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The NBA is celebrating players from the NBA 75 list almost daily from now until the end of the season. Today's honoree is Karl Malone, who skipped his senior year at Louisiana Tech and was taken 13th overall in the 1985 draft. This story appeared in the Feb. 13, 1989, i sue of The Sporting News, the week before Malone won his first NBA All-Star Game MVP award.
SALT LAKE CITY The jukebox is blasting. Karl Malone is looking for his stash of homemade beef jerky and talking non-stop to ball boys, teammates, Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller, General Manager Dave Checketts and anyone else who wants to speak or listen.
This postgame activity is nothing new Max Fried Jersey for Malone, who has been on the job for seven hours. As part of his pregame ritual his love affair with basketball he reports to the Salt Palace for a home game at 4:30 p.m., three hours before tipoff.
This night has been succe sful for Malone. The Jazz has won and, as usual, he has scored more than 30 points and had a double-figure rebound total. But while he savors the victory and his performance and inhales the atmosphere that he worships, he celebrates previous triumphs.
And why not?
Many, including Malone, have called him the best power forward in the world. He has proved himself on the court. He has backed up brash statements with a staggering bottom line. So if someone else starts something and he finishes it, he figures that it is his right to gloat.
The parable Malone relates on this occasion features Ralph Sampson. The scene occurred on December 10, 1987, as Sampson then with Houston and Malone were being interviewed live on television before a Rockets-Jazz game in Houston.
"We were standing next to each other on the court before the game," Malone said, "and they were doing a story about how the U.S. and Ru sia had agreed not to make some kind of nuclear bomb or something. That was the big thing leading into sports. And then, all of a sudden, they said they were going to interview us and said, Sampson is not intimidated by Malone. I didn't know what they were talking about. The guy started interviewing him, and he was saying, 'Malone is 6-9. How can I be intimidated by him?' And I said, 'Akeem (Olajuwon) intimidates everybody in the league, and he's seven feet. Ralph Sampson is 7-4 Mike Soroka Jersey , and he's not as intimidating as Akeem.
"Well, he was standing there, and he didn't try to tone down what he was saying. He didn't say, 'Well, I respect Karl. If he did, I would have said the same thing. But if a guy is going to show me up and talk trash, I'm going to do everything I can to make him look bad. So I said, When the horn blows, may the best man win."
So what happened?
"I had about 25 points (actually 21). and he didn't score," Malone recalled.
And then what happened?
"And then he got traded, Malone said, smiling mischievously.
That happened two days later, in fact, and for Sampson and perhaps a few others in the National Basketball A sociation, it was a le son learned. In 31/2 years with the Utah Jazz, Malone has taught le sons to many. For some, it has been painful profe sionally. For others, the hurt has been all physical.
When Malone left Louisiana Austin Riley Jersey Tech after his junior year, some scouts were worried that his game had peaked. There was no room for improvement. Some said he wasn't smart enough or dedicated enough to become great.
All of them have been wrong.
His improvement has been obvious. He increased his scoring average from 14.9 points per game as a rookie to 21.7 the next year and 27.7 last season. At the midway point this season, he was averaging 30.3 points a game, which placed him second in the league.
His field-goal percentage has improved from 49.5 percent as a rookie to 51.2 percent in his Brandon McCarthy Jersey second season, 52 percent last season and 52.2 percent this season.
And his free-throw shooting, once the weakest part of his game, has improved from 48.1 percent as a rookie to 59.8 percent the next season, 70 percent last season and 77.6 percent this season.
His rebounding also has improved from 8.9 per game as a rookie to 10.4 the next season to 12 last season to 11.7-oops, it is a little lower this season. But, as he said, "The season isn't over yet."
MORE: Cla sic photos of Karl "The Mailman" Malone
It is apparent that Malone did not peak at Louisiana Tech.
But the mark of a great player is how well his team does, and in each of Malone's seasons, Utah has won more games than the previous season.
The year before he arrived, the Jazz won 41. In his rookie year, they won 42, then 44. Last season, Utah won 47 games. At the midway point this season, Utah was 25-16, which projects to a 50-win season.
And each year, the Jazz has done better in the playoffs. In Malone's rookie season, the Jazz lost a best-of-five first-round series in four games. The next year, they lost in the first round in five games. Last year, they lost to the Lakers in a tough seven-game series in the Western Conference semifinals.
Utah has a nice nucleus, including All-Star guard John Stockton and standout reserve Thurl Bailey. But it is obvious that Malone is Utah's single most significant force, the man who makes the Jazz a legitimate threat to the Lakers Western Conference supremacy.
During the last off-season. Malone again put to rest the notion advanced by scouts when he was in college that he was not dedicated. Since the end of his rookie season, Malone has been an avid weightlifter. During the summer, he also jogs and sprints. With each inch of muscle he gains, there seems to be a corresponding improvement in his game. And with each game of Jose Ramirez Jersey experience, he seems to become more disciplined.
"His physical skills are incredible," said Jazz President Frank Layden. "For his size, he has great hands and he's so quick and agile. The difference between his game now and his rookie season is temperament. As a rookie, he was like a runaway colt, difficult to put under control. Now he plays with a purpose."
He also plays with a sense of security. During the last off-season, the guy who had to sit out his freshman season at Louisiana Tech because his grade-point average was below 2.0 negotiated a 10-year, $18 million deal for himself. Because he did it himself, he did not have to pay the standard 4 percent commi sion to an agent, which saved him $720,000.
Malone structured the contract so that he gets all cash this season. For the next nine years, 30 percent of his money will be deferred. He'll receive that money beginning at age 35. "And then when I'm 45, my NBA Tyler Flowers Jersey pension will kick in," he said, smiling smartly.
It is obvious that in a very short time Malone has disproved the theories that led to his being available when Utah exercised its 13th overall pick in the 1985 draft. Executives from 11 of the 12 teams that bypa sed h
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