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Big Wheel
Jack McCallum
April 27, 1992
Karl Malone is gassed up for another run in the NBA playoffs and hoping his Utah Jazz doesn't stall early again
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April 27, 1992

Big Wheel

Karl Malone is gassed up for another run in the NBA playoffs and hoping his Utah Jazz doesn't stall early again

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The swapping of Corbin for Bailey was a seminal move for the Utah franchise, whose "family" philosophy had, according to some observers around the league, often hurt its performance on the court. Bailey had been a valued member of the Jazz family since 1983, and though his effectiveness had steadily declined, management was loath to trade him because he was a good soldier who was popular in the community. Ditto for veteran guard Darrell Griffith, who was finally released before the season. The Jazz also had a reputation for keeping untalented white players, possibly to appeal to the state's overwhelmingly white population. Malone's running mates last season, for example, included Andy Toolson, Walter Palmer and Dan O'Sullivan, all white players who are no longer in the NBA. Jeez, Barkley managed to kick up a racial storm with only one white player, Dave Hoppen. What does Malone think?

"We take a different approach from most teams." he says carefully. "Another organization might've traded guys quicker or made other moves. But I never—and I mean never—want to be involved with management. I'm not a politician. And as far as the black thing goes, well. I'm not oblivious to black causes. But when anyone asks me about them, I just say. 'Look, I'm not your man.' All I know is that the people here accepted me as a person, and I accepted them." He drains his Coke in a long swallow and bangs the, glass on the table. "The best thing that could've happened to Karl Malone," he says, "was coming to Salt Lake City."

As Malone prepares to leave, a middle-aged couple nervously approaches the table. "I just wanted to tell you how much we've enjoyed watching you play over the years," says the woman. "We think you're the greatest. You've had a positive effect on our children." Malone thanks them.

"I'd love to win a championship," he says, "but, honestly, not so much for myself. You can believe this or not, but I'd love to win it for the true fans who have watched me grow."

He leaves through the kitchen and looks satisfied as he climbs into the driver's seat. "Now, in how many NBA cities you think this van would still be here untouched?" he asks. He picks up his daughter's bib. "This'd be the only thing left. And maybe they'd a taken that, too."

Malone starts the engine and pulls away as country phenom Garth Brooks warbles away on tape. "Let's go have some fun now," says Malone, rubbing his hands together.

It is, indeed, time for fun. It is time for Karl Malone to play with his truck.

"You sure you're ready for this?" Malone asks, a sly smile on his handsome face. He opens the door to Lines and Designs, a truck-painting garage in Salt Lake, and makes a grand gesture. "There she is."

When Malone was a little boy, he never mentioned the possibility of playing pro basketball, but he often told his mother, Shirley, "Mama, I'm going to own me a big truck someday." Now he does, though "big truck" hardly does justice to the striking piece of machinery that composes, at present, the entire fleet of Malone Enterprises, celebrity hauler.

The six-wheel tractor and 12-wheel trailer, parked side by side in the garage, are each emblazoned with a striking Western mural that suggests Frederic Remington on an acid trip. One of the painters, Keith Eccles ("kind of a hippie guy," says Malone), stands by, proud of his work but content to stay in the background while Malone plays tour guide. Eccles and his partner, Michael Schaf, worked on the paint job for months, following Malone's strict instructions about the Western world he wanted to be depicted on his truck. On the driver's side there are coyotes and lizards and. most strikingly, a familiar-looking lead cowboy on a horse—the initials KM are branded on his saddlebag—looking over the plains, master of all he sees. On the passenger's side there's an evening scene, still unfinished, of a thunderstorm rolling in over the deserted prairie. Five cowboys sit around a campfire, presumably trading stories after a day of sweat and saddle sores; one white, one black, one Chinese, one Indian and one Mexican, a booted and spurred League of Nations. "Wanted to make sure everybody was represented." says Malone. The sky is dominated by various blues and a subtle shade of purple, the hills in the distance splotched with brown and gold. That much color and scenery on a vehicle that measures about 64 feet adds up to a lot of extra sensory input for the average motorist. Put the very recognizable Malone in the driver's seat when he takes to the open road, and two words spring to mind: potential pileup.

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