Just another week in the life of the Mailman, huh? The Jazz's Karl Malone keeps working on a new headline every day. The latest: Malone scores 61 - and is going to All-Star Game, after all.
"Might as well," Malone says.To wrap up the wild three days that started with the news that he would not start the NBA All-Star Game next month in Miami, Malone went out and scored the most points of anyone in the Jazz's Utah years. In the process, the Jazz hammered Milwaukee 144-96 Saturday night in the Salt Palace for the biggest win in franchise history.
All this happened on a night when the building was evacuated about an hour after the game because of a steam leak.
The other news was the Jazz's (29-11) winning their ninth straight game, taking a two-game lead over San Antonio in the Midwest Division and tying Portland for the NBA's second-best record. They play Portland Sunday.
This will long be remembered as the game when Malone and Darrell Griffith combined for 80 points - well, Griffith did add 19, mostly at the end of the game.
So who said Malone was overrated this time? In Charlotte last month, teammate John Stockton planted a fake story that the Hornets' Armon Gilliam had downgraded Malone in a TV interview and the Mailman went out and scored 52. Stockton claimed innocence Saturday, smiling and saying, "Who knows what can lurk in his mind?"
No doubt, a little of everything is going through the Mailman's mind these days. Shocked by the All-Star voting results, his first reaction was to stay home even after the Western Conference coaches name him as a reserve this week. Friday, he wavered a little but toyed with reporters, suggesting he was still leaning away from Miami.
By Saturday evening, he was close to saying he'd go. "The first couple of days, it hurts, but after a while you have to take a little time and think about things," he said before the game.
Afterward, he announced he would go, while several thousand people cheered during an in-arena interview. So when did he decide, along about his 40th point? Teammates suspect the Mailman's mother was the No. 1 influence, while Malone stuck to his story of making up his own mind.
"I'm going because I made the decision myself," he said. "When you stop and think about the situation . . ."
Against the Bucks, Malone was all action. By the end of the first quarter, when he'd scored 17 and the Jazz were leading 31-19, it was clear Malone was on his way to big things.
That's exactly what Bucks Coach Del Harris feared. Not only was Milwaukee playing for the fourth time in five nights on the road, he knew full well that Malone was steaming. Before the game, Harris even jokingly suggested to Malone that he boycott Saturday's game to immediately make his point, instead of waiting until the All-Star Game next month.
"I knew he would come out and make a statement; I didn't realize he would write a whole book in one night," a good-natured Harris said afterward. "That should be a lesson - people in Milwaukee next year should vote for Karl Malone. Stuff the ballot box."
Said Stockton, "If he did this because they didn't vote him in, I hope they never vote him in."
Only hours after receiving the voting news Thursday, Malone responded with 26 points and five rebounds in a win over New York. He'd topped those totals by halftime Saturday - 30 and 10, with the Jazz up 61-45.
And the Mailman was just warming up. He scored the Jazz's first 12 points in the second half and ended up 8 for 8 in the third quarter, hitting the 50 mark with 2:32 left on a steal and drive for a 3-point play. Moments later, he went to the bench after missing two free throws.
With the Jazz leading 105-77 with nine minutes left, Coach Jerry Sloan sent Malone back into the game - but followed by sending Jose Ortiz to the scorers' table not long afterward. With Ortiz waiting for the next dead ball, Malone went from 52 to 61 - mostly because he kept shooting free throws, not allowing Ortiz to replace him.
Finally, Malone intentionally fouled a Milwaukee player so he could leave the game with 5:54 left. No active NBA player has scored more than 61 points in a regular-season game. Michael Jordan's career high is 61, Larry Bird's is 60.
"I know I'll never score 61 again," Malone said. "It's just something that I can't imagine . . . I always thought that when I had a game like this, I'd retire, but now I'm going to have to stop and think about that for a minute. I'm still young."
By the end of the game, Jazz owner Larry Miller was next to Malone on the Jazz bench and the Jazz's designated finishers like Jose Ortiz and Mike Brown were firing up 3-point shots. That hardly delighted Sloan, who knows, for one thing, that the Jazz have to play the Bucks in Milwaukee in March.
"I don't know what the significance of that was," Sloan said of the late flurry.
So the Bucks will remember this game, too, just like Malone and the Jazz. The Mailman says he'll keep a videotape of the game just for the memories - chances are, he won't soon forget the events of this week, anyway.
Top single-game scorers
The top 10 scoring games in Jazz history:
68 - Pete Maravich vs. N.Y., 1977
61 - Karl Malone vs. Milwaukee, 1990
57 - Adrian Dantley vs. Chicago, 1982
55 - Dantley vs. Denver, 1981
53 - Dantley vs. Denver, 1982
52 - Malone vs. Charlotte, 1989
51 - Maravich vs. Kansas City, 1976
51 - Maravich vs. Phoenix, 1977
51 - Truck Robinson vs. N.J., 1978
51 - Dantley vs. Dallas, 1980