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Utah Jazz legend Karl Malone going strong at 50 years old

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Tribune file photo Karl Malone, right, and John Stockton played most of their Jazz career with Jerry Sloan, left, as their coach.

By Steve Luhm

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jul 23 2013 02:42PM
Updated Dec 7, 2013 11:35PM

Former Utah Jazz star Karl Malone, who turns 50 on Wednesday, has made one concession to age.

He bought a mule.

During 18 seasons with the Jazz and one with the Los Angeles Lakers, Malone was known as a fitness fanatic who willed himself into the Hall of Fame.

"In 30 years," says Jazz strength coach Mark McKown," I’ve never seen anybody with the same capacity for work, the same drive or the same intensity."

Malone’s passion for fitness is matched by his love of hunting and fishing. Hiking through the thick forests and rolling hills of Louisiana and Arkansas in pursuit of game has been a favorite hobby since his mother, Shirley, first allowed him to do so.

Malone has always done the strenuous physical work his pastime requires by himself — at least until recently.

"Instead of being the athlete and walking everywhere, he got himself a mule," said Kay Malone, his wife. "… I think he’s listening to his body more. He’s preserving himself more. He wants to be able to do things with the grandkids."

Don’t misunderstand.

Malone is still a workaholic when it comes to hitting the weights or taking grueling bike rides near the family’s home in Ruston, La. Three days before his 50th birthday, in fact, Malone asked a reporter to call him back "in three hours," when he’d be finished working out.

"To be honest with you, it helps make me a better person," he said. "It takes the edge off. When I sweat, it gets me going."

There’s another reason Malone still weighs 256 pounds — his playing weight.

One of his new projects is mentoring the Jazz’s young players — specifically power forward Derrick Favors and center Enes Kanter.

"I always had a suspicion, at some point, I’d be back involved with some organization," Malone said. "When I stepped back on the floor, I wanted to look like a coach. I wanted to look like I belonged. I thought it might help the young guys listen to me."

Yes, Malone is the same guy who has always used the fear of failure as a motivational tool.

"I don’t want to disappoint my family, my real fans or myself," he said. "… I’ve always wanted to prove something to Karl Malone and I still do."

With Kanter sidelined because of offseason shoulder surgery, Malone’s work with Favors has gotten favorable reviews. McKown watched one of their sessions, along with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who is now a senior adviser with the team.

"Coach Sloan looked at me and smiled," McKown recalled. "He said, ‘I don’t think anybody could give this guy a better workout.’ … Karl was teaching and Derrick was responding. It was way cool."

Oddly, Malone and the Jazz were estranged for years. The animosity came into sharp focus 18 months ago, when a public war of words erupted between CEO Greg Miller and the two-time Most Valuable Player.

"Five years ago, I didn’t think there was a snowball’s chance in hell I would be involved in the Jazz organization," Malone said. "I had my stinger out and they had their stingers out."

The hard feelings, however, have healed and Malone is happily working with Favors.

"The skill set he’s got is absolutely unbelievable," Malone said.

"If I was gauging a kid on a scale of one to 10 — their strength, toughness, being light on their feet — I’d give this young man a nine."

He paused, then added, "I don’t give 10s."

Malone’s upcoming schedule with the Jazz involves working with Favors, perhaps Kanter and other young players in August. He might attend the first week of training camp in October.

"Just another page in the book," he said, "and it’s been awesome."

Malone joined the Jazz in 1985. He was the 13th pick in the draft. His first visit to Utah coincided with the state’s Pioneer Day celebration and he accepted then-coach Frank Layden’s invitation to ride on the team’s float in the Days of ’47 parade.

Initially, Layden told Malone the parade was being held because of his 22nd birthday.

"That’s no urban legend," Malone said. "That’s the truth. … I was waving like a [beauty] pageant queen. If there were cellphones back then, I would have called my mom and said, ‘You won’t believe it. All of Utah is here for me.’ "

When the parade ended, Malone told Layden it was "amazing" so many people helped him celebrate his birthday. His new coach laughed and said, "I can’t believe you fell for that one."

This year, Malone will hold a public celebration of his 50th birthday on Wednesday at noon at his automobile dealership in Draper.

"Lord knows I made some mistakes in my life," he said. "I know some people don’t like me. But I wouldn’t want to be any other place in the world for this birthday. …

"I became a man in Utah. People here accepted me — a Baptist kid from Louisiana in a place that was mostly white and mostly Mormon. Awesome, man. Just awesome."

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