SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Karl Malone has his own street in Salt Lake City. He's immortalized as an NBA player with a statue outside of his old stomping-on-opponents grounds. His No. 32 jersey is retired from future use and hangs in the EnergySolutions Arena rafters.
The Mailman was even hand-delivered into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday night.
Malone is long gone from the spotlight of his playing days, but he certainly won't be forgotten.
Question is: What in the heck was he saying to himself on the free-throw line?
OK, the real question: When the warm fuzzies of the enshrinement ceremony and his emotional speech fade away, what will his legacy in Utah be?
Will he be embraced by Jazz fans with fond memories of his powerful presence, his blue-collar worker attitude and his rare talent made lethal by his size, speed and unique style?
Will he be forgiven by fans perhaps offended by his roaming rants, his struggles in crunch time or that he dared leave his NBA roots to join the enemy known as the Los Angeles Lakers?
Will he ever be as beloved in the Beehive State as his longtime teammate, fellow Hall of Famer and statue model, John Stockton?
While admitting public opinion can be finicky, his buddy from Gonzaga knows how he'll remember Malone.
"In Karl's case," Stockton said, "I think the legacy should be that the guy came to work every day with his boots on, laced up, ready to go and gave us everything he had.
"He made our team better," Stockton added. "He made the Utah Jazz special."
That's how another old teammate sees it, too.
"Karl Malone was my favorite player to play with in my whole career, no question about it," ex-Jazz small forward Matt Harpring said at his Murray camp last month.
Both teammates lauded Malone for his contributions to the club and community on and off the court.
Harpring admitted he was "shocked" to find out one half of the Stockton-to-Malone combo — the reserved one who wore short shorts before Daisy Dukes were cool — was generally appreciated and idolized more than the other.
"I thought everyone would love John Stockton and Karl Malone," Harpring said.
But they didn't, even Malone knew that, which is why he recently joked that some Jazz fans were probably glad to see him leave for L.A. after Stockton retired.
The generous guy was misunderstood and under-appreciated by some, Harpring believes.
"If only people knew this side of him he would have that 99 percent like him (like Stockton), because he did things the right way," Harpring said. "He worked his tail off."
Harpring couldn't believe how Malone acted when he joined the Jazz in 2002. Malone had been in the league for 17 years, but The Mailman was the first one in and out of the weight room, he participated in practices despite being an established "superstar" and he remained coachable. He also couldn't believe that Malone only missed 10 games with the Jazz in 18 seasons.
"You respect a guy like that," Harpring said.
That feeling is even shared by a former opponent who was once sent to the hospital thanks to one of Malone's roaming elbows.
Ex-Spurs center David Robinson admitted there was some on-court rancor — "lots of rancor," he emphasized, laughing — between the big men when they played, but the Admiral grew to admire Malone (and Stockton, for that matter).
Robinson described the career statistics of Malone, the NBA's all-time second-leading scorer, as being "staggering" and "ridiculous." In a good way.
"Mailman. Can you have a better nickname for a guy who was like that consistently for that many years?" Robinson said. "He was phenomenal."
Delivering like a postal carrier certainly wasn't his only hobby. In his spare time, Malone was trucker, a logger, a pro wrestler, an aspiring politician, a police officer wannabe, an auto salesman, an avid hunter and outdoorsman, an exercise enthusiast and an outspoken chatter box.
Being predictable, boring or reserved certainly won't be his legacy.
Neither will being a particularly flashy player, but that's what attracted fans like Brian and Doug O'Keefe to love Malone and the Jazz. Just like the former Utahns did last year for the induction of Stockton and Sloan, the father (Doug, from Austin, Texas) and son (Brian, from Hopkinton, Mass.) traveled to Springfield again this week to soak in Malone's moment.
"He represents teamwork, hard work, dedication and commitment," Brian said.
That's why O'Keefe, who joked that his 9-year-old daughter is the only girl in Massachusetts who sports a Deron Williams jersey, believes Malone's legacy will be linked to those same values shared by the Jazz organization, from Sloan, to the Miller family and, of course, Stockton.
"There's only two statues," Doug added.
Frank Layden, part of the Jazz front office that drafted Malone 13th overall out of Louisiana Tech in 1985, borrowed Sloan's oft-used description of The Mailman by claiming he always brought his lunch bucket to work.
That set a great example for younger players and set the tone for the successful franchise.
"Karl Malone is the rock that the Utah Jazz are built on because of his work ethic and his extreme loyalty ... not only to the team but to the community," Layden said Friday while touring the Naismith Memorial.
Layden admitted Malone had "some rough edges" when he came out of college.
"But," the former Jazz coach and general manager added, "the guy to his credit, he took his God-given talent and he worked very, very hard to be who he became."
In other words, Malone worked for his Hall of Fame legacy.
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