Randy White shares this tale with Karl Malone, and neither of them is exactly thrilled about it. Already they share the same homespun background (small-town Louisiana), the same alma mater ( Louisiana Tech) and the same attitude (aggressive). Both men are also versatile enough to play either the small-forward or power-forward position. True, White admires, even idolizes, Malone. And yes, Malone likes White and is happy to encourage him. But they get mentioned in the same breath so often these days, it's as if no one can inhale one name without exhaling the other. That entanglement is tiresome to them both.
Self-assured and charismatic, Malone, a.k.a. the Mailman, is the Utah Jazz's menacing 6'9", 254-pound, bench-pressing benchmark for NBA musclemen. Tell him that the topic of discussion is White and he'll tell you he has heard it all before. "If you knew how many people are doing that, comparing him to me," Malone says. "Give him his time. People aren't saying enough for his game." White, 21, is 6'8" and 245 frisky pounds. Like Malone, he is earnest, easygoing and not at all flashy. Occasionally, he takes on the doleful look that Dave Nitz, who broadcasts Tech games, called Moo Cow Eyes. Suggest that a meeting might be arranged between him and Malone and he begs with those baby browns. "Do we need to do that?" he says.
Maybe not, but the fact that their names are so often linked does help explain why on June 27, White, a relative unknown who wasn't even invited to the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer, will join such luminaries as Sean Elliott and Danny Ferry as lottery picks in the NBA draft (box, page 60). For White, standing under such a spotlight was once something so farfetched that he didn't even dream about it when he entered college. But the moment will pass, the questions will come, and White will have to explain—yet again—how it feels to be the Mailkid or Karl McClone. He will be annoyed but will respond like any average, pleasant fellow who is haunted by his idol.
In his heart, White appreciates that Malone has been a central figure in his development. Since the summer of 1987, when they occasionally worked out together, the Mailman's advice and accomplishments have inspired White. This summer, White is living in Malone's adopted city of Dallas and training with Ken Roberson, a former hurdler and hoopster at Louisiana Tech, who devised the running and weight-lifting regimen that helped sculpt Malone's physique. But all things considered, White's almost umbilical linkage with Malone has been a mixture of blessing and burden.
"At first I took it as a compliment to be compared to the best forward in the league," White says. "But if you hear it every day, it doesn't matter if you're being compared to Michael Jordan—it can get pretty old."
Malone and White are not so much friends as role model and student. Says the Mailman, "Sure, we've got a relationship. We just don't need everyone to know about it."
At the Orlando Classic, a predraft showcase in April, some of White's fellow phenoms kiddingly called him Karl Junior. But White's abilities were no joke, as the NBA bigwigs soon discovered. In three games against top competition, he averaged 20.3 points and 11.7 rebounds while demonstrating a mauling inside game complemented by a feathery touch from three-point range.
There are also a lot of NBA teams that don't want to repeat the mistakes they made four years ago, when the likes of Benoit Benjamin ( L.A. Clippers), Jon Koncak ( Atlanta Hawks), Detlef Schrempf ( Dallas Mavericks) and Kenny Green ( Washington Bullets) were drafted before Malone was chosen by Utah with the 13th pick. Says Pat Williams, general manager of the Orlando Magic: "Teams are thinking, Here we go again. We really messed up the first time by passing on Karl. Now there's a chance to redeem ourselves."
Malone grew up in Summerfield, La. (pop. 150), and is very close to his mother, Shirley. White grew up in Keithville, La. (pop. 180), and is very close to his mother, Shirley. Keithville sits among tall pines and lush greenery 10 minutes west of Shreveport. White's dad, William, a truck driver, was known around Keithville for both his nickname, Baba (pronounced bay-bay), and his 6'7", 240-pound frame. A wily basketball player, Baba regularly held forth on a dirt court next to his house. He and his friends would play on the dusty court until the sky and their socks turned black. The senior White died of a pulmonary embolism when Randy was a sophomore at Shreveport's Huntington High and the boy's skills were just beginning to blossom.
One of Baba's passions was cattle, and he usually had a dozen head roaming his 32 acres. While Randy was fond of his pet Brahma bull, Danny, he wasn't much interested in playing cowboy, so he played sports to get out of chores.