Today is Utah Jazz great Karl Malone’s 53rd Birthday. Which is, clearly, a State-wide Holiday in Utah. Or at least, one could honestly make that mistake when first encountering the celebrations for Pioneer Day and the Days of ‘47 Parade which both fall on July 24th. (And no, sadly that second event is not a celebration of Andrei Kirilenko ‘s 5x5s.)
As a non-Utah based Utah Jazz fan it was a little confusing to me. And honestly, for all non-Utahns it’s a regional event that doesn’t get much publicity outside of the “Promised Land”. So, a younger, somewhat more sheltered young man could innocently assume that all the pageantry today is for Karl Malone. After all, decades ago The Mailman made that very same mistake — and thus begun our collective love affair with Karl Malone.
Karl Malone was a big deal at Louisiana Tech, where he spent a year getting his grades up before playing three years there and putting his name out there for all to see. He was invited to the USA Basketball 1984 Camp, but didn’t make the team. That 1984 team was pretty nice, and won the Gold Medal in Los Angeles. It was stacked, featuring: Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Alvin Robertson, Sam Perkins, Wayman Tisdale, Vern Flemming, Joe Kleine, Jon Koncak, Jeff Turner, Steve Alford, and Leon Wood. Of course, it was also notable for missing cutting Charles Barkley, John Stockton, and Karl Malone among others. (The USA Basketball 1992 Team would correct that oversight.)
Being on the radar to represent America in the Olympics meant that Malone was one of the best amateur athletes in the world. He was selected in the 1985 NBA Draft, but as a late lottery pick (#13). Malone was selected after the future Rookie of the Year, 7’0 center Patrick Ewing. You can’t complain about that. You can complain about him getting picked after Wayman Tisdale, Benoit Benjamin, Xavier McDaniel, Jon Koncak, Joe Kleine, Chris Mullin, Detlef Schrempf, Charles Oakley, Ed Pickney, Keith Lee, and Kenny Green.
Coming from a very small down, going to an obscure college, and getting selected later than he should have been pick — it all contributed to The Mailman developing a huge chip on his shoulder. A master of cultivating and manufacturing extrinsic motivation, Karl Malone internalized these slights and took it all out on a world that ‘had to learn the hard way.’
Karl dominated with a physicality and ferocity that we’ve rarely seen outside of the Gladiatorial arena. His body of work speaks for itself. The 14 time NBA All-Star would have been a 15 time NBA All-Star if they had an All-Star game in the Lockout shortened, 50 game season in 1999-2000. The two-time Olympic Gold medalist (1992, 1996) would have had three if he didn’t have to bow out of the 2000 team due to the ailing health of his beloved mother.
It’s hard to be great. It’s nearly impossible to be so great for so long. And that’s reason #432934238493 why Karl Malone is the best power forward of All-Time.
The Mailman delivered on an off the court. Yes, he’s 2nd all-time in putting the orange ball thingy through the metal hoop thingy. But he was also a hands-on philanthropist. When other people would write a check he would go out there and put in the work. There’s no substitution for hard work. And few worked harder than Karl Malone.