As swarms of fans leaned over the railing, attempting to get the perfect selfie, Karl Malone was calm.
He was dressed in black, understating his still-powerful frame. His long, muscular arms reached out to sign autographs on jerseys, and his wide hands clasped around smaller ones which were shaking with awe.
Amidst the furor of people trying to reach him, one boy asked “Karl” for an autograph. Malone paused.
“What did you call me?”
“Call me Mr. Malone,” he said gruffly. “You don’t know me that well.”
The joke was well taken, but a subtle point was made: When Karl Malone is in the house, his name still carries weight and deserves respect.
It also happened that the man who is so often intertwined with him was also there: John Stockton, seeing his son on the Jazz bench with his own eyes. While David Stockton never officially entered, and Utah lost in unsightly fashion, 99-94, he and Malone were in the eye of the postgame storm as the Jazz faithful crowded around.
Both John Stockton and Karl Malone are famously withdrawn in their post-playing careers, and both declined to comment on watching their first Jazz game of the season. Stockton also declined to comment about his son following his path from Gonzaga now to the Jazz, preferring to let him shine on his own, without the shadow of the jersey hanging from the rafters weighing in.
But they had words for others at Vivint Smart Home Arena, and more. They didn’t just pose for pictures with strangers, but also with old friends. Play-by-play man Craig Bolerjack grabbed a warm handshake from Malone, as did an old foe — Dominique Wilkins, who now comments for the Hawks broadcasting team. They greeted familiar ushers and arena staff, people who have been working since before both Hall of Famers’ stints in Utah ended in 2003. While some players didn’t know the duo was there, Rudy Gobert said he briefly shook hands with Malone, from whom he has inherited a mantle as the franchise’s top big man.
Malone’s and Stockton’s visits aren’t as frequent as those of Jerry Sloan, who has been to nearly every home game this season. But to the people who have at times celebrated and at times struggled through this Jazz season, it seemed to be a reminder that the two men aren’t just statues out in front of the building.
And maybe they still relish that feeling a little bit, particularly Malone, who lingered to sign a few extra autographs and take a few extra selfies, occasionally growling in his low baritone for effect.
A fan shouted, from too far off to actually shake his hand: “The Mailman always delivers!”
Malone looked back, and simply waved.