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Big Wheel

April 27, 1992
April 27, 1992

Table of Contents
April 27, 1992

Oakland A's
The Lakers
TV And Sports
Deion Sanders
Mel Kiper Jr.

Big Wheel

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

Karl Malone skillfully yanks his Chevy minivan into a small space behind the Judge Cafe in downtown Salt Lake City and bounds in the back door of the restaurant, greeting the kitchen help by name. A cellular phone, a tape deck and several of his favorite country and western tapes, not to mention a small bib that is usually tied around the neck of his five-month-old daughter, Kadee, are among the items he leaves behind on the front seat.

This is an article from the April 27, 1992 issue

"Uh, Karl, aren't you going to lock it?" his lunch companion asks.

"Lock it?" he says, an incredulous look on his face. "Son, you're in Salt Lake City now. You don't have to lock it."

Logic would suggest that the City of Unlocked Cars—40% Mormon, 92% white and 100% serene—would be too small, too tame to contain Karl Malone, 6'9" and 260 pounds of barely controlled fury. He has now endured six consecutive years of playoff frustration with the Utah Jazz (can a seventh be far behind?), and one keeps waiting for Malone to explode, for a Barkleyesque mushroom cloud to rise above the Wasatch Mountains that border the city. Sure. Malone and his All-Star running mate, guard John Stockton, have gotten their share of accolades, including berths on the U.S. Olympic team, from which they were cut as collegians in 1984. But Malone and Stockton have yet to show that they can win the big one. Or even the semibig one. The disappointment and disillusionment that have consumed Malone's good buddy in Philadelphia, Charles Barkley, must be eating him up inside. Mustn't they?

"There's nothing eating me up inside." says Malone, settling into his customary table, nearest the kitchen. "Absolutely nothing." He smiles and greets the owner, Carole Couch, then says hello to his lawyer, Randy Call, a Mormon bishop who is lunching a few tables away. "I eat for free in here," says Malone proudly. "Did some advertising for the Judge my rookie year and made a deal with 'em." He exchanges a few jabs with teammates Jeff Malone, Delaney Rudd, Eric Murdock and Isaac Austin, who are at an adjoining table, the Judge being rather like the team's public training table, a place where players can eat virtually without interruption. There is a jazzed-up Sloppy Joe that is identified on the menu as "Karl Malone's favorite," but on this day Malone picks idly at a pasta salad as he tries to explain how a black man from Summerfield. La., has gotten along so well in a conservative white community that also happens to be the NBA's smallest market.

"You know what I've found?" says Malone. "The less talking you do, the more you learn. I love athletes who live their lives by example. My alltime favorite is Nolan Ryan. He's done his job with class, dignity and pride. The night he threw his seventh no-hitter, some of his teammates wanted his autograph. That's the kind of respect any athlete would love to have. I'm concerned with what people think of me as a person. Why, when you become a professional athlete, should you forget that other people have feelings?"

A few nights earlier, right after the Jazz edged the Philadelphia 76ers 100-94 at the Delta Center. Malone grabbed Barkley in a bear hug near midcourt. Malone talked quietly to him for a minute, and Barkley listened intently, nodding his head in affirmation before heading for the locker room. Malone has invited Barkley to spend a week in the off-season with him and his wife, Kay, to relax, talk some basketball, eat some hot Louisiana food and kick around the subject of frustration, something they both feel but manifest in different ways.

"I look at Charles, and I see a guy who's not only unhappy that he hasn't won but a guy who doesn't really like the whole situation he's in, the guys he's playing with, the guys who are his bosses," says Malone. "That's not the case with me. I look around at the Jazz, and I see guys who've given their all, guys I like as people. And, anyway, when you start to point lingers, your own game starts to go. I feel close to Charles, like there's lots of similarities between us. But we look at things a little differently. And we're going to talk about it."

From time to time Malone kids Jazz owner Larry Miller by saying, "Hey, I could pull a Barkley on you now. You better give me what I want." But he doesn't, even though, by rights, he should be every bit as frustrated as Sir Charles. Since Malone arrived in 1985 and Stockton became the starting point guard in '87, Utah has progressed steadily up the victory ladder to become one of the league's handful of elite teams. Utah captured the Midwest Division title this season with a 55-27 record, its fourth straight 50-win season. Yet, except for a stirring seventh-game loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round of the 1988 playoffs, the Jazz has rarely been taken seriously in the postseason. "Utah has been known to crumble at the end," the San Antonio Spurs' Terry Cummings said recently, infuriating the Jazz players partly because they could not dispute him. Utah will be favored in its first-round series beginning on Thursday against the L.A. Clippers, but, frankly, no one will be surprised if the Jazz loses. Many theories have been presented for Utah's past postseason swoons, all of them plausible: The team is too predictable; it's too dependent upon Malone and Stockton; it lacks depth and has trouble matching up with a small lineup; it lacks overall athleticism; it doesn't have a winning attitude. Is there any reason to believe this year's Jazz will be around any longer than, say, the second round?

"A lot of reasons." says Malone. "It's the first time we have guys who are athletic and who want to play. I have a better feeling now than the year we took the Lakers to seven games." So goes the party line around Jazz headquarters. Club president Frank Layden says flatly, "This is the best team we've ever had." Added depth and talent arrived by trade (versatile forward Tyrone Corbin came over from the Timberwolves in exchange for Thurl Bailey last Nov. 25), by draft (rookie guard Eric Murdock from Providence) and by free agency (surprising small forward David Benoit, who played last year in Spain). When both Malone and Stockton had off nights in a March 21 game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Corbin-Murdock-Benoit trio combined for 34 points in a 95-77 Jazz win.

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.

"Yeah, it'll get some stares," says Malone, "but I wanted something special."

The Mailman has a game plan all worked out for Malone Enterprises. He will spend a portion of every off-season making runs, short ones or long ones, in his truck. Kay and Kadee can travel with him; the tractor is equipped with television and VCR, stereo, refrigerator, microwave and even a fax machine, not to mention ample sleeping room. He will charge a "Malone rate" of $5,000 and up per run, far steeper than the average trucking-company charge of about $1.25 per mile. But after delivering the goods, Malone will sign autographs or make a personal appearance, whatever is spelled out in the contract. Then, too, the rig itself is a show. Smith's Food King, a large Utah-based supermarket chain, has already hired Malone to make two short runs from Salt Lake this summer, one to Ogden, Utah, and another over the state line to Idaho Falls. Idaho. Malone's main problem will be fitting the trips in among his Olympic responsibilities.

When Malone's playing days are over—"and my marketability isn't as high," he says—he'll buy a few more rigs and run Malone Enterprises like a standard trucking business. "A lot of guys have dreams about what they want to do when they retire," says Malone, "but I'm already living my dreams."

Malone climbs into the tractor (real truckers consider cab a greenhorn term and use cither tractor or truck to describe the front part of an 18-wheel rig) and backs out of the garage ever so carefully, not at all like he drives to the basket. It happens often that Malone is sitting at home, maybe eating or watching TV, and suddenly he misses his rig so much that he must go visit it, just to check out the paint job or maybe take the tractor for a spin. Malone has even driven the rig to practice to show it to his teammates, though the taste of the average NBA player runs more to Lamborghinis and Porsches. But Jazz center Mark Eaton, a mechanic before he was an NBA player, told Malone that he would like to make a run with him.

As Malone drives, waving and subtly acknowledging the stares from virtually everyone on the road—"Hey, that's the Mailman in that damned thing!" one man hollers to his wife as he pulls alongside Malone at a stoplight—his love and appreciation for truck driving comes through. His greatest fear at the moment, aside from Utah's performing poorly again in the postseason, is that he will be taken for a dilettante. Ever since James Davison, a Louisiana Tech alumnus who owned a trucking company in Ruston, La., first let him handle an 18-wheeler when Malone was 20, he has been preparing to be a real truck driver. Malone studied, he drove, he talked to other drivers, he immersed himself in the lore and the mechanics of the profession. And last month, with beating heart and dry mouth, he passed, on his first try, the test to acquire his commercial driving license.

"I wish I could describe that feeling of satisfaction," he says. "On my way home after passing, I climbed in the truck, rolled up the windows and yelled for 10 minutes straight. I was trying to keep cool when I came home, but Kay took one look at me and said, 'You got it, right?' Hey, you just can't be cool about some things."

Malone is fortunate, of course, that his $3 million annual salary gives him a little seed money. Being a relatively inexperienced driver in a $190,000 rig, he could get the insurance policy he needed only from Lloyd's of London, and he was able to pay the $10,000 premium (for two years) without blinking. But he took no shortcuts in learning how to become a driver. The test involved not only guiding the rig through several intricate maneuvers—the 48-foot trailer had to be parallel parked in a 58-foot space, for example—but also passing a written exam.

"Karl went through every single step we'd put any other potential driver through," says Lynn Thompson, who, as safety director for Dick Simon Trucking, Inc., trained Malone for several months before administering the test. "Being a professional athlete, sure, his reflexes and strength help him as a driver. But his intelligence is just as important. I can't wait for him to start driving, because even though he'll be a competitor, he's going to represent the industry well."

That he will. Put Malone behind the wheel and he positively proselytizes. With an absolutely straight face he says things like "Yup, the pride is back in trucking." It's hard to find words, he says, for the passion and excitement he feels when he starts moving through the gears of an 18-wheeler. "Basketball is my job," says Malone, "but this is my love. It's the whole thing: the machinery, the companionship with the other drivers, the smell of the diesel. I'm a careful driver—when you've got a 10,000-pound tractor, a 10,000-pound trailer and a 60,000-pound payload in the back, you've got to be—but I'd be lying if I said I didn't like the feeling of being the most powerful thing on the road, yet under control, too." He thumps his hand down on the steering wheel. "You know what I feel like when I'm driving? A runaway truck under control." The paradoxical metaphor hangs in the air for a moment, "I guess that's kind of what I'm like on the basketball court, huh?"

Though it seems preposterous now, doubts about Malone's intensity and commitment scared off several NBA teams in the summer of 1985, and thus did the kid from Louisiana Tech hang around until the 13th pick, after players such as Benoit Benjamin, Jon Koncak, Joe Kleine, Ed Pinckney, Keith Lee and Kenny Green. Malone justified Utah's faith in him by combining the raging-bull mentality of a middle linebacker with the body of a very large defensive end. There is a lot of "runaway" and a lot of "truck" in Malone's game, so much that the elements of control, style and finesse he possesses are often overlooked. He is probably the NBA's best outside-shooting power forward, deadly on a step-back move from inside 18 feet. The improvement in his free throw shooting (from .481 in his rookie season to his current mark of .771) has oft been noted, but it is worth mentioning again only because he still gets to the line as frequently as any NBA player since Wilt Chamberlain. (Through last week Malone was shooting a career average of 9.3 free throws per game; Chamberlain averaged 11.4 over 14 seasons.)

And though one does not want to over-analyze the raw power of Malone's low-post moves, he does not simply run pell-mell toward the basket and start throwing bodies around. Generally, Utah first posts up the small forward—starter Blue Edwards or reserve Benoit—as if the ball is going in to him. (Sometimes it actually does.) Then suddenly Malone and the three-man exchange spots, the Mailman bolting into position as if he were leaping onto a subway train before the doors closed. There is no defensive player in the league who can beat Malone to the blocks when he has a running start, nor is there one who cares to impede Malone's progress by stepping in front of him. Utah's offense also involves a series of back picks designed to get Malone into low-post position. Surprisingly, Stockton is Utah's best at the underappreciated art of screening; typically, he'll set an unseen screen on Malone's man, take the punishment, pop out to catch the ball, then try to deliver it back inside to Malone.

"I worry about John down there, getting whacked around by the guys who guard me," says Malone. "I draw all kinds of defenders, from the big, quick guys like David Robinson to the power guys like Charles Oakley. John takes 'em all on."

For Malone the presence of Stockton is 95% salvation, 5% curse. There is no way Malone would average nearly 30 points per game without a passer like Stockton, who, as much as any point guard in NBA history, is equally proficient on the open floor and in the half-court game. The one thing Malone does not do well is create his own shot off the dribble in a set offense, and he needs Stockton to get him the ball. And in the transition game Stockton's intelligent decisions have turned Malone into quite possibly the best running big man in NBA history.

The curse comes from the fact that as long as Stockton is around. Malone will never get full credit for being a great player. The question of who's more important—Malone or Stockton, scorer or passer—is a chicken-or-egg conundrum that simply can't be solved. And the more success they have as a tandem, the more complex the question becomes. From time to time the Mailman has offered the opinion that he is overlooked in the MVP voting each year (his highest finish was third, in 1989) because he plays in a small market. That might limit his name recognition and endorsement opportunities (and it definitely hurt him in 1990 when the fans voted the Lakers' A.C. Green to start over Malone in the All-Star Game), but it does not hurt him with MVP voters. Neither Malone nor Stockton will become the MVP as long as they play together: They cancel each other out.

The arrival of guard Jeff Malone from the Washington Bullets in 1990 took some of the offensive pressure off the dynamic duo. But night after night too much of the offensive burden still falls upon the Mailman and Stockton, as does too much of the responsibility for injecting energy and intensity into the Jazz. Stockton does it with a controlled, purposeful anger that is readable only in his dark eyes; Malone, like Barkley, seems to walk an emotional tightrope on the court. Last year's technical-foul leader was not Barkley, with 16, but Malone, with 23, and they are battling tooth and larynx to the wire this season; at season's end Barkley had 18 T's, Malone 15. The Mailman's outbursts lack the theatrical Hair of Barkley's and come in spasms of rage that frequently end with extracurricular physical activity. By rough estimate, 50% of NBA players consider Malone physical but entirely within the rules, 40% say that he tests the upper limit of physicality too frequently, and 10% I believe that he's outright dirty. The Atlanta Hawks' Dominique Wilkins made that charge publicly two seasons ago, and others have suggested it. One Western Conference coach who desired anonymity said of Malone. "When things are going well for him, he laughs at all the bumping and shoving. But when things aren't going well and the game is physical, it gets to him. That's when he gets the technicals and gets out of his game. And, frankly, I've never seen him pick on anybody his own size." The always-quick-with-a-quote Chuck Person of the Indiana Pacers said recently, "Karl Malone is not a man."

Indeed, the Mailman has a reputation in some quarters for going after smallish guards, which made the events of last Dec. 14 all the more intriguing. On that night at the Delta Center, the Detroit Pistons' Isiah Thomas drove toward the hoop in the first period, and Malone came off his man to defend. Both players went up in the air, and by the time Thomas landed, his face was a bloody mess. Contact with Malone's right elbow had opened a gash above his right eye that required 40 stitches to close. Malone was charged with a flagrant foul, and later, alter the NBA reviewed the tape, he was suspended for one game and fined $10,000. To others, though, the replay showed nothing flagrant—indeed, Thomas ducked under Malone, and that was where the contact occurred. But Thomas had burned Stockton and the Jazz for 44 points in a game one month earlier in Detroit, and Piston center Bill Laimbeer and coach Chuck Daly made broad hints that revenge had motivated Malone's hard foul. Later Malone left a message at Thomas's hotel that he wanted to talk to Thomas, "not to apologize, but to clear the air and tell him it wasn't deliberate." Thomas called him, and they talked it out.

Malone acknowledges that he's a physical player—which is rather like Madonna acknowledging that she's a controversial performer—but he denies that he is, or ever has been, dirty. "I make my fouls worth it," he says. "But I don't go after anybody. I don't understand these little stabs and jabs that go on from time to time, always when I'm not around. What is Chuck Person doing in Indiana talking about me? I never said one thing about him. I'd like to think I have more sanity and class than these guys who are always talking about me. I don't understand where they're coming from, and I don't want to understand.

"My temper? Hey, I've calmed down. I fly off much less than I used to, and if I tried to tone it down any more, I wouldn't be effective. I'm exactly where I want to be, emotionally, on the court. If that's not O.K. with my opponents, tough."

It's O.K. with some of them. "There's no way I consider him a dirty player," says Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson. "He's physical, throws his body around and does play the enforcer role on that team. But that's not the same thing as being dirty. The main thing a coach asks from his players is to be competitive every minute. And Karl Malone is."

The basement of Malone's spacious house in the classy Federal Heights section of Salt Lake City—he bought it six years ago for just $250,000 and says. "It would've cost a million in L.A."—is a combination gymnasium/museum. A state-of-the-art stair climber, which is the center of attention in the main room, is the key to maintaining Malone's admirable aerobic capacity. "I punish that thing in the off-season," he says, "absolutely punish it." A gleaming weight room that would've cost a retail buyer about $100,000 to equip (Malone got the weights free from the manufacturer) sits menacingly to the rear. He recently did an eight-part series called "Karl Malone's Muscle Minute" for the NBA-produced TV show Inside Stuff, but he is otherwise loath to be specific about his workout. He's proud of his strength but doesn't like to talk about it.

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?"

PHOTODAVID STRICK/ONYXNumber 32s rig is a rambling panorama of the Old West.TWO PHOTOSJOHN W. MCDONOUGHNeither glass nor wood nor opponents can stay the Mailman from the swift completion of his rounds.PHOTOTIM DEFRISCOStockton (left) and Malone work so well together that neither gets enough individual credit.PHOTODAVID STRICK/ONYXWorking with weights has helped Malone lift his level of play.PHOTODAVID STRICK/ONYXNext to Kay and little Kadee, Karl is a mountain of a man.PHOTODAVID STRICK/ONYXMalone is just one of many celebrities in his home hall of fame.