"It's going to be hard to find a woman like my mother," says Karl. No, Mailman. It's going to be impossible.
The patrons of the Salt Palace depend on the Mailman to deliver 48 minutes, 25 points and 12 rebounds approximately 50 nights a year against the best the NBA has to offer. No matter how good an athlete he is, Malone can't do this on ability alone. Work is involved. We work. The Mailman enters the garage at his house above Salt Lake City after a morning of weightlifting. The Chevy Silverado S-10 four-wheel drive with monster tires is idle. Sitting next to the truck is the 1940 Ford V-8 coupe that belonged to his 6'9" maternal grandfather. It's in mint condition. We save.
Half an hour later, the Mailman indulges in a little fullcourt improv at the University of Utah gym with some Jazzmen, including rookie Eric Leckner. Bob Hansen, big Mike Brown and Scott Roth, a swingman who is trying to make the team and is living at the Mailman's house. The Mailman put up Bart Kofoed all of last season. "The man has the biggest heart in Utah," says Roth.
After each game with his teammates, the Mailman says, "Run it back! Let's go again." He rebounds, outlets, blocks shots, runs, shoots, jams and then says, "Run it!" We cook. One by one, the other players grow distracted. They have other things to do. Mailman says, "Run it back!" He isn't pretty out there. He has few feline attributes. No soaring 360's. He plays like the late Gus Johnson (the Bullet star of the 1960s and early '70s), only faster. "I say to hell with a shootaround," says Malone. "I say, blow the horn."
Later, the Mailman and Roth run up a 60-degree incline on a grassy hill more than a mile up in the clean Utah air. After a few minutes, Roth stops. As the Mailman runs more hills, Roth quietly says, "That man has to be one of the most magnificent athletes on the face of the earth."
The Mailman makes it clear. He did sign a contract extension before last season for a reported $6 million for six years. That was before Michael Jordan got the Sears Tower and before a point guard named Mark Price got $1.2 million for 1988-89. "This is between me and Mr. Miller," Malone says. Mr. Miller is Larry H. Miller, the owner of Larry H. Miller's Chrysler-Plymouth, Dodge, Toyota, Chevrolet, Hyundai and Subaru, all strung neatly in a row along State Street in Murray, a suburb of Salt Lake City. Larry H. Miller also owns the Jazz. He's a friendly sort who tries to get Malone to call him Larry. But the Mailman has trouble with that, i tried to get him to call me Larry," Miller says. "He said, 'Mr. Miller, I wasn't brought up that way.' I said I knew that, but "Mr. Miller' made me nervous. He said, 'O.K., Mr. Larry.' "
Malone represents himself now. "Young guys always say, 'See my agent,' like it's cool or something. Hey, that ain't cool," says the Mailman. "I've got mule sense. I didn't go to Tech just to play [he is a year shy of a degree in Elementary Education Studies, but says he will get his diploma some day]. I don't want to ever have a meeting with somebody and then say, 'I stuck him good.' And I don't want anybody to say that about me."
"The only way to go out is the way Doc [Julius Erving] went out," says the Mailman. "I want to kill 'em, but I want to kill 'em with kindness."
Meanwhile, nothing short of what Shirley is having for dinner can stay the Mailman from the completion of his appointed rounds. He's just good-hearted country people from backwoods Louisiana who doesn't really know if he belongs. That's what will get him by in the end. For all interested city people, the end is when Malone gets the rock from Stock, dunks on your bean and delivers the salt of the earth in your face. Yes, sir.