard King (whose 15-year career included 19 games for the Jazz in the 1979-80 season); four-time NBA champion Jamaal Wilkes of Golden State and the Los Angeles Lakers; late Boston Celtic Dennis Johnson; multi-time All-Stars Richard Guerin and Gus Johnson; longtime Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss; fabled New Jersey high school coach Bob Hurley; longtime NBA coach Don Nelson; longtime Bulls and Lakers assistant coach Tex Winter; WNBA great Cynthia Cooper; longtime Wayland Baptist University women's coach Harley Redin; Vladimir Kondrashin, coach of the 1972 Russian Olympic team whose club won a famously controversial gold medal game with the USA; and three-time Brazilian Olympian Maciel "Ubiratan" Pereira.

Any number of the 19 are eligible to be elected by receiving at least 18 votes from a secret 24-member committee, whose Class of 2010 decisions will be announced April 5 during NCAA Final Four Weekend in Indianapolis.

Among those clearly at the head of the class, though, will be Malone, a two-time NBA MVP, two-time gold medal-winner and 14-time All-Star who played his final NBA season with the Lakers.

His legacy, Hall of Famer Bill Walton said, is "a testament to everything that's right in sports."

Walton praised Malone, raised in small-town Louisiana, for "using the game of basketball to make a better life for himself."

"Where would Karl, where would Magic, where would Larry, where would any of us be, without the game of basketball?" Walton asked. "He (Malone) learned to associate, to partner, with the game, and with the people in it."

e-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com