Those guys, they love to play together. I love watching them. I can actually say, the team we have now, I semi want to know when they’re playing. —Utah Jazz legend Karl Malone
SALT LAKE CITY — The Delta Center is no longer the Delta Center.
It’s Vivint Arena now.
The Utah Jazz are no longer using the snowcapped mountain peak jerseys, either. The current squad is balling in navy blue, gold and green.
Two decades have passed since Karl Malone and his running mate John Stockton were leading the Jazz to the 1997-98 NBA Finals against the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.
Although Utah didn’t win a title, Malone remains a beloved figure in the Salt Lake City community.
“The Mailman” returned to his longtime professional basketball home on Thursday for a meet and greet at Gracie’s Bar on behalf of his partnership with Budweiser.
As much as the diehard Jazz fans enjoyed reliving the old memories with Malone, the 54-year-old Hall of Famer is gushing over the new guys in town.
“Those guys, they love to play together. I love watching them,” Malone said of this year’s Jazz team. “I can actually say, the team we have now, I semi want to know when they’re playing.
“I kind of watch my little schedule now. Semi,” he added. “The team we have now, because they want to play and they play hard and they play together. They act like they want to be there.”
With Game 6 of Utah’s first-round playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder set for 8:30 p.m. Friday, Malone is pulling for the Jazz to bounce back after squandering a 25-point lead on the road Wednesday night.
“That game happened. That game is over with,” Malone said. “Get ready for tomorrow night. That’s it. No use in looking at it. What good can you get out of that game? Nothing. Get ready to end it tomorrow at home.”
However, with his son, K.J. Malone, of Louisiana State University, possibly being drafted to the NFL over the next few days, it’s highly unlikely that Malone will be in attendance for the next Jazz postseason game. The family is planning a watch party in Louisiana over the weekend. But even with that being said, Malone remains a big fan and refuses to try and relive his glory years through them.
He is comfortable with his place in history.
“I don’t like comparing because they’re entirely different and they’re making their mark their own way and I love it,” Malone said. “They’ve got a lot of young guys that pull for each other and a lot of young guys that are unselfish and that's what I love more than anything.”
Malone spent all but one of his 19 NBA seasons as a member of the Jazz from 1985-2003 before retiring as a Los Angeles Laker in 2004. The two-time MVP made three trips to the NBA Finals with 14 All-Star appearances and is No. 2 on the all-time scoring list behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 36,928 points.
Recently, Malone said he learned that Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell surpassed his franchise rookie record for the most postseason points scored in a single game with 33 points in Game 4 against OKC.
Malone’s previous record of 31 points at Dallas had stood since April 20, 1986. Seeing the milestone get broken is all evolution in his eyes and as the Jazz continue to progress, Malone expects not just Mitchell but other guys such as Rudy Gobert to shatter more records along the way.
“So, somebody texted me, Marcus Spears, the football analyst,” Malone recalled. “I’m on the machine and he asks me, ‘What do you think about Donovan Mitchell breaking your record?’ and I’m like, ‘Well, what record is it?’
“Now if you sit me down and jog my memory, but I don’t think about that,” he continued. “I look at young people that play in the game that they love to play so as far as breaking the record? And! It’s part of it. He’s probably going to break a whole lot more of them.”
Malone also says that if he were facing a shot-blocker like Gobert in today’s era, he would have to get creative with his offensive repertoire. He first starting training with Gobert as a rookie and is happy to see the direction that the franchise is taking with him as a cornerstone, even 20 years after Utah’s last championship appearance against the Bulls.
“I would have to hit Rudy like three or four times to fold up then I’d try to score on him. He’s long,” Malone said, joking. “I don’t know, I doubt it but I would take him outside to get him in foul trouble. I’d have to pull some of them old tricks on him to get him in foul trouble. I love watching him. From the time I worked with him, I loved him.”