SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah Jazz players lock arms before home games at Vivint Arena, they likely glance atop the building as the national anthem is being performed.
Among the retired jerseys dangling up there is Karl Malone’s No. 32.
Outside the arena, there’s an 8-foot-tall bronze statue of Malone — the No. 2 all-time NBA scorer — on the downtown Salt Lake City corner near Karl Malone Drive.
“He’s a legend. You saw Aaron Gordon (recently) pay tribute to his dunk and little things like that, so he’s a legend throughout the league,” said current Jazz star Donovan Mitchell. “In this organization, he’ll go down as one of the greats, him and John Stockton, but he’s just a trooper. He does a lot. He was strong and physical and a dominant big in his time and you don’t see a lot of those nowadays.”
The current Utah Jazz roster is certainly enamored with Malone's impact. But as a casual observer now residing in Ruston, Louisiana, the NBA Hall of Famer says he’s just as blown away by the current Jazz with their level of respect for the past. Malone, 55, still catches some games throughout the regular season, but he's all the way glued in during the postseason, when he still roots for the franchise.
“There’s been some Jazz teams and players on the team before that really turned me off from the franchise that I love to death because I know they weren’t playing hard,” Malone told the Deseret News in his home. “We’re not going to get into names, but that turned me off, so to get a group of guys like this, every single one of them that’s the stars of this team or have the great game. I can actually say this … every one of them, I would like to meet their dad and granddad because they’ve got old souls.
“Like that old, roll your sleeves up and I have yet to see an article that they did not give credit where credit is due,” he said, adding that it's impressive that this Jazz team takes responsibility for the losses. "In the day and age now, where it’s me, me, me, if they get (beat) ... they say ‘they gave us a good ol’ butt whooping and we’re going to do something about it. It’s not saying a lot about me, it’s saying a lot about them and the whole state should be proud of them.”
Malone still has a boatload of businesses flourishing in Salt Lake City and Ruston, plus spends most of his time hunting and with his family in a rather private life during his post-retirement years. He sometimes attends Jazz games and has even been in talks with the Jazz organization to possibly design a camouflage-themed Utah uniform in the future, because he’s not a fan of the City-themed edition.
He just hopes the togetherness of this team remains intact.
“Isn’t it neat that they appear to like each other? That’s No. 1. I know you’re like, ‘... he’s your teammate,’ but newsflash I had some lazy ... teammates that I didn’t like, OK?” Malone said. “If they call today and I see it … well, number one they’re not programmed in my phone, but if I know it’s them, I probably won’t answer because they was lazy ... .
“Of course it’s teammates that you don’t like but these guys, look at them, they like each other,” he continued. “That’s part of the battle and they can play and the mixture of the team they got, I don’t want to throw them under the bus, but I guess I will, the coaches will mess that up and you can write that.
“I’m saying that I don’t normally throw coaches under the bus, but they’ve got everything. They’ve got everything on that team right now to finish what we started. They really do. They’ve got bigs. Do you know how excited I would’ve been to play with a Rudy Gobert?”
Gobert still recalls getting the opportunity to work with Malone during training camp ahead of his rookie season in 2013-14, under previous head coach Tyrone Corbin.
“He was here (my) rookie year then he went missing,” Gobert said, laughing. “I miss you Karl.”
More so than the drills or teachings, Gobert said he gained the most from that old school, workhorse mentality he shared.
“As a rookie, I was impressed,” Gobert said. “I was just listening to everything he was teaching me and it was great. I think I learned a lot, especially on the mental aspect and he was really paying attention to everything on the details.
“Just the mindset of never stopping and that’s the main thing,” he added. “We did skill work with the bigs and stuff but mostly of the mindset of never stopping.”
Jazz big man Derrick Favors initially sought out “The Mailman” at that time and still uses some of those tricks he learned until this day. Favors said Malone also advised him not to tell anybody those secrets from that time they worked together.
During his early interaction with Gobert in training camp, Malone noticed his Defensive Player of the Year potential.
“The very first time I met Rudy. I was working with the big guys. I was there for a training camp and I said then, 'That kid there' because he had the stuff that others shied away from,” Malone said of Gobert. “I watched training camp for the only one I was there and Derrick Favors dunked on him so bad that if he was a coward it would’ve just ruined him for the rest of his life, but you know what he did? Came right back and challenged again. Well, come on. I love that.”
Not only is Malone a huge fan of Gobert, who he says reminds him of one of his favorite Jazz teammates, Mark Eaton. Malone said he also loves Mitchell, Favors, Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder and the entire makeup of the lineup. Their ability to pass the ball and display toughness is why he feels so strongly about the roster to make a push for a title.
“Well the team they’ve got now … center, bigs, guards and they pass the ball,” Malone said. “And I’m not just saying this, I don’t ever blame this on the coaches and Coach (Jerry) Sloan will thump my knot for saying this, yes they’ve got to continue to get better but the coaches will be who screws that up or the front office to try and make some sexy move just because.
"Stay in your lane; let the team dictate what you need. They do not need any wholesale trading and any of that (expletive). You’ve got a camaraderie there and you’ve got a chemistry there.”
With that being said, Malone says he’s also apprehensive to linger around much because he feels his presence could also weigh heavy on others.
“I don’t necessarily care to come to (games) and I don’t like all that, but then I come to them, but then how do people really feel? So (John Stockton) and I went to a ball game, and I can only imagine in my little mind if there’s a big out there playing wondering, ‘What is Karl thinking?’ or if there’s a point guard out there or hell if there’s a player out there,” Malone said. “Now, fast forward that is, not that they give a (expletive), but what do you think the coaches think we’re thinking about what they’re doing because I can’t help it.10 comments on this story
“I’m sitting there and you can see it but then you can also put them in the right situation so I guess I’m humbled and it feels good that they think like that but it also says a lot about them,” he continued. “I’m going to go on record to say the players will probably welcome Stock and I around more, but other people could be intimidated. That’s just me, but it says more about the current players — who the whole state should be proud of and get behind. I give them more credit than I’m willing to take because it makes me smile.”