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The Jazz Master
Jackie MacMullan
March 17, 1997
Malone is playing like an MVP—not that anyone has noticed, Hill's latest challenge, Isaiah's not-so-easy ride
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March 17, 1997

The Jazz Master

Malone is playing like an MVP—not that anyone has noticed, Hill's latest challenge, Isaiah's not-so-easy ride

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Player/Position

Pts.

Rebs.

Assts.

1994-95

Alonzo Mourning/C

21.3

9.9

1.4

Larry Johnson/F

18.8

7.2

4.6

Hersey Hawkins/G

14.3

3.8

3.2

TOTALS

54.4

20.9

9.2

1996-97*

Glen Rice/G

26.3

4.1

2.1

Anthony Mason/F

17.0

11.3

5.8

Vlade Divac/C

13.1

9.5

3.4

TOTALS

56.4

24.9

11.3

*THROUGH MARCH 9

Jazz forward Karl Malone knows Michael Jordan will win the league MVP trophy again. He also concedes that the Bulls will win the NBA championship, unless, he says, "a team like us can play the way we did during that stretch when we won 15 in a row" from early November to December.

There are certain things you come to accept when you're 33 and you're in your 12th year with Utah, a small-market franchise that is consistently excellent yet repeatedly falls short of a championship. For instance, even though you've averaged 26.1 points and 10.8 rebounds per game for your career, you know that fans voting for the Western Conference All-Stars will bypass you in favor of Sonics forward Shawn Kemp, 27, who brings down the house with his rim-rattling dunks. And even if you've led your team to the best record in the West and been its leading scorer in 29 of the last 32 games, as Malone had through Sunday, you know the chances of taking the title of best player from Jordan are remote.

"I believe the MVP trophy is given out at the Finals," says Malone, who still finds it hard to believe the media vote before the postseason. "Michael is there all the time, so who else would you pick? But if I was in the Finals and he was there, I think I'd have an unbelievable shot."

Malone admits he was disappointed when Kemp outdistanced him by more than 375,000 votes at the ballot box this season but says he no longer needs to be recognized by fans as the game's dominant power forward. "It has a lot to do with television commercials," Malone says. "If people see your face a lot. and you put up decent numbers, you're set."

Malone has never been a part of the NBAs chic crowd. Maybe it's because he has never been afraid to speak his mind, whether he was voicing his concerns about playing against HIV-infected Magic Johnson or criticizing some of the game's biggest stars for wanting to decertify the players' union in 1995. "I don't get invited to play in charity games, and I don't play golf," says Malone. "I like to gamble, but I don't go to Vegas or Atlantic City. I go to West Wendover [Nev.], or I'll stop by Shreveport [La.] and try some of the riverboats. I don't want to be seen."

Some players have mistaken his individualism for snobbishness and aloofness. Malone says he fell into a similar trap in forming his opinion of Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal. "He didn't like me, and I didn't like him," says Malone. "Then I found out Shaquille had a poster of me on his wall growing up in San Antonio. I kept seeing him [last summer] at the Olympics. We were the only two guys lifting weights every night. Finally, after a week of not talking to each other, he said something, and I said something back, and now we're friends." (Malone invited O'Neal to go hunting and fishing at his cabin in Alaska, but Shaq had a movie to make and songs to record.)

Malone has missed only four games in his career, and at week's end he had played in 446 consecutive games. Though he acknowledges that he and guard John Stockton log too many minutes in the regular season, he says, "I'd rather die at the finish line knowing I gave every minute of every game. Too many guys sit and rest for the playoffs."

Through Sunday, Malone had scored 30 or more points in nine of his last 11 games, including 36 in a 115-106 win at Minnesota on Sunday—a game in which he tallied his 25,000th career point. In so doing, he joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Elvin Hayes and Moses Malone in the 25,000-point, 10,000-rebound club. Reaching that milestone capped a remarkable 11-day run. In a 118-114 home victory over the Raptors on Feb. 27, Malone turned in his second career triple-double: 32 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists. He had a season-high 41 points in a 111-104 road win over the Warriors on March 3 and matched that total four nights later in a 95-88 home win over the Pistons, prompting Detroit coach Doug Collins to laud him for being as "consistent as running water."

Last October, Stockton signed a three-year contract that will allow him to end his career in Utah. Malone's deal runs two more seasons, although he reportedly has an unwritten agreement with Jazz owner Larry Miller for an additional year.

Malone admits he daydreams about playing for other teams on which the load would be lighter and the rewards might be greater. Asked for his blueprint for the future, he merely smiles and replies, "We'll see."

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