What can you bench-press, Karl? "Don't even ask."
Who in the NBA is stronger than you, Karl? "I don't want to talk about it."
Why the reluctance? "Look, my workout is important to me," says Malone. "I don't do it for fun, and I don't do it for glory. I do it because it's necessary. I feel my strength and my endurance have given me an advantage, and I want to keep that advantage. Look, if the U.S. goes to war, we're not going to tell the enemy where our planes are going to attack from, right? Same with me. I don't want other players to copy what I do."
A side career in bodybuilding, which would seem ideal for Malone, would require too much time and effort, not to mention too much willpower to resist such items as Kay's spicy chicken wings, which even now are simmering upstairs. Still, his physique is extraordinary, partly the result of heredity, partly the result of hard work. It's a subject that is dearer to Kay's heart than Karl's. "I don't think he should hide anything," says Kay. "Whenever he's got a picture shoot. I try to dress him in the sexiest outfits possible." Unlike most beautiful women—she was Miss Idaho USA in 1987—the former Kay Kinsey spends more time fending off advances to her husband than to herself. "You wouldn't believe how women act around him," she says. "I'll be sitting at a game and get notes from women that say "I had your husband before you did' or "I know you're married, but would you mind if I saw your husband?' Women are always asking me if they can touch his arms or shoulders. The other day a woman said she'd pay me if I let her touch his butt." And? "Hey, if she wants to pay me...," Kay says, laughing.
The museum aspect actually dominates the Malone basement, for this Mailman is more collector than deliverer. High school and college letter jackets, dozens of jerseys, all kinds of basketballs from all kinds of occasions (such as his first successful NBA three-point shot) have been placed in carefully maintained display cases. He seems proudest of the mounted rainbow trout and sockeye salmon, prizes he landed during a fishing trip to Alaska several years ago. The walls are lined with autographed photos of athletes, many of whom Malone has never met—he writes away for the pictures or arranges photo exchanges through mutual friends. "They're all signed 'Dear Karl," " says Malone, "so I plan to give them to my son someday. All I have to do is forge a little "Jr." on the photos." (The son is anticipated but not currently scheduled.) One section of photos is Malone's "pitchers' gallery": Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, Catfish Hunter and, of course, Ryan. "My dream," says Malone, "is to meet that man." A major dust-collector in the basement is a set of custom golf clubs sent to Malone by the manufacturer; for Malone, golf is just a vast waste of pastureland.
Upstairs, Kay is serving her sinus-clearing wings and getting engrossed in—believe it or not—some World Wrestling Federation action. Karl and Kay are pro wrestling aficionados who faithfully attend WWF shows at the Salt Palace. "Karl, look!" Kay hollers, pointing out a masked villain. "It's Repo Man!" This is no joke: The Malones know the whole cast of characters and analyze their motives and actions as if they were watching a giant soap opera, which, of course, they are. It seems a strange passion for a former beauty queen, but then Kay also enjoys attending tractor pulls and driving through truck stops so Karl can do a little window-shopping. The down-home thing seems to fit for the Malones, two extraordinary-looking people with a taste for the ordinary. "I guess no matter where I went or what I did." says Karl, "the country never really left me." He is quite possibly the only NBA star who has done Arsenio but really longs to visit with Regis and Kathie Lee. "I'd love it if they invited me on," says Malone. "They seem like such nice people."
But though his country leanings are genuine, there is nothing of the bumpkin about him. Few athletes, in fact, have prepared as well for the future as the 28-year-old Malone, who has six years left on his Juzz contract. He owns 120 head of cattle on his 52-acre ranch in HI Dorado. Ark. "I'm just building the herd now," says Malone, "but I'm going to get on it more seriously after I retire." A part-time acting career is a possibility too. Two years ago he had a supporting role in an unreleased feature film called Rockwell. Kay claims he could sing professionally too—Malone sang a song a cappella when he emceed the Miss Idaho pageant that Kay directed last summer—but the Mailman demurs: "I can warble and whine a little like country singers, but that's about it."
Malone also owns Mailman's, a Salt Lake sports apparel and souvenir shop that specializes in NBA merchandise. After the recent flap that led to Michael Jordan's likeness being removed from Olympic apparel, Malone's shop luckily was one of the last to receive cases of Jordan merchandise that had already been manufactured. "When everybody else is out of this stuff," Malone says, pointing to the Jordan-wear stockpiled in the back room of the store, "it'll be available right here." One item seemed out of place at Mailman's—large jars of pecan honey butter for sale on the front counter, right next to the official mounted USA Basketball Olympic cards. "I like to eat it," says Malone, "so I stock it."
In all probability the Olympics will be a gold mine for Malone too. Many observers think that he and the Bulls' Scottie Pippen will benefit the most from the worldwide exposure, since both are extremely photogenic athletes who, as Malone puts it, "haven't exactly been plastered all over everything." If endorsement opportunities come along, Malone is ready but wary. "I'd have to endorse things that mean something to me, things that have something to do with my life and the way I look at things," he says. "If somebody came with an offer for farm equipment and somebody else with an offer for office supplies, I'd probably have to take the farm equipment."
He nods his head. "Farm equipment is definitely more me than office supplies, don't you think?"