Malone, Karl Anthony

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MALONE, Karl Anthony

(b. 24 July 1963 in Summerfield, Louisiana), professional basketball player who remains one of the most prolific scorers and rebounders in the history of the game.

Malone is the eighth of nine children of A. P. and Shirley Malone. The family lived in Summerfield, a tiny community of 600 people in north-central Louisiana. Malone's father left the family when Karl was just four and eventually died of cancer. In 1975 his mother married Ed Turner. Malone credits his mother as the biggest influence in his early life. As part of a large family in a subsistence situation, he learned to work hard, and his brothers taught him to play sports, especially basketball. He led Summerfield High School to three consecutive class C state titles in Louisiana, and many colleges began to recruit him.

Closely attached to home, Malone chose to attend Louisiana Tech, only forty miles away. His high school grades and SAT scores prevented him from playing during his freshman year, but he eventually helped Louisiana Tech to a 74–19 record during his three years of participation in the early 1980s. Twice they made it to the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament, and in Malone's senior year the team made it to the round of sixteen. A local sportswriter wrote that the "Mailman" always delivers, and the nickname has continued to describe his play. In all of Malone's seasons at Louisiana Tech, he was named First Team All-Southland Conference. After his sophomore season, 1984, he was invited to the Olympic trials and almost made the team. At the tryouts he met another player who also failed to make the squad, John Stockton of Gonzaga University, who would eventually be Malone's teammate with the Utah Jazz. Although bitterly disappointed, Malone realized that he could play with anyone, including professional stars such as Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, and others who attended the tryouts.

At six feet, nine inches tall and 256 pounds, Malone considered himself physically ready to assume a professional career. He hoped the Dallas Mavericks, the team closest to his home in Louisiana, would select him in the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft, but they passed, and the Utah Jazz drafted him with the thirteenth pick in 1985. Frank Layden, the Jazz head coach, called Malone's selection "one of the greatest steals in NBA draft history." The synergy of Malone, Stockton, and Jerry Sloan, who succeeded Layden, has been impressive and long-lasting. Another stabilizing factor in the team's success is its long-term ownership by Larry Miller, who bought the franchise in the same year Malone signed.

Malone's consistent improvement and dedication are hallmarks of his career. A fitness fanatic, he is a dedicated athlete who lifts weights, runs, and works out year-round. The success of this regimen is evident in that Malone has played in all but seven of a possible 1,280 regular-season and 163 playoff games. Of the seven missed, only three were due to injuries. At one point he played in 541 consecutive games. This phenomenal record is unparalleled.

Through sixteen seasons, Malone's Jazz have made the playoffs every year. Malone's records include an all-time fourth in minutes played and ninth in games played. Most significantly, he is second to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in points scored in a career and second in free throws attempted. He is also second in defensive rebounds and in the top ten in total rebounds gathered in a career. Ralph Wiley of Sports Illustrated wrote, "Now the question isn't whether Malone belongs in the NBA paint—the question is who belongs in there with him."

As of 2001 Malone had averaged more than twenty points per season for fifteen consecutive years. He holds the NBA record for most consecutive seasons (11) of over 2,000 points and most seasons (12) with that amount. Between December 1991 and March 1999 he scored in double figures in 575 straight games. He also led the league a record seven times in number of free throws made. Free throw shooting is another example of Malone's work ethic. In his first two seasons he shot 55 percent from the charity stripe. Since then he has made over 75 percent of his free throws. At the conclusion of the 2000–2001 season Malone ranked high in many NBA statistical career categories. In addition to the statistics noted above, Malone is third in field goals attempted and is second to Stockton in most games played with one franchise and consecutive trips to the playoffs with one team.

Malone's honors are many and well deserved. He has been recognized as one of the fifty greatest players in NBA history. Twice, in 1997 and 1999, Malone received the coveted Most Valuable Player (MVP) award for the entire league. In 1989 and 1993 his play at the NBA All-Star game garnered him the MVP title. In the latter year he shared the award with his longtime teammate, Stockton. He is the only player in NBA history to be named All-NBA First Team in eleven straight years (1989–1999). Three times he has been elected to the All-NBA Defensive Team. Malone and Stockton were selected for the U.S. Olympic team in 1992 and 1996 and won gold medals in both the Barcelona and Atlanta games.

Malone, still physically durable, has a chance to set numerous career playoff records as well. He is first in defensive rebounds, third in free throws made and attempted, and fourth in points and field goals made. He has played in 163 career playoff games and in 2001 was fifth all-time in total rebounds and field goals attempted in the playoffs and seventh in scoring average. However, as of 2001 an NBA title still eluded the Jazz, who played the Chicago Bulls in 1997 and 1998 for the championship. They lost both series in six games to the Michael Jordan–led Bulls.

Malone is generous, community oriented, and compassionate. His charity work through the Karl Malone Foundation for Kids, coupled with donations to Utah Special Olympics, Native Americans, homeless schools, and western firefighters earned him recognition by Sporting News as one of "99 Good Guys in Sports," as well as the Henry B. Iba Citizen Athlete Award. Malone maintains strong family ties as well. He and his wife, Kay, have three daughters and one son. His love and concern for his mother is visible and heartfelt. His brother helps him operate a cattle ranch in Arkansas. Other business enterprises include car dealerships in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Salt Lake City, Utah. At one time Malone owned a small fleet of eighteen-wheelers.

Malone's great deeds are sometimes overshadowed in unexpected ways. On 27 July 1998, under the aegis of the World Championship Wrestling Federation (WCW), he wrestled against Dennis Rodman. His attempt to get Salt Lake City–based sports talk show hosts, also Jazz employees, terminated after they criticized his playoff performance caused waves. In addition, his support of National Rifle Association positions on gun control has upset some fans. Malone briefly attempted his own career as a talk show host during the 1998 lockout. He toys with the idea of acting as a career beyond basketball and has taken numerous cameo roles. His video, "Karl Malone's Body Shop," demonstrates his style of workout.

Malone is fiercely loyal, dedicated, and passionate. He is the epitome of an athlete constantly striving to improve. He always speaks his mind and prepares to succeed, and he expects the same from teammates. Every year he tries to inspire young players, free agents, and others to join with him and the Jazz in their last remaining quest: the NBA Championship.

Useful books on Malone include Bob Schnakenberg and Robert E. Schnakenberg, Teammates: Karl Malone and John Stockton (1998); Roland Lazenby, Stockton to Malone: The Rise of the Utah Jazz (1998); and Clay Latimer, Special Delivery: The Amazing Basketball Career of Karl Malone (1999).

F. Ross Peterson