SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Karl Malone was greeted by cheers, loud oohs and aahs and even a few catcalls as he stepped off a VIP bus before a banquet at the basketball Hall of Fame on Thursday night.
By his wide grin, it was obvious the soon-to-be-inductee clearly is enjoying being in the spotlight again after retiring from the NBA in 2004.
"This is the tops," Malone said en route to the annual Hall of Fame eve Reunion Reception with wife Kay and several children. "You can't get cut or traded from this."
Malone will be enshrined from it, though. Twice even.
The Mailman and his 1992 U.S. men's Olympic basketball squad (a.k.a. the Dream Team) will enter the Hall of Fame tonight with Scottie Pippen, Jerry Buss, Cynthia Cooper, Bob Hurley, Sr., the 1960 U.S. men's team and posthumous honorees Dennis Johnson, Gus Johnson and Maciel Pereira.
"I'm excited for Karl," Jazz coach and Hall-of-Famer Jerry Sloan said before signing autographs. "Obviously, he kept us in a job for about 18, 19 years."
A couple more Hall of Fame guys are also excited to welcome Malone to the exclusive club.
"He's been a friend of mine for a long time," former power forward nemesis Charles Barkley said at Thursday's event. "But he's just one of the greatest power forwards ever to play the game. It was an honor and a privilege to play against him."
Barkley said it wasn't Malone's remarkable toughness that separated him from the rest. It was his size and speed.
"Very few guys were that big, strong and that fast," Barkley said of Malone, who was 6-foot-9 and a muscular 256 pounds in his playing days. "I mean, think about it. You play against big guys, you play against fast guys, but you don't play against big, fast guys."
Except, that is, when you played against Malone.
New York Knicks legend Willis Reed also beamed while talking about Malone, who grew up admiring the Hall of Fame big man. The fact they grew up, albeit in different decades, about five miles from each other's hometowns in Louisiana is one of the reasons Malone chose Reed, a boyhood idol, to be his Hall of Fame presenter.
Malone, from Summerville, has always watched and admired Reed, who hails from Bernice.
Likely to Malone's delight, the admiration is mutual.
In fact, Reed declared Malone as being one of his two favorite power forwards of all-time — the other being another Bayou State product, Bob Pettit. Reed is in awe that the physical Malone was able to play 80-plus games for 17 of his 18 seasons in Utah while averaging more than 25 points and 10 rebounds.
"If you ever want to show a guy what a man can accomplish with hard work and skill, he had both," Reed said of Malone. "He was a hard worker, very aggressive. He didn't play basketball like basketball players play. He played with almost a football passion."
Reed believes Malone would've been "a great football player." People in both sports are probably happy that didn't happen.
"I'm glad he played basketball," Reed quickly added. "We had the chance to watch a very, very skilled big man play the game."
Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton is also scheduled to attend this weekend's festivities.