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Pro Basketball

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INSIDE THE NBA

Star-crossed

by Jackie MacMullan

Posted: Wed February 11, 1998

 
Karl Malone surveyed the fleet of stretch limousines and Lincoln Town cars idling at New York's LaGuardia Airport late last Thursday night. The NBA's reigning MVP knew better than to look for his name on the placards held by drivers awaiting their passengers. Instead he hailed a cab, threw his and his wife's bags in the trunk and headed to the New York Hilton, where his room, he says, "was so small I could turn the TV on with my toes."

Thus began a weekend of perceived insults to Malone, who would score only four points in the West's 135-114 loss in Sunday's All-Star Game. "I come because I am proud to represent the Utah Jazz," Malone says, "but I can't say I enjoy it like I used to. This is no longer a basketball game. It's a celebrity tournament, and that's not me."

The NBA says limos and luxury suites are extras that players pay for for themselves during All-Star weekend, but Malone has doubts about that claim. He does know that after he was awakened by the sound of a jackhammer at 7 a.m. on Friday, the league refused his request for help in finding more peaceful—and roomy—
accommodations. The Malones wound up at a $2,500-a-night suite at Trump Towers.

Karl Malone "I can take care of myself," Malone says. "I guess I'm not crazy enough or bad enough or controversial enough to make a fuss over." He does think, though, that the league might take better care of a power forward who is once again putting up MVP numbers: 25.8 points a game (second to Michael Jordan's 28.9), 10.0 rebounds and 52.9% shooting.

Like Jordan, the Mailman has tied his future to that of his coach, although Malone's stance has not received as much attention as MJ's. Jazz owner Larry Miller has not granted Jerry Sloan his usual one-year extension, saying he wants to see how the season goes. If Miller fails to give such an extension, the contracts of Malone, John Stockton, Jeff Hornacek and Sloan will all be up in the summer of 1999.

To Malone that is no coincidence. "Lately all you hear about in Utah is building for the future," he says. "That's all well and good, but the fact is, I ain't washed up yet. And I know it sounds corny, but I love my coach, and I will not play in Utah if Coach Sloan is not my coach."

Malone is convinced that he and Jordan are the last superstars inclined to fight for their respective coaches instead of against them. "Guys are worrying only about themselves now," he says. "I went to the All-Star players' meeting on Friday, and the first thing I noticed was that the camaraderie is gone. We used to all sit together in those meetings, but now it's by team or by what sneaker you wear."

For a league that needs to develop a new group of responsible stars, the image of Malone sitting alone should be disturbing. "It's kind of like when your kids get to be teenagers," Malone says. "All of a sudden Dad and Mom are too old-fashioned. They'd rather hang out with their friends."

Issue date: February 16, 1998

  OTHER NOTES
 
Star-Crossed

The Best and The Bleakest

Bryant Shows No Restraint

The Deliverin' Dutchman

Notes From the Underground

Around The Rim

On Tap: Indiana at Chicago

Who Is This Guy? Alvin Williams

Hot Numbers

 
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