SALT LAKE CITY -- Karl Malone felt right at home being back
in Utah, although technically he was a visitor.
Dressing in the visitor's locker room and wearing the purple and
gold of the Los Angeles Lakers didn't change much for Malone, back
in the city he adopted as his home for so long.
"Been home for 18 years," he said.
Malone, out since December with a torn knee ligament,
participated in the Lakers' shootaround Monday morning, hours
before his L.A. teammates were to play the only other team
Malone has played for in his 19 NBA seasons.
Still on the injured list with a bad knee, Malone was not
activated for the game, which the Lakers lost 88-83.
He waited until the starting lineups before coming out of the
tunnel and received a mix greeting. Scattered boos were outnumbered
by cheers and about half the crowd stood up for The Mailman, who
was in the Delta Center for the first time as an opponent.
And despite a recent public feud with the Jazz, Malone said he
was happy to be back.
"I love my new life. That's what I'm saying. That's why I don't
know what all the fuss is about," he said after the shootaround.
"I'm happy. The Jazz are happy. They're winning. I keep up with
them. Why can't both sides be happy and get along?"
This is the same Malone who at the end of January said he would
never forgive the Jazz and accused the team of lacking class
because of a skit that poked fun at Malone and Laker teammate Kobe Bryant.
Malone didn't make that trip, choosing to avoid the hoopla
surrounding his return to Salt Lake City. But he heard about the
skit and was livid.
The skit consisted of two fake telephone calls to the Jazz mascot from
someone mimicking Malone's voice and using some of the more
colorful verbal combinations he's known for.
Jazz owner Larry Miller played a part in the skit when he took the phone and hung
up on the "caller."
Malone, who spent his first 18 seasons with Utah, was especially
upset with a reference to Bryant's pending rape
"For them to put that out there about him, that's
disrespectful," Malone said when he heard about the skit. "I will
never, ever forgive them for this. No class at all."
Utah's front office apologized to Malone and the Lakers, but Malone publicly questioned the sincerity of the
apologies from the Jazz, who were fined $15,000 by the league for
Last weekend Miller sounded off about Malone's
initial reaction with several harsh comments.
Miller, who has feuded with Malone plenty of times over
contracts and speculation that Malone was leaving the Jazz -- which
he eventually did -- felt Malone overreacted to the joke.
"I think you've got to have positives along with the negatives
in a relationship. Lately he's been only negative," Miller said.
"I've had it."
Miller told the Deseret Morning News that the Jazz did "cross
the line" with the Bryant reference. He also said plans for a
Malone statue outside the Delta Center may be up in the air because
Malone hasn't returned to get measured for it.
But Miller doesn't see a quick resolution to this feud.
"I don't need it. I put up with it for 19 years," Miller said.
"There was good and bad. Now there's only bad."
Malone had a more mellow outlook Monday.
"What do you guys want me to say? That's old news, man. I'm
somewhere else. My life is good. Their life is good," he said.
"You guys keep beating things to death and it's for no reason.
I've got too many positive memories for 18 years."
Malone joined the Lakers last summer as a free agent, saying it
was best both he and the Jazz move on. Malone wanted to win a
championship, which he came just short of doing with the Jazz in
1997 and '98, and the Jazz were trying to rebuild with players
younger than Malone and John Stockton, who was with the team 19
years before retiring last summer.
Malone expected mixed feelings from Jazz fans.
"I'm with the Lakers. That's where I play," Malone said. "You
can't control what people do or say. I said I was going to be here
and I'm here. I stay true to my word."
Malone had hoped to return before or during Monday's game and
even hinted that "anything's possible," but later said he was
still not quite up for returning.
And with Kobe Bryant out indefinitely with a shoulder injury,
Lakers coach Phil Jackson did not want to take any
chances with Malone aggravating the knee by rushing back just to
play in Utah.
Having Malone and Bryant healthy for the playoffs next month is
much more important to the Lakers.
"It's very close. Karl's ready to play 5 minutes or 6 minutes
or so," Jackson said. "He hasn't been able to play in a
full-court situation yet, so that's just not right for him to have
to come back at this time and try to do it in an NBA game when he
hasn't even done it in a practice situation."
This is the first time in his career Malone has been on the
injured list. He said it was ironic that after nearly two decades
of banging inside and becoming the NBA's second all-time leading
scorer, he hurt the knee Dec. 22 against Phoenix while shooting an
outside jump shot.
And being patient while rehabilitating the knee has also been a
new experience for Malone, who had missed only 11 career games
before the injury.
"I can't afford a setback right now. So if I miss another week
or four or five days, so be it. But if it's another day or night, I
look forward to that, too," Malone said. "It's not weeks anymore.
It's hours, days. It's right there."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.